Kent Ingle: Before you try to lead others, lead yourself first

Leaders tend to be visionaries; relentless go-getters; the ones who don’t let anything get in their way – especially not themselves. Ambition is a key trait among leaders, yet so many of us allow this driving force to work against us. We allow self-care to fall by the wayside for the sake of getting ahead in our careers. We put work above our relationships and mental and physical health.

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These tendencies can deeply impact the quality of our leadership. To be better leaders of others, we must first take a breath, put work aside, and take a moment to understand what it means to lead ourselves. Here are five practical ways to learn how to lead yourself first:

1. Prioritize your health. Your mental and physical health are the building blocks for you to be the best leader you can. Issues like chronic stress and lack of sleep may appear small, but they can be detrimental to your mental clarity and ability to make decisions. Ignoring our health will only hurt our job performance in the end.

2. Maintain healthy relationships. Our relationships are often a reflection of our emotional health. The people in our lives – our family and friends – are what enrich us. Time shared with them, and trust built with them, make us more secure. They are our sounding boards and confidantes, and can ease the tension and stress that work often brings.

3. Practice self-discipline. Create healthy habits; maintain a healthy diet; tend to those who are important to you. Doing all of these things will nurture self-discipline that will easily reflect in all you do.

4. Seek accountability. Find mentors who bring out the best in you and encourage you to live your life to its fullest potential.

5. Learn what it means to follow. Remain humble and moldable. Maintaining the ability to grow means having the same teachable spirit you expect from all of those you work with.

Our culture pressures us to appear as if we never face any personal problems – that we have it all together all the time, that we don’t have any financial strains, difficulties in our relationships, or health concerns. We hide these things for the sake of getting ahead, and that makes facing them even more difficult. When we ignore hardships in our own life, they are bound to show up in our leadership and our work.

Imagine how much more impactful our leadership could be if we were truly leading ourselves as effectively as we seek to lead others?

Dr. Kent Ingle is the president of Southeastern University. He is the author of several leadership books and host of the "Frameworks Leadership" podcast.

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