We often discuss leadership as if it is a state or quality that either exists or doesn’t. But the truth is that whether one seeks to become a leader or whether one is already serving in that capacity, leadership develops over time.
A leader’s development tends to proceed through three stages. The first stage is self-management. The second is individual achievement. The third is leading others. Although these three stages are distinct from one another, they may coexist and a leader may move back and forth through these stages at various times.
Today’s discussion focuses on the first stage: self-management or leadership of oneself. Executive coach Sharon Keys Seal, founder of Coaching Concepts Inc., refers to this stage as “leader in the mirror.” John Maxwell has written, “[h]e who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” One of the quickest ways to walk alone is to neglect the importance of self-management. In contract, leaders who have a solid grounding in self-leadership tend to inspire confidence in those whom they seek to lead.
We all have the opportunity to be the “leader in the mirror,” and those who seek to excel individually or to lead others must manage that first leadership challenge. Self-management underlies individual achievement as well as leadership of others because the two later stages can’t exist (at least not in a mature, lasting form) without some measure of self-leadership.
Think about a talented but undisciplined athlete. Raw talent and some measure of discipline often allows him to succeed to a point, perhaps through high school or college. But at some point, the athlete goes down in flames despite his talent and despite a coach or manager or family urging him to do better, thanks to involvement in crime or violence or immature stupidity. Some of those athletes reform their behavior through self-management, and others become the stereotypical “has been” who revels in past glory but never achieves what he might have. The road an athlete walks depends not only on his physical talent, but also on the self-discipline he musters when he’s no longer subject to the control of a parent or coach.
Is the same true for lawyers and other professionals whose talent lies in intellectual capacity? You bet.
One who has mastered self-management has developed a strong capacity to manage his or her beneficial and destructive tendencies. Self-discipline refers to the ability and willingness to buckle down and do what must be done even (perhaps especially) when one would prefer to do something else. Self-management is a similar attribute, though it also calls for recognition of what must be done in a variety of contexts.
Self-management prompts a professional to recognize that he or she will be more effective if well rested, properly nourished, and revitalized with physical activity even though he or she might prefer to eat junk food and watch bad TV to “relax” after work. Self-discipline is what prompts that lawyer to eat a balanced dinner and to go to bed early enough to get adequate rest, and then to get up early enough to take a walk.
A lawyer who knows what research must be done for a client and who completes that research meticulously exhibits self-management. One who relies on doing just enough or on doing it at the 11th hour has room to grow.
Self-leadership also impacts your clients and business development. Some lawyers routinely fail to get work product to clients with enough time for their review and input. That’s a failure in self-management. It’s also a leadership failure, because it subtly undermines a client’s confidence in the lawyer’s professionalism and abilities.
The fruit of self-management lies in creating the freedom to achieve to the extent of natural and developed ability, not being held back by a self-sabotaging tendency to cut corners, delay, or burn out.
Must a lawyer exhibit flawless self-management to be an effective leader? No. The more developed a leader’s capacity for self-management and self-discipline, the more effective a leader is likely to be. However, each individual is likely to be better in managing certain areas than others. A leader may be strong in self-management in the use of working hours, but be deficient in setting aside time for his or her own renewal.
How does your self-management rate this week? (What would those whom you seek to lead say?) What can you do to improve it, thereby improving your productivity and practice?