Top 10 Ways to Lead Yourself

baseball hat

It was 6:30 am when he came in the building wearing a green baseball hat. Had he been at any other YMCA in Chicago, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but this YMCA was in the heart of Cabrini Green, a housing project rife with gangs. Depending on how a hat was worn, and its color, it could constitute a gang sign, so we had a “no hats” policy in the facility. At 6:35 am, one of my staff members came to tell me a man was refusing to take off his cap. I went out to meet him, knowing that once he understood the reason behind our policy, he’d be happy to comply.

Boy, was I wrong! After telling him why we had the policy, he simply said, “I’m an FBI agent and I’m wearing my $@# hat!” It was then I had an amygdala hijack as my emotional brain swamped my rational one. He’d made a power play and I wasn’t to be outdone. So I informed him that if he failed to take off his hat, I’d have his membership revoked. Needless to say, the conflict went south from there. I had failed to lead myself well.

If you want to lead well and have a positive impact on both those around you and your company or organization, then 50% of your time should be spent in leading yourself. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this and it’s become the centerpiece of the MBA leadership classes I teach at Lipscomb University. So today I’m sharing with you the top 10 things I’ve learned over my career about leading myself.

  • I’ve made a lot of mistakes and poor choices. I need to own them when they happen, apologize, and take immediate action to rebuild trust.
  • I am consistently reading, studying, and going to conferences. Only by expanding the information I expose myself to can I grow and become a better leader, consultant, and coach.
  • I love change, but 75% of people don’t. So I have to slow the process down and give them an opportunity to get on board.
  • When holding someone accountable, it’s important that I balance grace (understanding and giving them room to fail) with truth (making sure they know what not to do – or to do – next time).
  • When I have one of those days where everything seems to go wrong, and I just know I’m going to take the next person’s head off when they walk through my door, I take a walk, or go down the street to get an iced tea at Starbucks. Cooling off prevents amygdala hijacks.
  • I’m a bullet point communicator – short and sweet. But only 30% of the population is like me, so I need to modify my communication style in order to better serve the person I’m going to be working with.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time understanding what I most value in my life and then creating a values vision statement. This helps me hold myself accountable to live a life of integrity and purpose. (email me at if you’d like a copy)
  • When someone asks me to a make a commitment, I wait at least 24 hours to give them an answer. In that time, I weigh the cost of the commitment and how I’ll really feel when the time comes to engage. If it’s not in line with my focus and values, I’m learning to say no.
  • I am a Jesus follower. Jesus taught “whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant…” Doing anything other than servant leadership, for me, lacks integrity.
  • My ability to lead others decreases during times of stress. My tendency is to work harder and sacrifice more, in order to get the job done. That only further decreases my ability to lead. I need courageous friends around me who will hold me accountable and help me pull out of the self-sacrifice flywheel.