“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
The biggest leadership challenges I ever faced in my career invariably ended up within me. While the initial problems may have been external, the battle to solve the problem was fought in both my mind and heart. This internal struggle by a leader to know, do, and be the right thing, at the right time, becomes the true test of character.
Leadership trouble erupts when the external problems overwhelm the internal abilities and emotions, usually as a result of insufficiently developed good leadership habits and self-disciplines. While literally any dummy can be a good leader during great times by maintaining the status quo, true leadership is tested during times of tremendous stress, strife, change and conflict. Just like a top athlete who is paid to perform for the entire season, the athlete earns his or her pay in the critical moments of a championship game. This game-ready leadership state starts with developing and then maintaining tremendous levels of self-discipline compounded by systems that do not fail while under stress.
I first noticed this in the corporate world, while starting my career in a 1,400 person high-volume, advanced electronics manufacturing facility, which was an incredibly fast-paced and stressful environment. Some of our skilled, long-term production supervisors could withstand almost any chaos that came their way (fires, fights, equipment breakdowns, etc.) with inner calm, the new supervisors (myself included) had not developed that inner fortitude.
Over the years and through subsequent executive roles, I realized that I needed to develop myself to a high level of self-discipline and good habits, in order to exude confidence and calm to others for whom I had the responsibility of leading.
This has been a lifelong project, and today, I want with you to share the three most important principles that helped me develop self-leadership.
Self-leadership Principle #1: Make self-discipline a priority
The world has a way of giving you a heaping dose of discipline, one way or another. Either you are disciplined by the world (i.e. You’re fired! or Whoops, we lost your money! or You’re next in line for promotion, I promise!) or you discipline your own world, on your schedule, and your terms. I prefer the latter not the former. Deciding to actually develop internal leadership skills, such as character, emotional control and developing a Positive Mental Attitude, is the first and most import step
Self-leadership Principle #2: Build a success system that works
Building good self-leadership is a long process, and requires a system that constantly builds, reinforces and corrects the right types of behaviors, while mitigating or eliminating the harmful behaviors. About 20 years ago, I wrote down the types of behaviors I wanted to develop into a brief series of statements I call Percy’s Creed. Each morning I read through the Creed and ask myself how well I did on living the principle the previous day, and check the ones on which I did well and mark down the ones I didn’t. Not only does this provide a daily reminder of what is most important, it also enable me to self-correct and make regular, daily improvement. My creed is posted here for your information. Feel free to share it.
Self-leadership Principle #3: Focus on continuous improvement
It’s been said that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards. I agree. In fact, I have embraced the concept of Continuous Improvement as one of my most important career builder and life principles. We sometimes make it too difficult to achieve a goal by focusing purely on its attainment, rather than on the progress we are making towards attaining it. Like progressive resistance while weight training, the progress attainment towards the goal makes us stronger, better and more resilient as we strive to achieve what is most important in our lives.
Eamonn has a B. Eng. (Electrical) from Lakehead University, MBA (Finance) from University of Toronto, and has completed Executive Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. Follow him on twitter @EamonnPercy