To Lead Others We Must First Lead Self

May 1, 2010, Written by Sue Miley

One of my long time mentors always told me that it is easy to lead when you have the position.  True leadership is when people want to and do follow you even when you do not have position or authority.

Even worse is when you have the position/authority and people still don’t follow.

Where are you on the continuum?  Do people follow you?  Or do you have to constantly push them?

As the owner of a small business, we have position authority with our employees and in most cases our vendors too.  Although with vendors we may still be a small fish in a big sea.

Leadership Equals Trust


Our customers technically don’t have to follow us, however, if we are true leaders they will look to us for our expertise, follow our advice, buy our products because they trust us.

Leadership is necessary and present in every scenario of work, home and life in general.  But what is leadership?  If you do a google search Wikipedia doesn’t have a single definition for leadership.  It wants to categorize leadership into transformational leadership, situational leadership, servant leadership and so on.  I believe that these are styles of leadership, but what is leadership?

Leadership is the ability to inspire and persuade people to follow a specific course of action.

Many people place in their definition that the goal or destination of the leading would be positive, but we all know that criminals have leaders, wars have leaders and other negative outcomes are achieved with strong leadership.

I believe that inspire is an important word in the definition as when following a leader the followers are usually happy to do so.  If they follow, and are not happy, then they are not really being led, they are being managed or coerced depending on the situation.  It is usually out of fear for a negative consequence if they do not comply.

Think back in history…history of the world….history of your life…who do you know that possessed extraordinary leadership?  Who do you follow willingly?  What are the characteristics of a strong leader in your opinion?

My short list is:

  • integrity
  • decisiveness
  • enthusiasm/passion
  • courage
  • unselfishness
  • knowledge
  • loyalty
  • competence/ability
  • dependability/consistency
  • maturity
  • self-discipline
  • empathy/compassion

Many of these traits are character-driven but are illustrated through our actions and our outcomes.

In business, these traits can be translated to:

“If he is always late and cancels meetings and changes deadlines, how can he expect me to be different.”

“I would love to be “on the team” and “part of the vision” but I am still not sure what the vision is.  Do you know?”

“The boss is in a terrible mood today.  I wonder if we are going to stay afloat.  I don’t want to be on a sinking ship – maybe I should look for another job.”

“If she could just make up her mind, I would follow.  I will wait a couple of rounds before I waste a lot of time and effort.”

These and many, many others are commonly heard across organizations large and small.  It really comes down to this:

If we don’t have our own act together and we are not illustrating that we have the ability to lead ourselves effectively, our followers will see it!!

In many cases, they are not stupid, just lazy.  They will follow when the leader is ready to lead.

Once we are leading ourselves well and have mastered many of the traits listed above, then we need:

  • A vision – where are we leading them!
  • The ability to communicate the vision and where we are on the journey.
  • The ability to inspire – to bring the vision and it’s achievement to life.
  • To follow-through and persevere through obstacles, detours and roadblocks!

Getting Our Own House in Order


Let us start first by getting our own house in order.  The concept of a leader is that we are one leading many!  To effectively do this we must address several tactical skills that are needed for any individual to even LEAD THEMSELVES!  The key ones that I see many small business owners and professionals struggle with are:

  1. Time management – which encompasses the ability to manage our time with integrity, prioritizing first things first, and achieving completion.
  2. Delegation – learning the art of properly delegating responsibility and authority along with tasks.
  3. Conflict resolution – face issues confidently and with compassion to ensure that they are resolved in a timely and productive manner.
  4. Accountability – looking at results, expecting solutions, requiring effort.
  5. Stress Management – somewhere between “the sky is falling” and “never letting them see you sweat”

Mastering these 5 skills provides a foundation for self- management and thereby leading by example.  Biblically, Jesus showed a servant leadership style, however, in general He led by example:

  • He lived the sinless life that He wants for us.
  • He managed His time by prioritizing time to teach, time to rest, time to pray.
  • He delegated to His apostles to create and grow the church and to spread the Good News.
  • He resolved conflict by addressing it head-on i.e. told the pharisees straight up what he thought, told the sinless man to cast the first stone, told the samaritan woman to sin no more.
  • And well, stress management, who but the greatest leader of all time could face the cross without blame, without excuse, and with humility and immeasurable courage, fulfill God’s vision for the salvation of mankind.

We may never be perfect like Jesus, but just as we strive to be more Christlike in our spiritual growth, we should continuously strive to develop Jesus’ leadership skills.  I believe the first step in the process is Learning to Lead Ourselves Well!  What do you think?  What are some other critical leadership skills that you feel all small business owners should work on?

Reader Interactions


  1. Matt Edmundson says

    For me – qualities for leaders:
    1. They serve
    2. I always look at the priority they place on family and their spouse
    3. They always are learning
    4. First to say sorry and take responsibility
    5. They already have people following them (in some capacity).

    And, like you, I think that leaders should have integrity, enthusiasm and passion.

    • S_Miley says

      Matt – I love your #2 about family and spouse. In 1Timothy it says that leaders of the church should have their home life in order. I believe that managing your family means that loving and taking care of them is a priority to you!

      I also think continuous learning is paramount – especially with how fast things change in our society.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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