All Articles Leadership Management Before you can lead others, you need to manage yourself

Before you can lead others, you need to manage yourself

4 min read


Before you can earn the right to lead others, you need to “manage” yourself.

I know I’m not the first to use that phrase. Steven Covey wrote about it, and it’s taught in leadership programs such as those at my university.

It’s more than just another nice, pithy little leadership motto. It’s so true! But what exactly does it mean?

In plain language and practical application, it means that no one is going to follow or be inspired by someone who is an emotional train wreck, a red-hot mess and can’t punch themselves out of a paper bag without giving themselves a black eye.

In addition to the mixed metaphors, here’s what managing yourself means:

1. You know who you are and how you are perceived by others. We leadership development geeks call this “awareness of self”. It’s not as easy as it sounds — most people have “blind spots” as to how they are perceived by others. We overestimate our strengths and expect to be judged by our good intentions, not by how we are really behaving and if we have insulting the hell out of somebody.

In Order to improve our self-awareness, we need to stand in the mirror and see ourselves as others see us, not as how we see ourselves or want to be seen. That can only happen with feedback. In order to get feedback, we need to seek it out, respond non-defensively and with gratitude, and then actually do something about it.

2. Develop your Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman nailed it in his classic 1998 HRB article “What Makes a Leader.” When he examined the elements of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill) he found a direct correlation with leadership effectiveness and business results.

I’d recommend taking an emotional intelligence (EI) self-assessment, or even better, an EI 360 assessment, where you ask others to rate your behaviors. The good news is, EI, unlike IQ, can be improved with understanding and practice.

3. “Control” your emotions. Another way of saying self-regulation. Controlling your emotions doesn’t mean not being emotional – it means not letting the limbic part of your brain take over the rest of you and cause you to go on psychotic rampages. For more on how to maintain your compose, see last month’s post.

4. Develop a set of guiding principles, or core values and walk the talk. Core values could include integrity, honesty, credibility, respect for others, and humility. Great leaders are crystal clear on their values and use their values guide their behaviors and decisions. With a clear and consistent set of values, or guiding principles, leaders demonstrate consistently in their behavior and others understand where they are coming from and why.

5. Balance. By balance, I don’t just mean “work and life balance.” I mean taking care of yourself — your health, practicing mindfulness, managing your stress levels, getting enough sleep and exercise, and building meaningful relationships. We know this when we see it; we say, “you know, that Cheryl really has her %$#& together.” When you are out of balance, it affects your behavior, which affects your ability to lead others.

So if you want to inspire, motivate, set direction, and make a difference in the lives of others — to lead — great! But you first need to get your own %&*$ together and learn to manage yourself.

Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better leader and communicator.