know yourself - personal leadership principle 10

What Kind of Leader Are You? Inside each of us lies the potential for good and evil. This is evident when you look at various leaders throughout history. Some have displayed incredible evil, allowing their greed and/or disdain for groups of people or nations to cause harm to millions. Many of these ruthless “leaders” didn’t even think twice about harming their own people in order to get what they wanted. Conversely, the world has seen many wonderful, caring leaders who have fought hard and sacrificed themselves to improve the lives of the group of people or nation that they cared so much about.

Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Although we all have a mix of good and evil in our attitudes, thoughts, and motives, one usually dominates the other.

A Good Leader Knows His Heart

Do you know what is really in your heart? Since human nature is a combination of good and evil, it is something we must struggle with daily. Human nature influences our self-control, habits, demeanor, judgments and morals. Perform a self-assessment by asking yourself the following questions to find out what is truly in your heart:

1. How do you handle correction or criticism?

One of our nation’s great leaders, Abraham Lincoln, once showed his true colors when criticized. His Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, had at one point become so frustrated with Lincoln that he was overheard calling Lincoln a fool. When Abraham Lincoln caught wind of this statement, he said, “Well, Stanton is a wise man, and if he called me a fool, I had better look into it.” How telling that response was. Lincoln was a man of impeccable integrity and character, and this response was a perfect example of it. His open-mindedness led to self-reflection rather than defensiveness and anger. How would you or I have handled this situation?

If you are humble enough to examine and learn from harsh criticism, you can become a strong example of personal leadership to others. It is important to not only recognize our weak areas but also to understand the perceptions we are leaving with others. For example, if you often look stern, you can be seen as gruff or uncaring, even if you aren’t. Once you become aware of this perception others have of you, you can take steps to change the perception (i.e. making an effort to smile more often, engaging in conversation that shows others that you care, showing genuine concern by offering help when people need it).

2. What Do You Live For?

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If we are not willing to die for something, we are not fit to live.” By his own personal example of leadership, he did end up dying for what he believed in. Fortunately, most leaders today aren’t asked to die for their cause. The real question for any successful leader should be “What are you willing to live for?” A value worth dying for is also worth living for. Could you easily explain to others what your values are? Are you inspired and motivated by your personal values and personal mission? Is integrity at the top of your list? Hopefully. If so, what are you willing to personally sacrifice to maintain your integrity? Would you “sell out” when put under pressure to do so by others?

There is no substitute for integrity. You can have all of the fame, riches, and power in the world, but still feel a lack of fulfillment. If you have sacrificed your integrity to get those things, you end up with dishonor and nothing of lasting value. On the other hand, if you live honorably, stick to your values, and maintain your integrity, you will enjoy personal fulfillment no matter what your social or financial circumstances are.  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, you may never acquire great wealth or popularity in your lifetime, but your integrity will positively influence others, possibly for generations to come.

Take some time periodically to do a self-examination. Look for flaws or weaknesses that you want to overcome. Consider ways to “reinvent” yourself and move in a positive new direction.

3. Do You Have Something to Prove?

President William Harrison served the shortest presidential term in history…31 days. Why? In an effort to debunk the campaign accusations that he was too old and unintelligent to be president, Harrison stood outside on a frigid March day to give the longest inaugural address in history, all the while refusing to wear a coat or hat for warmth.  Following the address, he developed a severe cold which later turned into pneumonia. Sadly, William Harrison died just as he had achieved his personal goal.

Do you feel the need to prove something to others? Do you know yourself well enough to understand your own motives? If your motives are pure, you will not feel the need to prove yourself to those around you.

4. How Do You View Change?

Do you embrace change or run screaming into the night when confronted by it? Do you know your capacity for change? These are all important questions to consider as you seek to improve your personal leadership skills.

Sometimes people cling to old habits, beliefs or behaviors that are obsolete and can hinder personal leadership development. Often these things have outlived their usefulness, but because we are so comfortable with them, we don’t recognize that they are getting in the way of our personal growth and our ability to effectively lead others. Personal leadership means stepping out of your comfort zone to continually grow and improve and inspiring others to do the same.

5. Do You Conduct Self-Appraisals?

Be sure to analyze yourself periodically to look for areas which can be further developed. While this critical self-reflection may be painful, it will help us identify and acknowledge our faults so that we can work on bringing about positive change in ourselves.

Why do you want to lead? If it is for the money, prestige, or power, you will be disappointed as these things do not provide lasting satisfaction.  But if you view leadership as an opportunity to grow personally, inspire others, and create positive, lasting change in the world around you, you won’t be disappointed!

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