Leadership is most often discussed and written about in terms of how we lead others. But leadership starts with how we lead ourselves and this raises the question: How can we hope to lead others if we are unable to lead ourselves?

The list of ways in which we can lead ourselves is almost endless. For example, how good are you at leading a balanced life? Or what about your mindset; do you nurture a mindset that supports your growth and development? What about your habits and behaviours; are there any you’d like to change? And then there’s boundary management; the things we say ‘Yes’ to, when we really wish we’d said ‘No.’  Not to mention our internal self-talk; the way we talk to ourselves on any given day. If someone else talked to us the way we talk to ourselves, we’d probably distance ourselves from them.  And the list goes on.

How then, might we lead ourselves effectively? The answers are probably as numerous as the questions but from our experience, a few strategies that many find useful include developing a growth mindset (the desire to learn); broadening awareness (by actively seeking feedback); building resilience (in mind, body, and spirit); learning from other leaders (the good, the bad and the altogether atrocious) and identifying one’s Values.

Identifying our innate Values is often easier said than done. Our Values are who we are, not who we would like to be or who we think we should be. Our Values represent our unique, individual essence and we can often draw on them as a guide or ready reckoner. When we honour our Values, life tends to be reaffirming and rewarding. There’s a certain effortlessness when we make decisions through the lens of our Values. Moreover, work is often most fulfilling when we are engaged in tasks that align with our Values.  Indeed, relationships are also so much more meaningful when we interact with those who have similar Values. And of course, the converse is also true.

There are several Values that trip off the tongue such as Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Authenticity to name a few. Perhaps these should be a given, especially the first two, but there are so many more such as Fun, Family, Freedom, Creativity, Self-expression, Entrepreneurship, Exploration, Adventure, Giving, Serving, Solving, and so on.

Here are a few ideas to help you identify your Values:

Think of a time in your life that was particularly poignant or rewarding. A time when you felt exhilarated, engaged and enthused about whatever it was. What were you doing? What were you thinking? Who were you interacting with? What words would you use to describe the experience and are those words indicative of your Values?

Or what about a time when you were upset, frustrated, or even angry with a situation, a relationship, or an organisation? Perhaps you felt constrained or controlled. What were you yearning for? You may have been longing to express a Value that had become dormant.

Then there are the ‘Absolute Musts.’ Thinking beyond materialistic items such as the house or car, what must you be able to express or experience in your life and/or work so that you can be yourself? Think of a Value that you must absolutely honour, otherwise a little part of you implodes or dies. For example, perhaps you need fun and laughter in your life to survive as well as thrive.   

And finally, Extreme Behaviour. What do people occasionally (or frequently!) say about you (or to you) that either annoys them or is a cause for concern? Could this be a behaviour that you have taken too far? Perhaps you are planned and organised to the nth degree, or you put others before yourself to the detriment of your health.  Might either of these scenarios be an expression of a Value that sits at the heart of your behaviour?

Once you know what your Values are, they will provide you with insight into how you are living your life; a window into what makes you happy or sad; energises or drains; inspires or demotivates; engages or estranges; makes your heart sing or closes you down. It is then your job to find (or re-find) ways of expressing your Values. No one can do this for you. Identifying your Values and honouring them will give you a sense of knowing who you are, what you stand for and what you don’t or won’t stand for. Knowing our Values means being centred and not being pulled in a direction that’s at odds with who we are. This is the point at which we have developed a strong inner compass or locus of control and are leading ourselves effectively.