How do you lead the toughest person in the room?

At every leadership webinar, I ask this one question: Who is the toughest person in the room to lead? Then, after everyone points to everyone else, I spring the correct answer on them and say, “You.”  

You are the toughest person to lead in this room! Friends, the person I have the most difficult time leading is myself. This is a full-time job. I have to motivate myself. I have to discipline myself. I must protect my integrity. The list is endless.

Why is it this way? According to John Maxwell, there are two reasons:

(1) We don’t see ourselves as we see others.

(2) We are harder on others than we are on ourselves.

Human nature equips us with the ability to size up everyone in the world except ourselves. It is remarkable how most people lack self-awareness. When talking with managers, supervisors, or even team leaders, they willfully share details about their subordinates, behaviors, experienced conflicts, and sometimes plain gossip. They always have the magic bullet for how to fix them and what they need help with; however, they lack a realistic perspective of who they are. They lacked basic self-awareness of their own limiting beliefs and self-induced idiosyncrasies. To quote Psychology Today, “People judge others to avoid reckoning with potential feelings of inferiority and shame.”

John Maxwell says, “We tend to judge others according to their actions. It’s very cut and dried.”

However, we judge ourselves by our intentions. Therefore, even when we visibly fall short of our team or organizational goals and/or mission, and it was clearly a lack of leadership or judgment, we tend to let ourselves off the hook because our motives were good.

So how do you lead yourself well? A great question. Here are a few action steps. 

(1) Develop self-discipline.

One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking ramrod straight in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man.

“A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?”

“Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply.

Discipline is simply giving ourselves a command and following it through. Self-discipline is the highest form of leadership. You are the captain of your ship, the master of your own soul. Leading yourself is a challenge, and one of the places where your character shows up is how you lead yourself. Honestly, there are days when I just want to take a break from keeping myself under control. The problem is it is not wise to take any day off.

This leads me to the second action you can take to lead yourself well.

(2) Seek accountability. Personal and professional accountability is imperative because we all have a human nature that will lead us astray.

It was once said, “People who lead themselves well know a secret: they can’t trust themselves.” The problem comes when you selfishly think you are untouchable and learn how quickly poor choices can touch you. Unfortunately, we see this behavior now in our society; people just don’t want to take responsibility or accountability.

As a young leader in the military, from time to time, my peers and I would get emails sent out by our commander for mandatory training “immediately.”  Well, your whole day is interrupted. I would say, “What happened now?” Later, as all my peers would learn, another one of the men or women we worked with had to be removed from their leadership duties because they failed to lead themselves and others. They resulted in hurting others as well as themselves. 

(3) Do you have an accountability partner or peer group? Empowering others to keep you accountable keeps you in line.  

I know for myself that just being aware of an upcoming session with my group allowed me to avoid acting upon poor decisions. At each session, we had a list of agreed-upon questions that gave others permission to ask. Only you know if those answers to the questions were true or not. Taking responsibility for our own actions was paramount to our success.

We are responsible for others’ actions as well as our own. Leading people is earned, not a given right!

(4) Lastly, Be Patient—with yourself.

Thomas Watson said it so aptly: “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” People who cut corners are often categorized as impatient and lacking in self-discipline. However, if you follow through, you can achieve a breakthrough.

If you want to gain influence with people, solve problems. How you act or fail to act in those moments reveals to others just what our leadership competencies are.

Facing a personal failure. Taking a stand on an issue. Experiencing suffering or making an unpleasant choice—all these and more, when handled rightly, will either catapult us forward or eliminate our effectiveness. 

So, when asked, “How do you lead the toughest person in the room?”  You will have no problem answering that question.

Dr. D

(The Carolyle Destiny Group)