The Hardest Person You Will Ever Lead Is Yourself

The Hardest Person You Will Ever Lead Is Yourself

The Hardest Person You Will Ever Lead Is Yourself

   This week I have had the honor of being part of the faculty for a course on leadership and non-profit Management in Chicago. The course is a collaborative effort between the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Bexley Seabury Seminary. We have had the chance to both hear from and read some of the top teachers of leadership today. The common thread has become clear through all that we have learned can be summed up in a quote from leadership author Bill North: "The most important and the most challenging person you will ever have to lead is yourself." 
   This really struck home, and here is why. I oversee a wellness initiative that teaches the importance of balance and making time for rest and renewal. I teach this regularly, and yet there are times that I am so busy working and traveling to teach wellness and balance to others, that I forget to practice it myself. This I find to be is a perfect reminder that the most important and the most challenging person I will ever have to lead is myself.  

   I was recently facilitating one of our Parent Wellness Circle programs, and a mother was talking about how unhappy she was that her teenage children were spending so much time on their screens-their phones and their computers. She announced to our group that she was going to talk with her children in the upcoming week about their screen time, and would begin discussing some mutually acceptable boundaries around screen time. When she returned to our wellness circle the following week, she reported how things went. She explained that she realized that before she could talk to her kids, she had to take an honest look at herself. She realized that she was spending as much time, if not more, on her phone and computer each night and that before she was going to be able to talk to her kids about their excessive screen time, she was going to have to change her habits. Only then could she set a better example for her kids and expect them to follow. In all this, she, too, realized that the most important and the most challenging person she would ever have to lead was herself. 

   Here is one more example of this leadership truth. Years ago I was refereeing a youth soccer game between two middle school boys' teams. Within minutes of the beginning of the game, I realized that one of the coaches was a screamer. In all my years of being around soccer, I had never heard a coach yell at their players so much. I could see the effect of his constant yelling as his players were quite tentative and seemed to be afraid of making a mistake, less they got criticized. At halftime, I went over to this coach, pulling him aside for a private conversation. I quietly said to him, "I don't know if you are aware of how much you are yelling at your players. It's really out of control." He replied, "I have to yell like that because they never listen to me." I somehow found the courage to say back to him, "I think they don't listen to you because of the way you yell at them. They are tuning you out." After the game was over, this coach made a point of coming over and thanking me for my honesty. He also hopefully learned that day that the most important and challenging person he will have ever have to lead is not one of his players, but himself.  

   Think about the leaders and mentors that have influenced you most in your life. If you are like me, you may become aware that the most important way in which they influenced you was by the way they lived their own lives.  These kinds of leaders and mentor "walk the talk" and inspire us to want to do the same.

   I typically think of leadership as the ability to influence and change others. This week I am grateful for the reminder that leadership always starts with and flows from the ability to influence and change ourselves.

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