3 Keys to Leading Yourself Well

leadership emotional intelligenceThe past ten days have been tough.

In addition to trying to work and take care of my family, I’ve coordinated a cross-country move, closed on a new house, transported a canoe 345 miles, said goodbye to old friends, cleaned out our apartment, visited family, and driven half-way across the country.

Of course I didn’t do any of this alone, but I’ve felt the weight of responsibility for all of it. Any one of those events is a story bursting with obstacles, frustrations and detours.

Needless to say, I haven’t been the best husband or father this week. Thankfully, I have a patient family. I recall snapping at Luke for dumping out a set of toys we had just picked up. Even as I raised my voice I was analyzing my own motives. Turns out I wasn’t disciplining Luke for any good reason. I was being selfish. It really didn’t matter if he got those toys out again. Amid all the chaos, I just wanted some order. And through the haze of fatigue, I took it out on my son.

I stopped and took a breath. Then I apologized to Luke and tried to cling to some perspective. I’ll be honest, it was hard. I was tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. But just because it was tough doesn’t make this a failure. In fact, this story is a victory. This is what self-awareness and intrapersonal skills are all about.

Intrapersonal skills involve the ability to know what you’re thinking and feeling—while you’re thinking and feeling it—and to respond appropriately. There are three key parts to this definition:

1. “…know what you’re thinking and feeling” Before you can begin to lead yourself, you must understand what you’re actually thinking and what you’re really feeling. Only then can you take a stab at assessing the validity of your thoughts and emotions. With Luke, I had expectations that I hadn’t communicated and was feeling anger and frustration.

2. “…while you’re thinking and feeling it” This is the kicker. You may be great at analyzing what you were thinking and feeling during some past event, but the real power comes when you start to process thoughts and emotions in real-time. The more you practice and reflect, the easier it gets. With Luke, the whole process took maybe 5-10 seconds.

3. “…respond appropriately” This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not enough to understand what you’re thinking and feeling in real-time. To lead effectively, you must build the ability to respond well to your thoughts and feelings. The appropriate response might be to continue, to adjust as necessary, or (as with Luke) to change course entirely.

I’m a firm believer that I can only lead others to the extent that I can lead myself. To that end, I’m constantly challenged to wrangle my thoughts and emotions and drive them to produce purposeful results.

Which of these three aspects of intrapersonal skills do you wrestle with the most?

2 thoughts on “3 Keys to Leading Yourself Well”

  1. If you’r in the heat of the moment it’s hard to control yourself before things get out of hand. But then again, I’m the kind of person who avoids confrontation. It doesn’t make a bad person but it doesn’t help when I really needed to defend myself.

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