Most business leaders focus first on providing guidance to their team, but neglect self-leadership as equally important. In my experience, many entrepreneurs rely too much on the perspective of a trusted advisor or try to emulate a competitor who is getting attention. Personal leadership is setting your own direction and making real decisions first.
For example, no one really believes that Elon Musk is following someone else's lead as he charges ahead with Tesla, SpaceX, and other initiatives. Steve Jobs famously is quoted as saying, "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice." Of course, this kind of leadership has a big risk, since you have no one to blame if you get it wrong.
The challenge is how to develop that self-leadership in every aspiring entrepreneur and business professional role. As a mentor to many entrepreneurs, I don't believe that it is only a birthright, and there are several key strategies, including the following, that you can learn and practice which will lead to success:
1. Give your own judgement a high priority in decisions.
I'm not suggesting that you not ask for or ignore other views and data, but simply use these to incrementally bolster your own judgement and confidence. Then make the decision your own, before you use it to lead the team. Over time, your self-worth and your leadership performance will increase.
Getting lots of input on important issues is always a good idea. It can help you be right when, without expert help, you might fail. But it can turn into a flaw if you're depending on other people's opinions because you have no confidence in your own judgment.
2. Solidify and demonstrate your personal values.
Strong values lead to a perception of a strong character, which is the essence of a strong leader. A real business leader must have a set of guiding values and morals, which set your reputation in the mind of others and improve your self-leadership perception. You can't be a leader without values.
Every person and every company needs a set of core values. Each opportunity and leadership decision should be looked at through the lens of these core values or you will create unnecessary self-conflict and failure with your own self-leadership.
3. Increase your own knowledge in areas of interest.
Focus on becoming an expert in relevant areas rather than relying solely on other people. This may mean attending industry conferences, taking college courses, or reading some key books. The more you know, the more self-confident you will be to make your own leadership decisions.
In many cases, the challenge may just be your ability to market yourself, and what you know. It may be time for you to start your own blog, write a book, or volunteer as a speaker at public events in your domain. Make sure everyone knows your expertise.
4. Demonstrate integrity and strong ethics in all activities.
How you communicate informally and spend your time is as important as the decisions you make as a leader. People expect their leaders to act with personal integrity in their private life if they are to be followed in public decisions. Be open and transparent with the people around you.
Personal and business ethics are more than just obeying laws. You can be perceived as dishonest, unprincipled, untrustworthy, unfair, or uncaring without breaking the law. Ethical leaders often do more than they have to do and less than they are allowed to do.
5. Display personal leadership often to build momentum.
The more you use your newfound leadership ability, the greater your satisfaction and confidence will be. People around you will recognize that energy, and follow you more willingly. The result will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of quicker and better leadership, for you and for your team.
6. Celebrate every small success to build team confidence.
Many entrepreneurs I know wait for that big event to celebrate their leadership. It's actually more important to capitalize on all the small successes along the way, to build your momentum and everyone's confidence in your leadership. You need this to weather the hard times.
In my experience, no title or amount of money will work as a substitute for self-leadership, or get you perceived as a business leader. In this very competitive age, with the current high rate of change in the marketplace, it behooves you to maximize your self-leadership, and be perceived as the business leader you always wanted to be. It's never too late to learn and improve.