Monday, January 04, 2010

Self-Leadership: Bringing the Best Out in Ourselves

We normally think of leadership as something that happens between people. We also tend to view leadership as a one-way phenomenon, as something that those with more power and authority provide to those with less.

In that sense, managers provide leadership to workers; parents lead their children; and elected officials guide their constituencies.

In the case of parenting, we know from research that it is not a one-way street: the traits and needs of children shape parenting every bit as much as parenting shapes children. My behavior as a parent is different for my children in college than it was when they were toddlers; each child in my family has needed different levels and types of structure and support.

Good managers find the same thing: one size does not fit all. Some employees respond well to firmness; others flourish when given general tasks and left to their own devices as to their accomplishment; still others need considerable feedback. A successful manager finds ways of bringing the best out of others. That requires a high level of following.

Not all leadership occurs between people. We lead ourselves every day, either by design or default. As our own leaders, we can approach ourselves in tone-deaf ways, trying to push ourselves to solve problems, or we can step back, follow what has been successful in the recent past, and build upon strengths.

It is difficult to imagine a successful leader who does not have a high degree of self-leadership. If we cannot bring out the best in ourselves, can we really inspire others to greatness?

Self-leadership is far more than making out a list of goals for the new year. It is a daily process that guides efforts, keeps visions of possibilities alive, and challenges us to be more than we are when we're simply drifting through life.

Look in the mirror and see the trader who you are: the strengths, the weaknesses, the success, and the setbacks. How will you lead this trader to greater things in the year to come? What kind of leader will you be to yourself?