Every journey has a beginning. Although many of you have been on your leadership march for a long time, others are fresh on the trail. Regardless of where you are on your timeline, there are four arenas which require your attention and ultimately your mastery if you want maximum influence and opportunity.

These four domains create an eco-system of sorts – Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Teams and Leading Organizations. Each contains its own unique elements, but each also is in a symbiotic relationship with the others.

Today, let’s take a quick look at what I contend is the most challenging domain of them all and where all great leadership begins… Leading Self.

Just like a coin, the challenge of leading self has two sides. The first is the daily, pragmatic side which includes establishing personal priorities and acting on them consistently, time management, and stewarding our influence strategically, etc. The late Peter Drucker captures all these ideas and more in his classic book, The Effective Executive. As Drucker put it, “Effectiveness can be learned – it must be learned.”

The other side of the coin is harder to see and is much more difficult to measure than tracking our time or managing our calendar, but it’s a much larger issue for most leaders. The most demanding part of leading self is the development of our leadership character – those defining traits that influence what we do, how we do it and why.

For more than a decade, I was guilty of very sloppy thinking about leadership character. I knew character was the majority of what made a leader successful. Ken Blanchard and I used the metaphor of the iceberg more than a decade ago in our book, The Secret, to describe the intangible 90% “below the waterline.” Only after I received a lot of feedback and encouragement did this metaphor morph into a point-of-view on what leadership character actually looks like in the real world.

There’s a lot of confusion around the topic of character. The word itself is often thought of as a positive attribute. “He is a person of character.” However, character is nothing more than a mark, or distinctive – a trait, character is comprised of characteristics. Therefore, character traits can be good or bad: “She is lazy.” Or, “He is dishonest,” are character statements just as much as positive adjectives.

The second point of confusion – when most people talk about leadership character, the conversation moves quickly to integrity, honesty, and dependability. These are great, but they are not unique characteristics of leaders. I’m guessing you want EVERYONE on your team to have these foundational traits and others like them.

Here’s the point: leaders are different. We see the world differently, we think differently and this in turn means we act differently – not better or worse than others, just different. Leaders are marked by a different set of traits.

So if we are to cultivate leadership character traits, where do we begin? Assuming you have a grip on the foundational character traits like the ones mentioned above, I would start with the HEART.

Hunger for Wisdom

Expect the Best

Accept Responsibility

Respond with Courage

Think Others First

Leadership character is essential to becoming a leader people want to follow. If your heart is not right, no one cares about your skills.[GLS_Shield]

If you want more on this topic, check out The Heart of Leadership.

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.