The First Step In Leading Others Is To Self-Manage


How aware are you of how you talk to yourself as you go about your daily activities? Typically, most of us are focused on what’s directly in front of us – and not aware of our internal narrative.

Last week, after speaking about the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behavior to a group, one member approached me and asked, “ I see how thoughts directly affect what I eventually do, that how I talk to myself will determine my behavior, but…how do I manage those thoughts that have negative consequences in my life?”

My first thought was how can I answer the question and stay on point with the discussion at hand – What makes a leader outstanding?  I recalled a conversation I had with a CEO who shared his belief that the key to leadership was understanding that self-reflection was not an end in itself – but an ability to process the difficult, challenging and complex.

The question – and my recollection of the CEO’s experience helped to remind me that the first step in becoming an outstanding leader is being able to manage one’s internal processes through self-reflection. Self-reflection is the key to understanding the relationship between our mindset  and our internal voice.

Everyone engages in self-talk .  We all have an inner voice, but most of us don’t pay attention to the contents of our inner narrative. Outstanding leaders do. For example, not only are they aware of the “data points” in a discussion, they are also tuned into their internal process and external behavior. In other words, they’re self-aware and able to witness their experience in the moment.

Ask yourself, how many times during the day do I stop to pause and mindfully witness my experience in the moment? What beliefs and assumptions am I holding that may be limiting my performance and affecting workplace relationships? How much am I in touch with my needs and values and are they being satisfied? How do I act when they’re not?

These questions along with our emotions, attitudes, desires, hopes and our interpretations of external experience are the key elements that form our internal process – our personal mindsets.

Beyond Change Management authors,  Dean and Linda Ackerman Anderson, write,  Mindset is different from awareness. Metaphorically, awareness is the blank canvas upon which your perception draws your reality. Mindset is the filter through which you screen what gets drawn and interpret your world.”

In my experience exceptional leaders are successful at choreographing the dance between “being” and “doing.” However, most leaders are more comfortable at doing things, focusing on the “data,” methodologies and external actions and circumstances; often blaming circumstances when things don’t turn out as intended.  Inherent in this fixed mindset is a danger to view others  “mechanically.”

Outstanding Leaders Balance “Being” and “Doing”

Outstanding leadership calls for equal parts of self-reflection and taking ownership for personal change and transformation. Through self-reflection and the deeper understanding of mindsets, leaders can develop the ability to manage their internal state of being in real-time. It can also create a pathway to personal transformation by overcoming personal history, fears, doubts and self-limiting ways that keep them from being fully focused in present time.

This calls for honest self-assessment of one’s beliefs, assumptions and perceptions about external reality that may be limiting performance and affecting workplace relationships.

How many times have we heard the expression, “perception is not reality?” Yet, unconsciously, we assume that our perception of reality is objective. How we behave and the actions we take – whether positive or negative – in real-time is directly influenced by our interpretation of external reality and will determine our outcomes.

Whether they’re aware of it, or not, all people are documentarians in their own heads, chronicling what’s happening to them, what it means and what they should do. In other words, our minds are constantly monitoring and interpreting. Mindsets frame the documentary that’s taking place in people’s heads. They guide the interpretation process.

Great leaders have the ability to listen to their own “stories,” while also connecting with their employee’s humanness as expressed in the form of physical, mental, and emotional energy and to direct this energy towards the accomplishment of organizational goals.

According to Harvard Business Review blogger  Tony Schwartz, “The most fundamental job of a leader is to recruit, mobilize, inspire, focus, direct and regularly refuel the energy of those they lead.” He refers to a leader as  – “the chief energy officer.”

In order to act from this energetic place a leader needs to be connected to their positive energy – which is the product of a “growth oriented mindset.” It’s the mindset that creates a space for personal transformation through self-reflection.

As Tony Schwartz wisely point out, “The best leaders use their own positive energy to bolster their employees’ faith in their own abilities and to fuel their optimism and perseverance in the face of stresses and setbacks. That belief from a leader is intoxicating.”

Thanks for reading,

George Altman, Intentional Communication Consultants

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