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6. To Lead Others Well, You Must First Lead Yourself

If you’re like most leaders, there’s one person in your life who is more difficult to lead than anyone else. That person? It’s yourself. Welcome to episode 6 of The Heart of a Leader! Self-leadership is the foundation of good leadership. I believe that being a leader is different from doing leadership. But what does that look like? It sounds sort of ethereal, doesn’t it? In this episode, we’ll discuss five internal leadership competencies you can develop to lead yourself well and become the leader people want to follow.

Like Their Children, Business Leaders Struggle with Self-Leadership

I’ll fully admit that self-leadership didn’t come naturally for me. As a kid, my mom would always have to be on my case about finishing homework. I barely graduated high school by the skin of my teeth. Even in my early Air Force years, my supervisors had to use the carrot and stick approach to help me do what I needed to do. (Oftentimes, there were probably more sticks used than carrots.) Even after I separated from the military, I still struggled in certain life areas. It took me years of reading books and listening to podcasts on personal development and leadership before I finally developed the tools to lead myself well. When I first started coaching, I had mainly served young people. I would guide them through their journeys of self-discovery and help them create a vision for their lives and a plan to get there. Essentially, I helped them save years of their lives figuring things out the hard way by teaching them what I wish I had known before I became an adult. After a few years of doing this, I started to notice a trend; my clients’ parents would say something along the lines of “Do you work with adults? I could use this too.” At first, I was surprised. After all, these parents were often very successful business leaders. They had achieved the world’s idea of “success” by leading their teams and organizations, but they still struggled to lead themselves. They had found a way to earn a paycheck, but lacked purpose.

Being a Leader is Different than Doing Leadership

Many organizations hire for leadership positions based on how well a team member performs in their technical role, but fail to equip them to lead others well. Other times an organization may hire or promote leaders for their charisma or ability to “drive results”, but those leaders haven’t developed the internal competencies necessary to lead themselves. The inevitable result is similar to a personal trainer who can help others reach their fitness goals, but remains out of shape due to their inability to take their own advice. It’s the “do as I say, not as I do” approach to leadership. Who wants to follow a leader like that? The truth is that our businesses will only grow when we grow. Before we ever lead others, it’s our duty to first lead ourselves. So, instead of focusing on the doing of leadership, let’s focus on the being of leadership. What does it mean to be a leader? What are those internal leadership competencies that help you lead yourself and others well?

External vs. Internal Leadership Competencies

During my masters coursework, I had the opportunity to begin studying competencies. If you’re unfamiliar with what a competency is, that’s fine. I was too. A competency is a skill that you or I can develop. Typically, competencies are easy to identify. Can you create a keynote presentation? Can you deliver an effective talk? Can you create a profit & loss statement? These are all examples of what I call external competencies. “External” because they are things that happen outside of an individual. They’re ways we, as leaders, interact with those around us. But how do we measure internal competencies? People tend to agree that leaders should possess integrity, but what does that actually look like? How can you measure someone’s level of self-understanding? I took on the task of identifying the top internal competencies for leaders and determining their behavioral indicators. After doing the research, I discovered that there were at least 28 different internal leadership competencies, but there were five that kept showing up more than the rest: Visioneering & Goal-Orientation, Self-Understanding, Integrity, Ethics, and Learning Agility. Let’s go over each of these.

The Top 5 Internal Leadership Competencies

Visioneering & Goal-Orientation

  • Articulates a fully developed personal mission

  • Possesses a written, clear and compelling values-based vision for their future in all areas of life

  • Their vision is broken down into specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-keyed, exciting, and relevant goals

  • Prioritizes and accomplishes tasks according to their level of importance and urgency

  • Manages resources (i.e., time, money, energy) to accomplish goals and tasks without external prompting

  • Regularly assess their progress and adjust goals, tasks, and habits accordingly


  • Demonstrates an awareness of their personality, communication style, strengths, and weaknesses

  • Articulates an understanding of how they naturally respond to stress and security

  • Exhibits confidence in their worth and abilities

  • Exhibits humility by acknowledging their limits and not overstating their abilities

  • Reflects on their performance regularly and adjusts their actions accordingly

  • Articulates significant events in their life and how they have shaped the person they are today


  • Follows through on commitments

  • Communicates truthfully at all times

  • Accurately relays complete information so as not to mislead anyone or provide a false account

  • Exhibits consistent character across all levels of the organization and social situations

  • Understands and can articulate how each area of life impacts all other areas of life

  • Establishes habits and standards for each area of life to ensure health in all areas

  • Takes responsibility for their actions by expressing ownership of success and shortcomings


  • Thoughtfully assesses their values and beliefs

  • Filters decisions through their values and beliefs

  • Unwavering in their principles regardless of social pressures or short-term gains

  • Adheres to local laws unless they are in direct conflict with basic human rights

Learning Agility

  • Able to accurately articulate their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth

  • Articulates how their knowledge, skills, and abilities are contributing to and limiting their ability to serve others

  • Sets goals and standards for their personal growth and development and takes actions to meet or exceed them

  • Intentionally and proactively learns from diverse perspectives and sources of information

  • Applies new learning and skills to all areas of life while humbly sharing lessons with others who ask

  • Adapts to new situations by learning on-the-fly as necessary to accomplish goals

  • Thoughtfully considers coaching feedback and uses it to improve their performance

How Is Your Self-Leadership?

If you realize that you have room to grow in the area of self-leadership, here are some steps that have helped my former coaching clients:

  • Leadership naturally implies movement. I like to think of this like a road trip. As you look at the map (do you remember those?), you have to first determine where you are. So, we begin with a foundation of Self-Understanding.

  • Improve your Ethics by digging into your core values and beliefs.

  • Once you understand who you are and what you believe, it’s time to move forward. You do that by stepping into Visioneering & Goal-Orientation. This is the phase where a you lay out your vision for each area of your life and develop a goal-based plan to get there. Life standards are established and accountability measures are put in place to ensure you stay on course.

  • At this point, you may be wondering, “When do we focus on Integrity and Learning Agility?” Well, woven into the entire process are the competencies of Integrity and Learning Agility. Your vision, goals, and life standards will represent a wholistic view of life without compartmentalizing any particular life area. Every day is an opportunity to reflect, learn, and adjust course.

Go and Be the Leader You Were Created to Be

Thank you for being here with me today and trusting me to speak into your life. If you found value in this episode, be sure to follow The Heart of a Leader on Apple Podcasts or subscribe via your favorite podcast player. For more resources and information on how I could serve you in your personal growth and leadership journey, go to If you’d like to be encouraged and inspired, you can find me on LinkedIn @CoachDanielJenkins or on Instagram and Facebook @DanielJenkinsCoaching. As you go about your week, remember, if you want to lead others well, you first have to lead yourself well. So, go out into the world and be the leader you were created to be.

* Cover image photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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