Great Leadership

I’ve been pondering over what makes a leader great. There are a multitude of well documented qualities and skills a great leader possesses.

The foundation though, is how one leads and manages oneself. You cannot successfully lead others if you have not mastered self-leadership. I stumbled upon this quote which I think sums up the two key parts that mark the beginnings of great leadership:

“Knowing others is intelligence; Knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power.” Lao Tzu

So, let’s break that down in the context of leadership:


1.           Self-awareness is critical to being a successful leader. It’s never easy to admit your flaws, but you cannot overcome your weaknesses if you don’t know what they are. It can be hard to see your strengths because of that ever-present critical inner voice. But if you don’t recognise your own strengths, how on earth can you leverage them?

2.           Your beliefs, values, norms and habits set the frame of reference for your decision making, behaviour and actions. They have a strong influence on your approach to leadership and ability to lead. When you have a clear insight into your frame of reference, you become more conscious and deliberate in your decision making and behaviour. Your actions become consistent with great leadership.

3.           Be in tune with your self-talk, that inner critic, the voice that chatters constantly with a running commentary on your every move. Essentially, you are who you tell yourself you are. We are all living self-fulfilling prophecies based on our self-talk and the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Being in tune with your self-talk means that if you identify negative self-talk, you can interrupt it before it does damage to your confidence as a leader.

4.           If it’s too steep a jump to arrive at self-awareness by yourself, then ask others. For example, an anonymous 360-degree appraisal is often a good way of finding out from others what their view of you is. You can use this a starting point to gain further insight into yourself and your leadership style.

5.           Once you have self-awareness, accept the things you cannot change about yourself and set about changing the things you can. But most importantly, own it: who you are is your responsibility and no one else’s. And therein lies the power to begin mastering yourself.


1.           Habits are at the core of self-discipline. Assess your habits and get rid of habits that do not serve you.  Replace them with good ones. Start with small simple good habits or you will burnout and give up before you get far. Being organised is a habit. Time management is a habit. Managing distractions is a habit. Delegating is a habit. Self-care is a habit. Apparently, it takes at least 21 days of consistently repeating a new habit before it becomes the norm, so try working towards that to begin with.

2.           Set SMART goals for yourself. Paint a compelling picture of success for yourself. How will you measure success? How will you know you are doing well? Track your performance and success with new habits to help you keep the goal in mind. “Your ability to set clear goals, and then work toward them every day, will do more to guarantee your success than any other single factor” Brian Tracey.

3.           Prepare for self-sabotage. Pre-empt excuses and distractions plan for them – going in with a plan will help to give you the mindset and self-control necessary for managing yourself in the situations that you know will undermine your goals.

4.           Accept failure. Failure will come, it is part of the journey to success. The key is to accept responsibility for your failures and your successes, to forgive yourself, learn lessons, pick yourself up and keep moving. Self-management is a practice, which means you will fail many times before you perfect the practice.

5.           Self-care. Schedule breaks and treats to reward yourself as you take care of yourself and manage your stress. You will not be able to take care of anyone else if you do not take care of yourself first.