What I've Learned About Personal Leadership

Tony Hughes


As I write this, I'm 52 and our family just celebrated my son's 18th birthday. His birth and also my daughter's arrival into the world changed my life and ever since then they've inspired me to be the best father, the best man, I can be. Here is what I've learned so far here on Earth and I share it with you because none of us lives long enough to learn the necessary lessons from our own experience and mistakes. If you're younger than me, I especially hope this is of benefit to you.

We are the way we are for reasons we never fully understand. Nature and nurture - genes and our upbringing - combine with our world-view and beliefs to create our values and attitude. Also within all of us is an innate and irrepressible need to protect our self-esteem, justifying our defects or limiting beliefs rather than engaging in the process of objective examination and beneficial change. As evidence of our inability to see the truth of our own state, consider the fact that a camera captures a very different image compared with what we see in a mirror. We've all seen a video or photo of ourselves where we look grumpier or heavier than what we imagined. This is because the camera captures a third-party snapshot of how we really are rather than the filtered version we see in our own reflection.

The first step in overcoming any challenge is to face reality. In the context of leadership we must first overcome the conundrum of the 'human condition', which is prone to selfishness, short-sightedness, moral lapses and breathtaking stupidity. Beyond facing the awful truth we also need to be intelligently self-aware. The dictum 'know thyself' is most often attributed to Socrates and embodies the concept of self-awareness which has today been enhanced within the concept of EQ - Emotional Quotient. Self-awareness combined with genuine humility is an essential part of being able to lead others and build teams that leverage strengths and compensate for weaknesses. Successful leaders value difference and the opinions of others.

The very best leaders live by example and embody unbreakable determination in pursuing their cause, yet they do not bully or manipulate. Rather than create pressure they provide clarity, focus and energy for the people they lead. They focus on providing the right environment and ask the right questions rather than give answers. They are humbly self-aware, not self-absorbed, and they are honest, direct and accountable in their commitments and behavior. They understand that a good leader is first a good human being.

Much can be achieved when you don't care who receives the credit and when you surrender the need to be constantly right. Leaders seek to understand before attempting to be understood. They know that lasting motivation comes from within and they therefore encourage their people to personally take ownership of outcomes. They build their people's self-esteem and promote their team's ideas by encouraging them to take calculated risks, stretching their capabilities. When things go wrong they provide support and do not lecture or punish. Neither do they rescue when the consequences are not catastrophic; instead they regard 'opportunities to fail' as useful. Later, without negative emotion, they facilitate reflection.

Great leaders are morally grounded in enduring values yet adopt purposeful pragmatism rather than judgmentally holding to narrow dogmas. They suspend judgment and accept diversity. Our ability to build other people in teams is more important than having all the ideas. Be counter-intuitive in your leadership style by humbly serving rather than grandstanding. Do what it takes rather than merely your best. You cannot lead from behind - pull people through rather than push. Accept the blame when things go wrong and learn the necessary lessons from criticism and failure so that you can adjust accordingly. Genuinely pass the credit on to others when things go well - success is always a team effort.

Time is the only real limited resource. Invest your time and treasure it rather than spend it. There is no such thing as wasted time if you always have a good book with you when you travel. Do not allow the trivially urgent to prevent you from doing the important. Make time for what matters most. Set goals and priorities, and regularly measure your own progress.

Less is more - less talking creates more influence and more learning; less clutter and distracting noise creates more clarity; less information creates better cut-through in the message. The best way to improve something is to reduce it. Cut the unnecessary elements away rather than add complexity or overhead. The more we take the less we become; we only become greater when we give and contribute. We can become our very best when we let go of what we treasure and embrace the very things we fear. What does not kill us can make us stronger. Building character and developing emotional resilience is a valuable foundation for future success. Failure can educate, and with resolve to overcome, we can gain wisdom and prosper.

Happiness is a state of mind concerning how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. Be grateful for what you have. Laugh as often as you can. Reject judgment, bitterness and revenge - they are self-destructive forces, devouring the host. Do not take yourself too seriously; instead have an optimistic attitude and positive sense of humor. Freely admit when you are wrong, and say 'sorry' and 'thank you' every chance you get. Forgive and move on. Be prepared to take risks but without foolhardy recklessness.

Never be a victim; instead be fully accountable for your own success and happiness. Do not blame others or bad luck for failure and setbacks. Believe in yourself and earn the right to ask for what you want. Never bully or manipulate and do not allow knowledge to manifest within you as arrogance. Do not allow success to make you egotistical; instead learn genuine humility in acknowledging the contribution of others as well as good fortune or blessing.

Choose your friends and work environment wisely as both will change you through osmosis. Avoid those who are addicted to destructive gossip. Encouragement is far more effective than criticism - believe in the competent and help them become better. Expect the best of others and treat them with respect regardless of their station in life. Serve your employer, team and customers ahead of your own interests - trust the law of reciprocity to reward your integrity and ability to create value. Show thoughtful initiative and a strong work ethic. We learn nothing while talking, and making a noise rarely makes a difference. Instead become a great listener who is genuinely interested in others, asking insightful and powerful questions.

Success is living a life of purpose and achieving your goals, yet the passage of time is the only valid perspective for measuring achievement. There is no excuse for not being your best or failing to fulfill your potential. Barriers and difficulties are there to exclude average people, and for the purpose of ensuring the worthiness of those who achieve. Scarcity is what creates value. We all wish our circumstances would improve but it is usually we who must change first. Become better rather than wish it were easier. Be the change you want to see in the world - start with your own bedroom, garage, and backyard. You cannot manage an enterprise if you cannot manage yourself. Avoid gossip, criticism and judgment. There is genuine peace in not worrying about things that don't matter (inconsequential trivia) are outside your control.

Knowledge and technical competence are not enough. Your value to your employer and customers is defined by your ability to positively influence and deliver results. Thinking strategically and executing masterfully is more important than adhering to methodologies - obsessively pay attention to excellence in execution.

Success or failure is the accumulated result of thousands of tiny decisions. Most people become disempowered through inner-corrosion rather than by a catastrophic event. Sustained success is the result of painful and diligent growth occurring below the surface, for the most part unseen by the outside world. Work on yourself rather than criticize others. Self- awareness, self-discipline, self-leadership and positive attitude are what attract success beyond mere knowledge and skill.

Work is not different from the rest of life - bring all of yourself to your work. Treat your sales career as a profession that creates value rather than being a competitive game. It has serious and profound lessons to teach if you are open to learning. Be the person worthy of the life you seek - success and failure, belief and doubt are necessarily conjoined. Finally, lessons tend to be repeated until learned - think about that one as you wonder why you're so 'unlucky'. You can find the problem and the opportunity in the mirror.

Leadership really is an inside job.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Main image photo by Flickr: Edd's Images


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