To Move Up to Leadership, Start With Self-Leadership

August 31, 2021

Here’s something that all successful leaders understand implicitly: Before we can lead others, we must first lead ourselves.

This nearly always involves improving our personal performance and effectiveness. If you want to advance into a leadership role in your organization, clearly you must capably and reliably deliver results. 

But demonstrating your preparedness for a managerial or leadership role involves much more than doing your current job well. You must also develop your leadership qualities and competencies. This is where self-leadership enters in.

What is self-leadership?

Self-leadership begins with self-knowledge. This means knowing your values, so you act from a place of clarity. It means knowing your strengths and weaknesses, so you can develop and leverage your strengths while also creating strategies for overcoming or compensating for any weaknesses.

Self-knowledge is also pivotal in developing your Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) is another facet of self-leadership and an essential prerequisite for effective leadership. 

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify, regulate and harness your own emotions. As a leader, you will also use your emotional self-awareness to guide others in managing their own emotions.

Here are some key qualities of effective self-leaders:

  1. Their actions are rooted in clear values and self-knowledge.
  2. They set goals for themselves and follow through on those goals.
  3. They take steps to develop and leverage their strengths.
  4. They seek out guidance, direction and support as needed.
  5. They are accountable for their actions.
  6. They take the initiative.

5 steps to self-leadership

There are five foundational self-leadership steps that I believe every aspiring leader must take to position themselves for advancement. They are:

  1. Develop your strengths.
  2. Cultivate interpersonal skills.
  3. Demonstrate flexibility and resilience.
  4. Ground your actions in clear personal values.
  5. Deliver exceptional results ahead of schedule.

About Step #5 . . . 

Perhaps the most elemental step you can take to position yourself for a managerial or leadership role is to perform so well in your current role that you distinguish yourself in the eyes of management, colleagues and customers. 

One of my favorite concepts in this area is “under promise and over deliver.” This is a strategy that allows us to demonstrate our commitment and our value by going above and beyond what’s expected of us or what we originally said we would do. 

My first coaching instructor, the late Thomas Leonard, said that when we over-respond (instead of over-reacting), we evolve and grow, and this in itself is an attractive quality in a potential leader.

Of course, over delivering consistently requires self-leadership, including self-discipline and self-knowledge as well as initiative and resourcefulness. We must be both optimistic and realistic to exceed expectations. 

When you under promise and over deliver, you establish your credibility by letting your team members know they can count on you to follow through on commitments. This promotes trust, mutual respect, healthy relationships and engagement.

In what area might you begin under promising and over delivering? 

What other steps will you take today to develop your self-leadership and position yourself for leadership success?

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