At OPRA we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about leadership. We work to help people become more effective leaders, enabling them to better understand their staff, relate to them, guide them, motivate, and influence them. Likewise, literature abounds with theories and models of what makes an exceptionally effective leader. However the majority of these theories, and the interventions you’ll see discussed on LinkedIn or tradeshows typically fail to address one key component of being an effective leader. What’s missing is that in order to truly, effectively lead other people, you first need to be leading yourself.
Leading yourself – it sounds simple enough, set SMART goals that will stretch and extend you, and exercise self-control to keep you on-track and motivated, right? In reality, it’s even more straightforward than that. While self-discipline and long-term objectives no doubt help you shape and guide your life, it’s important to make sure that your goals and the path towards them involve the things you value most. Doing things for their own sake because of the enjoyment, pleasure, or fulfilment they bring us is referred to as ‘intrinsic motivation’, and it is this intrinsic motivation that leads us to love our work.
In his book “The Spirit of Leadership”, Dr Peter Cammock, a leadership and management academic/researcher at the University of Canterbury, explains that for work to be truly meaningful and deeply (existentially?) satisfying, we need to match an external call (the opportunities) with an internal call (things we appreciate and value). Once these are in alignment, we move from simply having a job or career to finding our calling. Now, ‘calling’ is one of those terms that makes me grimace every time I use it, but it’s important to recognise that while ‘calling’ is usually associated with people who make huge sacrifices to chase some higher cause, it doesn’t always have to be this grand or audacious. In “The Spirit of Leadership”, Cammock discusses 16 ‘ordinary’ people who made changes in their lives to ensure that every day they were working towards or involved in something that they loved, and the hugely positive impact this had on their lives and ability to perform their jobs. Admittedly, some of these people made massive sacrifices, however others ‘tweaked’ a few key things and in return have found their lives become immensely fulfilling.
Sure, this seems like simple advice, and it is likely easy advice to give that’s hard to follow. But even just thinking about what you could change is the first step towards improvement. Don’t let guilt get in the way of happiness and fulfilment either. Instead, realise that this is not selfishness – it’s taking care of yourself so you can better perform your role, or fulfil your calling (grimace). Think of this post as being like an airline safety briefing – you should put your own oxygen mask on first before you attend to others!
Finally, it is important to remember that leading yourself is merely the foundation for exceptional leadership. However with this foundation is in place, then you can tend to the other important leadership components, like strategic thinking, motivating and engaging your team, and being emotionally intelligent, comfortable in the knowledge that you’re already a great leader.
Reference: Cammock, P. (2008). The Spirit of Leadership: Building the Personal Foundations of Extraordinary Leadership. Christchurch, New Zealand: Leadership Press Ltd.