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Understanding How to Best Lead Yourself before You Lead Others


When we talk about leadership we often think about how well (or otherwise) an individual leads others. However, we give much less attention to how well the person leads him or herself or, put another way, to be best prepared to manage him or herself well or in a healthily balanced way and even more importantly to act as a positive role model for team members to emulate.

Considering these “people side” or interpersonal skills are extremely important when an individual is appointed to a significant leadership role in which a large team is to be managed. However, we should also remember that there are many other roles to which people get appointed that need to be included also. These include:

  • The Sales representative who becomes the Area sales manager
  • The Teacher who becomes the Department head or Principal
  • The Software Engineer who become Team Leader
  • The Attorney partner who becomes the Managing partner
  • The Truck driver who becomes the Depot Scheduler
  • The Secretary who becomes the Office manager
  • The Nurse who becomes the Section or Clinic supervisor
  • The Physician who becomes Practice Leader   etc.

Most of the above appointments or promotions, and many others like it, are made because the person has demonstrated good job related skills in the prior role. In other words, they are seen to be adept technically and therefore able, at least in theory, to take on more responsibility. But a person’s ability to lead will typically only be seen after they have been appointed to the new role and we therefore need an earlier indication of how well they may fare. Self-leadership is therefore the best early indicator we have so let’s look at what this means in practice.

While development skills are relatively easy to identify and then train-such as listening ability, delegation skills or capacity to coach etc. (and are often called competencies) the ability to manage yourself is much more difficult to pin down. However, in the list below we describe ten discrete areas that are important to look out for specifically: 

  1. Humility

Humility is usually defined as a modest view of one’s own importance or rank in the world. This is important to self-management because it helps a person to maintain a realistic perspective on life and helps them to appreciate the role of a leader as a servant to others.

  1. Resilience

No one like hard knocks and set backs when they occur but some people are more resilient or can bounce back from them than others. The more an individual shows they can do this personally the more they can apply this when leading others.

  1. Ethics/Morality

If an individual demonstrates poor personal ethics or morality (for example thinks that taking workplace stationary home is OK) this will translate poorly into a leadership role.

  1. Courage/persistence

Have the courage of your convictions and then persistently following through on personal work is often very observable in individuals and when strong is an excellent basis for dong the same in a leadership role.

  1. Emotional intelligence

Although this is a much talked about topic these days being “emotionally mature” can be honed and developed as an individual as a basis for starting to treat very different team members and their varying emotional needs in intelligent ways as a leader.

  1. Openness/reflectiveness

The simple question to ask here should be “is this individual open to different or alternative views when presented and do they think or reflect carefully on the information?” This is a trait every leader needs to evolve and even solicit option or start to read widely to gain the broadest possible perspective.

  1. Pressure/stress management

If an individual cannot handle personal pressure or stress reasonably well then this is likely to be much more difficult given the additional stresses added by a leadership role.

  1. Self-awareness

Self-awareness is a combination of accepting who you are as a person and wanting to continue to improve over time. The more an individual is already doing this the better leader he or she is likely to be.

  1. Self-confidence

Confidence is the ability to appear to be assured and in control in often quickly changing or unfamiliar circumstances. The need for this characteristics deepens considerably in a leadership role.

  1. Integrity

Integrity is about keeping promises and being fair minded. If an individual is already doing this with colleagues and friends they have more ability to continue to do so with team members working for him or her in the future.

Although some of the above areas may be in need of development for some people the hope would be that at least a majority of them would be seen to be reasonably strong (and in some cases quite well honed) in an individual when they are being considered for promotion.

Author: Jon Warner


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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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One Comment

  1. Paulo FerroSeptember 19, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Dear Jon
    Good Jon, Your list is quite complete, however I would add to it, “the behave of how seriously a person carry the responsability to take care of his or her body and health”, in the end of the day it is the instrument that enables us to perform well the rest of the list.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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