Leadership Is Not About You, But It Starts With You

One of the most important things I have learned over the years about leadership is that in order to become a better leader of others, you must first learn to lead yourself well. A favorite quote of mine that captures this is from Bill Hybels, who often says, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better.”  Succinct and to the point, but so accurate. When a leader gets better, people, teams, and organizations get better too. And that is what leadership is all about.

Although I firmly believe this, I often struggle with the concept of personal leadership because it seems selfish. It feels like I’m too focused on myself and neglecting the needs of others. But then I just have to stop and ask myself one question, “What are the motives of my heart?”.

In other words, am I bettering myself just so I can look good and gain the praise of others, or am I bettering myself so I can be a stronger and more effective leader for my team and the people I lead? As long as it’s the latter, then I know my focus is where it needs to be.

Remember, leadership is not about you, but it starts with you. If you want to lead others well, start leading yourself well.

Watch this short video to learn more about the importance of self-leadership:

Leading Yourself Part III: Self-Improvement

“Everyone wins when a leader gets better.” –Bill Hybels

I’ve always loved this quote because it highlights the importance of leaders taking the time to get better. To look at themselves first.  To improve. To grow. And when they do, other people get better, teams become stronger, and organizations become more effective. This should be the aspiration of every leader, but unfortunately it’s not.


When leaders commit to getting better, they set an example for others to follow. If you have taken the time to conduct an honest assessment of your current situation, explained in stage two, then you are on the right track toward becoming a better leader. However, it cannot stop there. You must be willing to take the next step, which is a commitment to self-improvement. This is all about taking a few deliberate and intentional steps to build upon your strengths and correct any weaknesses.


What can you focus on in the next 30, 60, and 90 days that will have a significant impact on the way that you lead? The key here is to focus. All too often, leaders try to do too many things at once, and in the process they don’t accomplish anything. Less is more. Attempt to achieve a few meaningful objectives, not a long list. In doing so, you will gain confidence and momentum to build upon.


The desire for self-improvement is a good thing, but desire without action is just desire. So after getting focused, the key in this stage of the self-leadership development process is to act, to implement. Oftentimes action does not occur for various reasons—procrastination, excuses, fear, lack of conviction, to name a few. But if you are going to improve as a leader, then a commitment to decisive action is non-negotiable. Otherwise it’s just talk!

So what will you do in this pivotal stage? Will you set the example by taking deliberate action to improve yourself in specific areas, or will you allow excuses to keep you from doing what is necessary to get better?

Choose to be a leader who leads yourself with excellence, and others will follow your lead.

Relevant Quotes:

“Decide upon your major definite purpose in life and then organize all your activities around it.” — Brian Tracy

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

 “Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader. Don’t fall victim to what I call the ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome. You must be willing to fire.” — T. Boone Pickens

Leading Yourself Part II: Self-Evaluation

Once you have a clear sense of who you are, the next phase in self-leadership development is to conduct an honest and objective self-evaluation. This is all about knowing where you are right now.

What is your current reality? That is the key question here. When you can answer this question, you will have a clear sense of where you are strong—what you’re doing well, and where you are weak—what you’re not doing so well. Most people are good at answering the first part but struggle to identify their weaknesses and deficiencies.

It’s hard for leaders because they think that they must always appear to have it together and know all the answers. But that should not be the case. Leaders, more than anyone, need to demonstrate vulnerability and a willingness to consistently evaluate themselves in order to know where they need to get better. When they do so, others take notice and follow their lead.

Personal leadership development is a perpetual process. You can always improve! But that will only happen if you are willing to evaluate yourself. Great leaders understand this reality and commit to a consistent effort to capitalize upon their strengths and correct their weaknesses. As a result, their ability to lead others more effectively is strengthened in the process.

Conversely, the leader who does not self-evaluate because they do not perceive the need for growth and development is the leader who, at some point, is rendered ineffective. When a leader stops growing, the followers stop growing.

Quotes on Self-Leadership:

“As a leader, the first person I need to lead is me. The first person that I should try to change is me.” -John Maxwell

“The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” -Ray Kroc

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.” -Warren Bennis

10 Things Every Leader Must Know

Great leaders are great self-leaders. They understand that in order to have maximum impact and influence, they must commit to leading themselves effectively. This is not an easy task though—not even for the best leaders.

