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3 Surprising Ways to Succeed in Self-Leadership

By Columns

It’s ironic that successful self-leadership has more to do with others and less to do with self. I learned this later in life. 

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The sooner you see it, the better.

Following are three lessons I learned from personal and professional experiences over the course of my life. My hope is that they will help you be more successful over your career and journey in life.

1. Serve a Cause Greater than Self

The first surprise about self-leadership is that working for money, power and fame is, ultimately, an unfulfilling pursuit. Frances Hesselbein, the amazing woman I’ve written about who led the turnaround of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., puts it succinctly: to serve is to live.

Choose a career that helps others by bringing truth, goodness and/or beauty into the world and you will find greater career satisfaction and contentment. From time to time you will experience the joy that comes from seeing the efforts of your work directly improve the lives of others.   

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Here are a few examples. The teacher who helps a student learn to read brings greater truth and goodness to the world. The landscape architect who designs aesthetically pleasing outdoor environments brings greater beauty to the world. The journalist who helps the public see both sides of a story brings greater truth to the world. The salesman who helps a customer find the right product or service to meet a real need brings greater goodness into the world. You should seek to serve others in these ways, too.

2. Get a Coach or Mentor(s)

No world-class athlete gets to the top without the help of a coach or multiple coaches. We need other people to help us achieve our potential. Each of us has blind spots. Think of American Idol auditions and the individuals who are convinced they are the next American Idol, even though they can hardly carry a tune. 

Your blind spot may be that you are argumentative or perhaps you don't speak up when you should. Some people have a blind spot when it comes to not knowing when to end a conversation or meeting. Some managers have blind spots of being over-controlling and others don't interact enough with the people they are responsible for leading. 

The need for coaching and mentoring goes beyond needing to address our blind spots. We need experts to help us develop skills. When I left Wall Street to write a book and begin public speaking and teaching, I needed the help of Twyla Thompson, a top acting coach at the Actors Institute. Twyla taught me how to emotionally connect with an audience. On Wall Street, I had learned to turn my emotions off when communicating and I needed Twyla’s help to turn my emotions back on. She had me do exercises that included speaking to a group of acting students. I had to make eye contact with one student at a time and maintain eye contact until the student raised his or her hand to signal that he or she felt connected to me. Twyla’s colleague Gifford Booth would stand at the back of the room and yell, ”louder, louder” as I spoke. He helped me see a blind spot I had: I was too soft spoken.  I could never have learned these things on my own and I’m grateful that Twyla and Gifford helped me become a more effective speaker. 

3. Be Intentional About Connecting with People

When I worked on Wall Street, the commute and long work hours made it difficult to maintain friendships outside of work.  As my job became more demanding I grew increasingly disconnected from my family. I didn't feel well. My health began to suffer. I needed a lot of coffee to get me going in the morning and alcohol to slow me down at night. Eventually I left Wall Street to recover and figure out how I drifted so far from who I aspired to become. 

I learned the hard way that all people are hardwired to connect. Connect with God.  Connect with one another. When we don't connect, we become dysfunctional. We feel lonely, which makes us more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression and, ultimately, to addiction. This is a big issue in America today as we consume half the world’s supply of mood altering drugs.  

Connection makes us healthier, happier and more productive. It helps us grow in competence and character. It gets us through the inevitable difficult seasons we all experience in life, a lesson I learned as our family and friends helped us get through the three bouts of cancer my wife Katie experienced. Today, she is cancer free and thriving.

You can be more successful in your career and life if you 1. serve a cause greater than yourself, 2. get coaches and/or mentors to help you learn and grow in competence and character, and 3. be intentional about connecting with God, family and friends.  As you experience greater peace, hope and joy that comes from having an abundance of connection in your life, you will discover wealth of even greater value.

Adapted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.  

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