3 Surprising Ways to Succeed in Self-Leadership

Monday, June 15, 2015

It’s ironic that successful self-leadership has more to do with others and less to do with self. I learned this later in life. The sooner you see it, the better for your career. Following are three lessons I learned from personal and professional experiences.

Surprise #1: Serve a Cause Greater than Self

The first surprise about self-leadership is that working for money, power, and fame is an unfulfilling pursuit. Frances Hesselbein says it succinctly: to serve is to live.

Choose a career that helps others by bringing truth, goodness, or beauty into the world and you will find greater career satisfaction and contentment. From time to time, you will experience the joy that comes from seeing the efforts of your work directly improve the lives of others. Here are a few examples:

  • The teacher who helps a student learn to read brings greater truth and goodness to the world.
  • The landscape architect who designs aesthetically pleasing outdoor environments brings greater beauty to the world.
  • The journalist who helps the public see both sides of a story brings greater truth to the world.
  • The salesman who helps a customer find the right product or service to meet a real need brings greater goodness into the world.

You should seek to serve others in these ways, too.
Surprise #2: Get a Coach or Mentor(s)

No world-class athlete gets to the top without the help of a coach or multiple coaches. We need other people to help us achieve our potential.

For instance, each of us has blind spots. Your blind spot may be that you are argumentative or perhaps you don’t speak up when you should. Some people have a blind spot when it comes to not knowing when to end a conversation or meeting. Some managers have blind spots of being over-controlling, and others don’t interact enough with the people they are responsible for leading.

The need for coaching and mentoring goes beyond needing to address our blind spots, though. We need experts to help us develop skills. When I left Wall Street to write a book and begin public speaking and teaching, I needed the help of Twyla Thompson, a top acting coach at the Actors Institute. Twyla taught me how to emotionally connect with an audience.

On Wall Street, I had learned to turn off my emotions when communicating and I needed Twyla’s help to turn my emotions back on. She had me do exercises that included speaking to a group of acting students. I had to make eye contact with one student at a time and maintain eye contact until the student raised his or her hand to signal that he or she felt connected to me.


Twyla’s colleague Gifford Booth would stand at the back of the room and yell, “Louder, louder,” as I spoke. He helped me see a blind spot I had: I was too soft spoken. I could never have learned these things on my own and I’m grateful that Twyla and Gifford helped me become a more effective speaker.

#3: Be Intentional About Connecting With People

I learned the hard way that all people are hardwired to connect. Connect with God.  Connect with one another. When we don’t connect, we become dysfunctional. We feel lonely, which makes us more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and depression.  

Connection makes us healthier, happier, and more productive. It helps us grow in competence and character. It gets us through the inevitable difficult seasons we all experience in life, a lesson I learned as our family and friends helped us get through the three bouts of cancer my wife Katie experienced. Today, she is cancer free and thriving.

Bottom line: You can be more successful in your career and life if you serve a cause greater than yourself, get coaches and/or mentors to help you learn and grow in competence and character, and be intentional about connecting with God, family, and friends. As you experience greater peace, hope, and joy that comes from having an abundance of connection in your life, you will discover wealth of even greater value.

Is your workplace culture supporting your success with self-leadership? Join Michael Lee Stallard for the June 23 webcast, “Your Workplace Culture: Life-Giving or Draining the Life Out of You?” to learn about three predominant relational cultures in the workplace—and how each affects your productivity, health, and happiness.

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work. Read more on the Connection Culture website.



About the Author
Michael Lee Stallard ( is a thought-leader, author, speaker and leading expert on how human connection in culture affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He is the president and cofounder of E Pluribus Partners and the Connection Culture Group. Michael is the primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity, and Productivity and Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding.

Michael has appeared in media outlets worldwide including Entrepreneur, Financial Times, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox Business, Inc., Knowledge@Wharton, Leader to Leader, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. His clients have included Costco, Lockheed Martin, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NASA, Scotiabank, U.S. Department of Treasury, and Qualcomm. Texas Christian University founded the TCU Center for Connection Culture to advance Michael and his colleagues' ideas at TCU and in higher education.
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