I heard Dr. Henry Cloud say one time that, “You are the hardest person you will ever lead.” I agree with that statement because as leaders, we often focus all of our attention on leading others instead of facing ourselves and our own need for improvement. We do this because it’s predictable. It’s more comfortable. It’s often less painful. However, it’s also detrimental to our leadership.  This reality, unfortunately, is something that many leaders fail to grasp.

In order to help you become a better leader of yourself, and ultimately others, I have compiled a list of 10 key things that every leader must know. They are as follows:

What is your purpose in life? When you understand your reason for existence, everything else becomes clearer and more meaningful.

What values influence your behavior? Clear, non-negotiable values will keep you focused on what is most important in life and help you make decisions accordingly.

What is your long-term vision? You need to have a vivid picture of the future in order to know where you are headed in life.

What are your core abilities and gifts? When you focus on maximizing your performance based on your strengths, you have a greater level of impact.

What are your limitations? Confront the reality that you are human and that you do have room for improvement and growth.

What are your goals? You need to consistently set goals that stretch and challenge you to develop and reach your full potential.

What is your strategy for success? You need to have a clear plan for how you are going to achieve your goals.

What steps must you take? A plan without action is meaningless—you need to identify and then implement specific steps in order to achieve your goals.

What are your indicators of success? Clear metrics are essential to knowing if you are (or are not) progressing toward your goals.

What do you need to learn? Leaders are learners, and it is essential that you always stay hungry for learning new knowledge that will enhance your ability to lead more effectively.

If you will commit the time to examining yourself in each of these 10 areas, you will grow as a leader. Your level of impact will also grow. It takes time and discipline, but focusing on improving yourself first will help you become more effective and influential in your leadership of others.

Are You Leading?

lead by example“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” –John Maxwell

As we wrap up this seven-part series on the key questions that every leader must ask of themself, it is appropriate to end with the most important question of all. That is, “Are you leading?” At the end of the day, this is where the rubber meets the road.

If you are in a position of leadership, it is your duty to lead your people and your organization toward a common purpose, vision, and mission on a daily basis. Leadership is not about position; it is about influence, action, and results.  Yet, all too many people think that holding a leadership position makes them a leader. These type of “leaders” talk often of what they are going to do, but they do not back it up with action (a prime example is the modern day politician).

So how do you know if you are actually leading and influencing others? Let’s briefly review the topics that were covered in the previous six posts:

1) Preparation – leaders make an intentional and conscious effort to prepare themselves for leadership. They know their purpose and have the daily discipline to prepare “off-stage” so that they can more effectively lead and perform “on-stage.”

2) Teachability – leaders understand that they do not know everything, and they are always open to learning. By committing to being a lifelong learner, leaders set an example for their team to follow.

3) Security – leaders are comfortable in their own skin, and they know their own limitations. Secure leaders have no problem surrounding themselves with people who are smarter and more talented than they are.

4) Awareness – leaders know what is going on within their organization and among their employees. They take time to get out of their office and interact with their people, asking them questions and finding out what can be done to improve the work environment.

5) Listening – leaders actually listen to what their people tell them. They serve their team by actively and objectively listening to their concerns, ideas, and requests.

6) Courage – leaders take action, even when it is uncomfortable. They have the tough conversations and often take risks in order to advance the interests of the organization. Failure does not deter them.

Leaders who lack the aforementioned qualities will not be able to fully lead their organization and team, and at some point they may even drive away their best people. Why? Because they will create an unhealthy work environment, where employee frustration turns into resentment and eventually turnover. This can be avoided though, IF the leader will do the things necessary to create a healthy organization. Answering these questions and addressing any personal leadership deficiencies will go a long way in doing just that.

I trust that this seven-part series has been helpful to you, even if in just some small way. As I mentioned in the introductory post, these are just a sampling of questions that leaders must ask themselves. Based on my experience though, these self-reflective and introspective questions are some of the most important questions that a leader must address.

So I end with how I started. Are you leading, or are you just occupying a position?

Quotes on Leadership

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” — John Buchan

“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.” — Walter Lippmann

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” — Max DePree

“The older I get, the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.” — Andrew Carnegie

“Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.” — Ross Perot