The Power of Personal Leadership 

By Chris Brogan

In 1995, I made my first big shift in my personality and perspective. I went from being an employee and letting life live me, to being the CEO of Me, Incorporated, and choosing to live my life as close to my own terms as possible. The exact moment this happened is etched in stone. I was laying on the couch, facing the TV sideways, and it was tuned to PBS, which was in the middle of a fund drive. Les Brown was talking about personal power and promoting his book, Live Your Dreams. That was the start of me realizing just how much power we all have, beginning with myself.

Since then, I've learned that there are many challenges tied to choosing to live your life like a leader. There are plenty of times where I've fallen down on the job, and several more where I've come out okay, but maybe at a different point than I'd originally intended. In the song ”Nobody Told Me,” John Lennon sings, ”Life is what happens when you're busy making plans,” and boy, that describes lots of moments in my professional life. I set goals, and life helps me accomplish totally different ones.

Because of all this, I have a few thoughts from along the path. I hope these are useful to you in your own journey.

Start with Yourself

I could recommend the book Self-Esteem, by Dr. Matthew McKay every day of the week, and it wouldn't be enough times. Of all the many books I've read and all the various ways I've worked towards developing myself, this one book gave me the most payoff for the effort I put into it. Basically, the book teaches you how to look to yourself for validation, look to yourself for responsibility, and look to yourself for a center of power. I feel that without this base, most everything else will eventually crumble.

Looking outside yourself for validation is a weakness that crushes most of your potential for achieving big things. Starting with making yourself your core cheerleader sets you up for success right away. Oh, and the #1 thing I learned from the book: fire your inner critic. This one piece of advice alone was worth the book.

Build a Supportive Network

Beyond yourself, it helps to have intelligent supporters who will both challenge you and lend you strength for those rare moments when you use up your own. This comes after building your own inner self-esteem, but before going out to take on the world. Why? Because having a nice base of friends (and they don't have to be family) who support you, challenge you, and who believe in you, and give you perspective beyond your own is like having your very own superhero team at your back when you set out to take on the world.

And nurture, nurture, nurture that network. Be friendly, helpful, giving, and forever as interested in their pursuits as you are your own.

Be Responsible

I mean this in two ways. First, assume responsibility for everything that you CAN impact. Meaning, if you have a team working with you and they fail to meet a goal, when the boss asks what happened, assume responsibility. In the details, it's your job to fix what went wrong and try to ensure it doesn't happen the next time, but to the boss, just own it. Excuses are lame. Just accept what comes next, and try to make it better next time.

Sometimes, we try to own too much. I do this a lot. When we own too much, we feel like we fail too often. Sometimes, we're not ready to take on as much as we thought. Other times, we're overloaded, and practically no one could handle what's on our plate. Recognizing this and adjusting is just as important, because burying yourself in the weeds doesn't help anyone, either. Fix this as soon as possible, and do it as cleanly as you can. Try to hand off or delegate or give back the responsibilities that are flooding you, and see if that helps.

Look for Small Victories at First, But Then Think Big

Small victories are a great way to build your self-confidence. Take on little tasks and succeed. Even if their personal challenges, take them on. Every little success helps. For example, one goal I set for myself recently was to lose 10 pounds within a month. I have plenty of weight to lose, and I have a fitness program to rebuild into my life, but by setting this goal, I've got something small and tangible to observe. Once I hit this goal, I will feel much better about my efforts, and this will spur me on to bigger goals.

The caution, however, is that sometimes, we stay mired in the small things in life. If you're on the road to personal leadership, take a bigger swing. Look at the larger story. Look beyond your current job. Look past your role. Ask yourself big questions about what you might be able to do to help a larger chunk of the world. The answer to this question is often startling, and sometimes quite rewarding. But if you don't ask, you never will know.

At work, thinking a bit bigger than everyone around you, and then working backwards from those ideas to be helpful, is a great way of contributing in a meaningful way.

Be Helpful

Perhaps the most important thing I can tell you about personal leadership is that it's a much more rewarding path when you focus on being helpful to others. Stay true to your own guiding principles and the goals you've set for yourself, but try to view these goals with a community in mind. Can your path to success be complementary to others? Will your victories bring others up to a better path with you? How will you give back to people along the way, and not just when you're on top of the world?

From: March 20, 2008.


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