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Know Yourself - The First Step In Leadership

An old Chinese proverb says that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” I suppose that in reality every journey starts with the first step and our leadership journey is no different; perhaps the biggest challenge that we face though is identifying that first step.

It would be easy to launch straight into discussions on transactional and transformational leadership, action-centred leadership, trait-based leadership et al; the first step to being a successful leader is through self-awareness.

As well as giving us a useful formula for determining angles, Pythagoras said “No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself.” Likewise, a Chinese philosopher called Lao Tzu opined that “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” The problem of course is that throughout the ages people have tended to want to rush into the more esoteric aspects of leadership and get on with leading without first fully knowing their own character.

Leaders who know themselves will be able to develop their own self-control and will better understand the needs of their followers. Of course, most people have lived with themselves for a long time but that does not necessarily mean that they ‘know’ themselves so how can we get to know ourselves?

There are many useful tools available such as SDI, Myers-Briggs, Belbin, Honey & Mumford or 360˚reporting that are designed to paint a picture of our personalities and how we interact with others – or you could simply ask someone for some constructive feedback.

Knowing your own personality type will help to put into context the way in which you lead and also identify any area in which you might not be as strong. Take Belbin’s team roles as applied to the principles of war for example: you might be an ‘implementer’ in which case you may struggle with flexibility, or perhaps a ‘specialist’ who may have difficulty when it comes to cooperation. It does not mean that you can’t lead but knowing yourself will give you the opportunity to deploy your particular talents where they will offer the greatest advantage.

So, the first step on our leadership journey is to get to know ourselves.

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