Two Reasons Why It’s Vital To Lead Yourself First

I sat in my aisle seat on the plane, preparing to come home. All sense of a personal bubble was gone. I didn’t even win the war of the armrest. Space was at a minimum.

The flight attendant squeezed past me and began the overly familiar safety demonstration.

“Insert the tab into the metal fitting.” Check.
“Locate the nearest exit.” Check.
“Seat cushion as a flotation device.” Still a bit damp…Check.
“Secure the oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth. Then secure the mask over any small children.” Wait…What?

It’s true, isn’t it? Every time they give the demonstration, the air mask goes over your own nose and mouth before you assist anyone else…even that beloved child who can’t breathe sitting next to you. Just doesn’t seem right does it?

Yet, there’s wisdom in the process. If a child is struggling with his or her mask, you and I will be of no help if we pass out trying to assist them. We have to keep breathing so they can keep breathing.

The same is true in leadership. While it’s not about the leader (motive), it has to start with the leader (method).

This why I repeat it every chance I get: Lead Yourself First.

I think this is the underlying question people have when they encounter a leader who struggles in this area. They look at the leaders and ask: “If you can’t lead yourself than how can I trust you to lead me?”

Everyday is an opportunity to lead yourself. You and I can lead ourselves first even when there’s no one else around to lead. In fact, there might not be anyone around to lead because we’ve done a poor job of leading ourselves first.

Let me offer a couple of observations that I think are foundational here:

1. People respect discipline.
If you and I, who desire to be leaders, can demonstrate discipline in our personal lives, it will translate into influence among those who are potential followers. Those who show discipline physically offer a better first impression than those who don’t. Those who show discipline in decision-making offer a wiser perspective than those who don’t. Those who show discipline in a specific skill or competency offer a better value than those who don’t.

2. Leading yourself first offers the initial credibility required to lead others well.
People can quickly recognize a leader who is personally self-destructing and they don’t want to get taken down by association. But people are drawn to those who make the personal effort to be disciplined, to have good character, and to be the same person in private as they are in public. I believe people want to lead themselves well and are looking for a good example, a real life role model of what that looks like.

A practical example of what it means to lead yourself first is my To Day List. My good friend, Rosa Say, also offers excellent advice in her 12 Rules for Self-Leadership.

How do you engage in self-leadership on a regular basis?

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