Great leadership starts with leading an organization of one

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All leadership begins with “self-leadership.” Before any leader can aspire to lead a thriving enterprise they must first master leading an organization of one.

Tom and Susan are partners in the same firm and produce at a very high level. Over the past 5 years Susan has not only outpaced Tom, but many of her senior partners as well. What is most surprising about Susan’s performance is that her ascent to excellence was slow in coming, and Tom was very reluctant to open the doors of partnership to Susan after her lackluster performance during her initial years in the firm.

Out of curiosity Tom summoned the courage to investigate the root causes of Susan’s consistent growth. What Tom observed and discovered was that Susan had an incredible ability to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. She seemed to respond appropriately to the right opportunities, and dismiss the less relevant distractions. Tom concluded that his ascent in leadership was made possible by a hyper-reaction to random stimulus, and it had reached a level of unsustainability. Tom shared with his partners that Susan “leads herself with discipline and precision.”

What made an impression for Tom were the practices Susan engaged in to help her have a sense of what needed to be done. In order to accomplish what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, the leader engages in certain practices or disciplines to produce that result when required. Self-leadership employs intentional action in advance to ensure the right action happens when necessary.

Although some people are more naturally disciplined than others, for those that struggle with being disciplined, you can create the structures that promote greater “professional will.” To help you get started, consider the following 5 disciplines of self-leadership. To engage in these practices will accelerate your effectiveness and prepare you to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.

Control Time

The most basic expression of self-discipline is controlling your time in such a way that you are focused on your “highest and best” use. The effectiveness of leaders is limited by allowing others to set too much of the agenda and your time is spent on the trails of rabbits. There is a wealth of material available to assist with time management, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. However, there are some practices you can intentionally engage in that will promote a greater ability to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.

  • Time Blocking: Predetermine blocks of time allocated for your most important activities
  • Landing the Plane: Do not allow meetings and conversations to extend beyond the appropriate time limit
  • Time Cop: Give your assistant or colleague some authority to assist you in executing your calendar
  • Power Sprints: Protect 1 hour blocks of uninterrupted time to execute your most complex work

Fuel Energy

Leadership is an energy intensive endeavor. One of the primary reasons for allowing unsolved problems to be swept under the carpet is the lack of energy of the leader. It is imperative to sustain the appropriate levels of energy to intercept entropy at its earliest stages.

The disciplines most commonly associated with fueling your energy often involve diet, exercise and sleep habits. Beyond these practices, build into your schedule opportunities to engage in things that put wind in your sails. What are the activities that energize you, and ignite your curiosity and passion? Below are some practices that you may want to be sure your calendar allows time to proactively pursue;

  • Reading: Helps you think bigger thoughts
  • Travel: Helps you see a bigger world
  • Networking: Helps you learn from other businesses

Temper Emotions

So much business literature will reference the all important aspect of “PASSION.” There is no argument that passion is essential to effective leadership. Passion is the natural reservoir of energy that propels a leader forward in the face of adversity. However, at times it is critical to practice the discipline of being “dispassionate.”

The discipline of being dispassionate allows a leader to protect the environment from becoming toxic, and engaging in the wrong battles. A leader should fuel their energy by investing in their passion, but keep things from running off the rails by not pouring gas on a volatile situation. Below are few techniques that you can practice in advance to promote appropriate dispassion;

  • Ask Questions
  • Define the problem
  • Spend more time on solutions
  • Take deep breaths before speaking

Focus Words

Every teenager wanting a driver’s license has read a copy of the book; “Rules of the Road.” Unfortunately, once we graduate from grade school there are no qualifying tests to ensure we have a license to speak. The most commonly used tool in the arsenal of a leader is their words. Far too often we lack the right words at the right time. Why wouldn’t the wise leader make time to practice the discipline of focusing our words for the greatest amount of impact?

The discipline of crafting or outlining scripts for crucial situations will assist in making sure that the words that flow from your mouth achieve the purpose of the right words at exactly the right time. Below are various scenarios that a leader will encounter and being prepared in advance with a script or outline is a wonderful exercise in self-leadership:

  • Vision: A brief outline that calibrates key players on the vision of the organization
  • Conflict: A brief outline that defuses hostility and allow people to work the problem
  • Correction: A brief outline that identifies problem behavior and promotes improvement

Use Power

The fifth important discipline that must be an ongoing practice for leaders is disciplining your power, particularly, as it relates to knowing where your source of authority comes from. Are you building your power base from the positional role in the organization or your credibility with the people you lead?

As the industrial revolution comes to a close and we give birth to the “personal age,” it is becoming clear that the authority of a leader rests in the relationships they form with the people they lead. The risk most often encountered when influencing people where there is a personal relationship is not maintaining the authority to exercise your power. One practice that can assist in maintaining your authority is identifying those with whom you need to come out from behind the desk, and those with whom you must stay behind the desk.           

  • Out from behind the desk: Individuals with the maturity to be clear on your authority
  • Stay behind the desk: Individuals that need you to maintain your position of authority

All leadership begins with self-leadership. Practice the disciplines in each of the 5 areas of self-leadership and you will find you possess an uncanny ability to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.

Glenn Gutek is a speaker and CEO of Awake Consulting & Coaching, a firm that helps small businesses and organizations improve their leadership and business development through training, development and coaching. He is also the author of “Wide-Awake Leadership,” which teaches leaders how to overcome mediocrity though effective leadership. For more information, visit or contact Glenn at or 407-901-4357.


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