3 Key Behaviors of Highly Successful Leaders

| By Terence Brake

Intelligence, determination and vision are qualities we typically associate with great leaders.  But there is one key behavior shared by today's most successful leaders that gives them the competitive edge - self leadership.

What is self-leadership?

Self-leadership is the intentional process of influencing our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to fulfill our potential, and increase the positive impact we have on the world around us.  Self-leadership is not self-absorption; it involves looking inwardly to contribute outwardly.  As self-leaders, we take personal responsibility and accountability for being effective now and the future.

Why is self-leadership important?

It is well known that as the competitive environment and organisations themselves become more complex, we need to make the very best use of talent.  The matrix organisation was conceived to loosen the grip of functions on talent deployment, and bring cross-functional talent together in project teams.  Members of these matrix project teams can have two or more reporting relationships.

Paradoxically, an increase in the number and complexity of reporting lines doesn’t increase the degree of control over team members.  What happens is that controls become more tenuous and ambiguous.  This amplifies the need for self-leadership to make the matrix work effectively.

How can you tell if you are a self-leader? 

Self-leaders engage in three practices:

1. They Question Their Limits Every Day

The brain is an absolutely amazing organ, but if we – with the help of others - program it with self-limiting beliefs we will never be a self-leader.  Every day we must be vigilant in challenging those self-fulfilling prophecies that place limitations on our abilities.  Most of the time, our brains are on automatic pilot, and they take us unthinkingly to our comfort zones.  Unfortunately, our self-limiting beliefs influence not only how we see ourselves, but how others see us.  These negative sets of perceptions reinforce one another and form a vicious circle of self-limitation.  I believe A about my limitations, and so you believe A about my limitations.  Your reinforcement of my self-limiting beliefs strengthens my negative thinking pattern . . . and so on.  

Beliefs are not reality, they are beliefs.  We can choose to believe them or not. 

If you want to lead and influence others, you must first lead and influence yourself.  Question your self-imposed limits every day.  Find alternative beliefs that are a better fit with the positive reality you want to create.  In time your unconscious mind will get the message and create new thought patterns.

Moving forward:    
• How often do I find myself expressing beliefs like the following?  “I have no . . .”/“I can’t . . .”/“I mustn’t . . . “/“I’m not . . .”/“I don’t have . . .”/“Others will be better at . . .”
• Where did such beliefs about myself come from?
• What impact do such beliefs have on my life/work?
• Why do I continue to let these beliefs have any power in my life/work?
• What alternative beliefs would serve me better?

2. They Take the Initiative Every Day

Initiative is taking responsibility and doing what needs to be done without procrastinating.  A matrix is full of ambiguities and uncertainties, and decisions are often required to be made without perfect information or a clear line of authority.  Self-leaders anticipate problems and look to get things started without seeking a perfect outcome.  They are not reckless mavericks who cause others problems; they are disciplined in the actions they take, and that discipline is based on a very good understanding of others and their needs, as well as matrix team goals.     

Moving forward:
• In what circumstances do I find myself willing/unwilling to take the initiative?
• What opportunities for taking the initiative have I missed in the past?  What were the consequences?
• What opportunities currently exist for me to demonstrate initiative?
• What obstacles hold me back from taking more initiative? 
• What can I do to remove/minimize these obstacles?

3. They Learn Something Every Day

Self-leaders are always in a learning mode.  They acquire and refine knowledge and skills from formal learning situations, when available.  They also learn informally by observing and listening to others, and by asking for and processing feedback.  Additionally, self-leaders invest time in self-reflection and identify lessons from experience.  We should not only reflect on less-than-successful experiences, but good ones.  Peter Drucker said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection.  From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” 

Moving forward:
• Do I take my learning mindset with me wherever I go?
• What formal and informal opportunities do I have – or can create - for learning?
• What knowledge and skill areas do I need to improve on to develop my self-leadership?
• Is my mind open to new experiences, knowledge, and ideas?
• Can I make better use of what I have learned in the past?

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