Since writing the first edition of The Next Level in 2006, I’ve coached, spoken with, and observed thousands of leaders in action. Many of them have been good leaders. Some have been great leaders. The great ones have one big thing in common. They don’t just lead at their best; they live at their best. They understand that to lead others effectively, they first have to lead themselves effectively.
Great leaders practice and exhibit strong personal leadership. They endeavor to live at their best so they can lead at their best. Their lives are structured for continuous improvement.
Here are the ten behaviors of personal leadership that I’ve seen the great ones practice:
- Self reflection. Great leaders take the time to identify and articulate how they are at their best and then organize their life so they consistently show up with those qualities. They use their understanding of how they are at their best as a reference point to regularly, often daily, stop and reflect on where they’re hitting the mark, where they’re not and making one or two adjustments to get back or stay on track.
- Self awareness. Great leaders are aware and intentional. They tune into what’s going on around them and notice the physical, mental, and emotional reactions they’re having to what’s going on around them. Based on that awareness, they are then intentional about what they’re going to do or not do next. Throughout the day, they ask themselves two guiding questions: What am I trying to do? How do I need to show up to make that happen?
- Self care. Great leaders understand that they perform at their best when they take care of their health and well being. They move throughout the day. They are intentional about eating moderate amounts of healthy food. They get at least seven hours of sleep at night. By doing all of that they put themselves in position to better manage their stress and hit the sweet spot between their fight or flight and rest and digest responses.
- Continuous learning. Great leaders never stop learning. They challenge their own assumptions by asking why, seeking fresh sources of input, asking for feedback on their performance and going out of their way to experience and understand the lives of others.
- Listening. Great leaders listen. They ask open-ended questions and pay attention to the answers. They listen to gather the ideas and perspective needed to solve problems collaboratively. They don’t stop there, though. They move beyond transactional listening and regularly practice transformational listening. They often listen with no other agenda than to deepen their connection with someone else.
- Operating rhythm. Great leaders know and leverage their operating rhythm. They know what times of the day and the week are the best fit for getting particular things done and then they schedule it. If they know their best thinking and creative work comes early in the day, they keep their first hour or two clear of meetings. They pay attention to when they need breaks and change things up to get them. If they know that they’re energized by meeting and working with other people, they try to schedule their time so that those meetings can help them power through their day.
- Gear shifting. Great leaders know how to quickly shift gears. Their calendars are usually racked and stacked with meetings and any given day can skip across dozens of topics and settings. It’s wave after wave. Great leaders recognize and leverage the bardo, a Tibetan word that means the space between the waves, to shift gears. Between one conversation and the next, they take a few moments to breathe deeply, clear their mind from the last thing and visualize what they’re trying to do next and how they need to show up to do it.
- Focus. Great leaders focus on who or what is in front of them. They are aware of the things that could distract them and are intentional about removing those things from their environment. They have smartphone free zones. They hold meetings in places that enable them and others to focus. They set themselves and others up for success by creating space to focus.
- Clarity of purpose. Great leaders know what they’re in it for. They have developed a clear answer to the question, “Why am I here? On this earth, in this life for the limited amount of time that I have here, why am I here?” Their answer to that question informs what they do each day and how they do it.
- Gratitude. Great leaders are grateful. They recognize, acknowledge the good things in their life. They understand that even on days when it feels like everything is going wrong, there is always something that’s going right. They build on that to create positive outcomes for themselves and the people they love and lead.
As a leader you control the weather. However you show up is predictive of how the people you lead will show up. To lead at your best, live at your best. That starts with personal leadership. What’s working for you in your personal leadership? What do you need to adjust? Which of the ten behaviors of strong personal leadership holds the most potential for you?
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