I was blessed in the early days of my career to work for some strong, incredibly competent leaders. Not only were they great at leading the organization I was part of, but they took a special interest in me. They were intentional and purposeful in creating opportunities for me to stretch and grow my leadership muscles. Whether it was giving me a chance to make a presentation at a business meeting or sending me to a conference for continued education, opportunities were extended to me before I knew to ask for them.
That gift of leadership development, however, became my expectation. I thought that I deserved intentional investment like that from my future leaders. Years later I collided with an unmet expectation. I believed that others would always be concerned about my leadership development. I found myself disappointed when other leaders didn’t provide growth opportunities for me. That unmet expectation would wake me up to some tough truths that I needed to face if I intended to grow as a leader.
Self-leadership doesn’t come without acknowledging some difficult realities. This part of leadership is not glamorous. It doesn’t get attention or affirmation. No one is singing your praises for leading yourself well, but I truly believe that if we can get this right, the rest of our leadership becomes an overflow.
Here are a few tough truths that we need to understand about self-leadership:
- No one cares more about your personal development than you do.
- No one is responsible for your leadership development.
- You can’t wait for someone else to lead you.
- No one owes you leadership.
These truths are tricky. We often don’t recognize that we have these expectations because most of our early lives these are healthy expectations. As we’re growing up, we do need someone to care more about our development than we do. We wait for others to lead us, and they are responsible for helping us grow. That’s part of the maturing process. Once we grow to adulthood, move into our first apartment, and start having to pay some bills, we’re forced to start taking responsibility for ourselves. But when it comes to our personal development, especially in the area of leadership, it’s not as easy to know when we’ve moved from adolescence to adulthood.
In our human development, the real transition to adulthood happens when we begin to take responsibility for ourselves. This explains why some 18-year-olds move out, get a job, and make their own way—and why too many 30-year-olds are still squatting in their parents’ basement. The same is true for our leadership development. We will never “grow up” in our leadership development until we begin to take responsibility for our growth.