No matter where you are or what you do, leadership matters to you. Several years ago I was not convinced of this myself. I thought “leadership” was the theoretical, not-so-inspirational jargon that littered those motivational posters and self-help books. Boy was I wrong.
John Maxwell has perhaps the simplest definition of leadership:
“Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Leadership is the ability to get people to follow you, to believe in what you believe in, and to get things done together.
The beginning of leadership is self-leadership. Before leading others, we must learn to lead ourselves. Performance at work is an overflow of what is inside of us, our character. We cannot expect to have great results at work while living sloppy the rest of the time. Want to change your team or your work environment? Look in the mirror.
I have only scratched the surface of learning leadership, but since I’ve recently been reminded of how important it is to my life and ministry, I thought I would share four of the most helpful self-leadership principles I’ve learned. These are things that dramatically changed my life when I learned to put them into practice, and make a huge difference in my daily successes (or lack thereof).
1. Get out of bed. Whether or not you are a morning person, if you want to be productive in a day you have to start by waking up…early! There are exceptions to this rule, but in my experience most people are more productive toward the beginning of their day and less productive toward the end of their day. If you are a constant “snooze” button pusher, you probably find yourself one step behind your whole day. The quicker you can be up and at ’em, the more likely you are to spend your best energy on what matters. So find a way to get up and get ready to face the day.
2. Get it out of your head. Many people spend a lot of energy trying to keep tabs on all the things that are important to them or on their to-do list. This drains focus and will eventually cause you to forget something important. To avoid this, write down the things you need to do, the ideas you have, and the stuff you don’t want to forget. I use the “Notes” feature on my phone, but there are a number of ways to do this. I may be in the middle of reading a book or about to fall asleep and suddenly I remember that I forgot to return an important call. I simply stop what I’m doing and put it on my “work list” so that when I get to the office I will have it there in front of me. This is a win-win because I not only accomplish that thing I wanted to do but I also save myself from being distracted. When I write it down I am free to return to what I was doing (reading, sleeping, etc) without being “haunted” by the things I have to do tomorrow.
3. Do the important things first. Anyone can make a to do list, but a good leader knows how to organize it. If you make a list of all the things you need to accomplish and randomly start trying to cross things off, you will probably get to the end of the day not feeling very accomplished. Instead, ask yourself “What is the one thing that I must get done today that will make everything else feel like getting ahead?” and do that first. The added bonus of this is that accomplishments build momentum. So when you do the hardest thing first, you will find that you can tackle several other not-so-important things with ease.
4. Let habit do your work for you. One of the most powerful self-leadership principles I have learned has to do with habit and willpower. The twofold principle is (a) you have a limited supply of willpower in any given day and (b) habit requires little to no willpower. Let me illustrate: What is your technique to brushing your teeth? How about the way you massage your scalp with shampoo? Are you thinking about these actions as you do them? Chances are you don’t. Why? Because these are habits, things you do so regularly that you don’t have to use any of your mental focus to accomplish them. Many people spend a lot of mental energy on the things that are basic to their job and life, things like daily tasks at work, going to the gym, time for reading or reflection. If we can build habits around the things that would make us effective on a daily basis, our minds are freed up to spend our focus and energy on going above and beyond “just getting by.”