The Best Kind of Leadership is Self-Leadership

I got bit by a dog this weekend.

When I knocked on the owner’s door, he verbally accosted me. Said it was my fault. I hadn’t heard so many F-bombs in a long time. Which, I guess, was sort of refreshing.

When I called the cops (because apparently that’s what you’re supposed to do when an animal removes a piece of your flesh), the officer asked me, “What do you want me to do about it?”

Then I talked to Animal Control. They asked me a series of questions, then thanked me. Before they hung up, I blurted out: “What am I supposed to do?” This had never happened to me before. I was scared. I didn’t want to have to think. I just needed direction.

They said, “That’s up to you.”

We are all looking for someone else to tell us what to do. Why is this?

Self Leadership
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

Passing the buck: 2 questions

Most people live their daily lives, trying to answer two questions:

  • Who’s the boss?
  • Who can I blame?

We humans have trouble accepting responsibility for our actions. So what do we do? We shift the blame from ourselves to others.

We don’t want responsibility, because we don’t like consequences.

We spend our days, giving permission to other people to lead. When it comes time to accept responsibility (or fault because someone screwed up), the blame doesn’t fall on us.

In other words, we sacrifice the honor of leading for the comfort of never having to be wrong. What a waste.

The harsh reality is that this is all an illusion. Because the truth is scary, something we’ve been avoiding for maybe our whole lives.

But every time we’re honest with ourselves, there it is, staring us in the face.

The answer to both questions is you

You are the boss. You are the one to blame. Until you start living like it, we are all screwed.

The world’s best leaders lead others because they first lead themselves. They lead not through position, but through example.

They manage their time well before ever calling out an employee for taking an extra-long lunch break.

They discipline themselves in communicating before ever asking someone else to reciprocate.

And one by one, they earn their followers. Through integrity.

Crisis and leadership

Shortly after the financial crisis, a BusinessWeek article from 2009 said the best leadership is management. An interesting thought. Not sure I agree. Here’s my thought:

When crises hit, we resort to hierarchical systems, because blame is easy to assign.

Think of the last time you had a fight with your spouse, a friend, even your boss. Wasn’t there something in you that wanted to pass the buck, something that made you want to avoid responsibility?

This is broken humanity at its finest — dodging blame and passing the buck.

When we enter times of crisis or war or panic, we begin to show our true colors. We just want someone to tell us what to do. We don’t want to be held responsible, so that later we can say, “This was never my idea.”

One simple, crazy solution

There is a solution to this problem that will bewilder some and frustrate others:

Take responsibility. For everything.

Start owning what other people don’t want to touch. Accept the blame that others pass around.

Do you know what will happen? People will respect you. They’ll admire you. Even begin to follow you.

I learned this when a team member of mine made a mistake that cost our organization trust with our constituents. I assumed full responsibility.

Sure, I didn’t write the copy. And sure, it happened while I was on vacation. But it was my team member who did it. I hired her. Ultimately, I was responsible.

I never had to fight for that person’s respect again.

I’ve seen the same thing with the leaders over me whom I respect. It’s all about humility and servanthood.

How does this apply to writing?

This is about more than writing, but as we’ve often seen, the lessons we learn about writing apply to life. And sometimes, vice versa. Here’s the rub for the writer who’s reading:

Until you figure out how to lead yourself, you will never write what you were meant to write.

For example, why haven’t you written that novel yet? Or started that blog? Why are you still not writing every day, in spite of knowing you should?

Do a series of excuses and blame-shifts rise up in you as you process these questions? Whose fault is it, really?

It’s time to stop making excuses. It’s time to start leading yourself.

For more on self-leadership, read these 12 rules.

What’s one story of self-leadership you can share? (It can be about you or someone else.) Share in the comments.

(Since so many of you asked, yes, I’m fine. The dog had received all its shots, so after some peroxide and a bandage, the bite healed up quite nicely. Thanks.)