by Minter Dial, author of “You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader“
When I was starting off my career, I can recall how utterly exciting it was to get my first business card. Little by little I started hoping for a chance to add “manager” to my title. Within a couple of years, I was given the chance to manage a team of two people: one person more junior than me and myself. My first realization was that managing someone took time. It meant being available to explain and review things. It involved feeling responsible. There’s what you say and what you do, and the gaps in between become noticeable. What that meant, in effect, was that I had to learn how to manage myself. It was a most valuable and enduring lesson: leadership starts with yourself.
Years later, as I was working up through the ranks at L’Oréal, where I worked for 16 years, one of the concepts that I held onto was that my role should be to make my boss look good. If my boss shone and I could be associated with his or her success, that would rub off on me. This strategy didn’t always work, but the key for me was in developing myself. If a boss wishes to take the credit for successes or blame subordinates for failures, that is a choice. As with many instances, the key question is how you view yourself and the intentions behind your actions.
If some people think that leadership is something that happens only when you’ve reached the top, I disagree. I encourage to consider every step along the way as an opportunity to develop your leadership skills. And the first step is with yourself. There are three reasons why this is important.
First, real leaders know themselves.
I like to encourage defining a North Star, a future vision of who you want to be. You come to understand deeply where your strengths and weaknesses lie. You are aware of what triggers you negatively and positively. You become acutely self-aware, which means being able to identify you own emotions. It’s impossible to manage how everyone perceives you. But great leaders have their eyes wide open in front of the mirror into which they’re looking. By developing this self-awareness, you’ll be better able to knowingly rely on your strengths. Where you have weaknesses, you can either look to bone up on those missing skills or choose teammates that complement you or compensate for them. You’ll also avoid being the kind of boss that needs to take out their personal issues on others. One of the key lessons I’ve learned is to make sure to check in with my own emotions every morning. How am I feeling? And remember: it’s okay not to be okay.
Second, a strong leader knows what he/she stands for.
While it may be difficult to stand up for what you believe in during the early days, it’s vital to lean into what’s important for you. In a competitive environment where it can be a tough daily grind, I am deeply grateful for having a North star that has guided me and helped nurture my energies. When you know what you stand for, it helps you to tap into your discretionary energy, the one where you jump out of bed with alacrity, in spite of the challenges. When you know what you stand for, your vision and words become forceful, credible and durable. A leader needs to know how to bring others along with a vision. A vision based on solid and coherent personal values commands respect.
Third, you know what your limits are.
When you know yourself properly, you gain a certain self-belief and you’re more likely to be able to hold yourself accountable. You are also less prone to posture or have gaps between what you say and what you do. As a leader, the most important quality to develop, especially important when work is remote, is trust. It is a sine qua non that you must be able to trust yourself. But, as Robin Sharma calls it, when your video aligns with your audio, you’re going to garner more trust. You show up in a way that is reliable. When you promise something, you need to believe it yourself. Your word must be worthy. But your actions must then follow.
With thirty years of experience under my belt, I’ve learned to live with the fact that I can never be sure of anything. The classic saying that the more you know, the more you don’t know holds true. For starters, you never really know yourself perfectly. If you think you know yourself fully, check again. Getting to know oneself is an ever-evolving journey in that we are complex beings. Moreover, the path to self-discovery is tainted with our imperfections. To be a great leader, you need to recognize and embrace those faults, otherwise they may resurface in different and uncontrolled ways. The more humility you carry with you, the more likely you will stay curious and young at heart. Curiosity is one of the defining characteristics of a child who always asks why? By staying insatiably curious and aware that you cannot know everything, you are going to stay in an always-learning mode. Moreover, you will tend to seek and appreciate the help of others. You are never stronger than the sum of your network. A great leader surrounds herself with great people and knows how to develop great future leaders.
- Craft your personal and precise North Star setting. Make sure to invest the time to consider who you are and, more saliently, who want to be.
- Draw up a list of what matters to you and then whittle that list down to the top one or two items. Then connect into why those items are personally important to you.
- Gain self-belief by making yourself accountable to yourself.
Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, elevator and a multiple award-winning author, specialised in leadership, branding and transformation. An agent of change, he’s a three-time entrepreneur who has exercised twelve different métiers and moved country fifteen times. He’s author of The Last Ring Home as well as three business books, Futureproof, Heartificial Empathy and his latest, You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page) released in January 2021.