Lesson in Personal Leadership 1: Define and Focus on What’s Important

In beginning to discuss lessons in personal leadership, I want to first define what I mean by “personal” leadership.  Quite simply, this is the ability to lead yourself.   It’s difficult if not impossible to have the capacity to lead others if you don’t have the ability to guide yourself in achieving outcomes that are important to you.

To do this though, you have to first know what is important to you! Unfortunately many people, don’t sit down an actively consider what their priorities are based on what their purpose is, so therefore they end up letting things that aren’t aligned with what’s important dictate their schedule.

In discussing the focus on women last week  I posed the question, do we really want to have it all?  Is striving for having it all hurting women in their ability to have person leadership for themselves? Is it hurting everyone’s ability for this?

Here’s a step-by-step process for establishing what is important to you:

I’ve said it MANY times on this blog before, and I’ll say it again, create a personal mission statement.  Not for the company you work for, but for you. Here’s a link to some more info on that which includes a worksheet you can download from Dave Ramsey.  It also contains sample mission statements.

I want to be clear that in focusing on personal leadership and developing a mission statement is in order to move from “maintenance” mode to “mission” mode.  In the Participant Workbook of the Global Mission Society  I was captured by their contrast of “maintenance” verses “mission”.  Maintenance is inward focused, mission is outward focused. Maintenance focuses on ourselves, mission focuses on others.  Your mission is a way to define how you are best suited to impact the world, not a way to live selfishly.

Write this statement down, post it where you see it regularly (especially in places where you find yourself not living your mission) and share it with those people that are important to you.

Examine your schedule and to-do list by your mission statement at least weekly.

Is what is on your calendar and to-do list reflective of your purpose?   I really like the methods outlined in Stephen Covey’s First Things FirstAlong with co-authors Roger and Rebecca Merrill, Covey advocates for a generation (4th generation he calls it) of time management that allows you to focus on what is important, not urgent by creating a mission statement for yourself (the book has a great mission statement workshop in an appendix) that focuses on scheduling and prioritizing your week based on roles (it is others focused).   In addition, it emphasizes leaving time in your schedule for flexibility so you can respond with important things arise.

For example, at any given time you could be playing the role of mother, wife, friend, business developer, work producer, school volunteer, etc.  These roles should be in line with your mission statement. There is always a section for “Sharpening Your Saw” for the week, which focuses on personal development. This way of examining your week helps you consider if you are in fact putting first things first through considering your relationship with others.

Eliminate things that don’t align with your purpose 

This is easier said than done, but saying no to something is saying yes to something else. There are many worthy and good things to spend time doing.  Most of the people I work with that I find are stressed and out of balance aren’t the people that are doing irresponsible or “bad” things with their time.  They are just stuck in a rut of not knowing how to say no (myself included), and I believe this is because they haven’t defined what is important.

Example 1:  A dad finds that he has 2-3 meetings each week after work related to civic volunteering, church activities, etc.  These are all worthy things, but he looks up and realizes he is at home fewer nights a week with his children than he is at another engagement.  In defining his purpose and roles, spending quality time with his children is a key priority.   He gets off two committees at church but stays on the one that is tied to his mission, commits to only one night a week being available for a work engagement, and signs up to help coach t-ball so he can spend more time with one of his sons.

Example 2:  A successful businesswoman has had tremendous success growing her business, but she is now finding herself pulled in too many directions.  Because of this, she is leaving the office later and later, waiting until the last minute to get things done and having a horrible time prioritizing.  In addition, she is constantly dealing with a “high maintenance” client that does not pay their bills on time.  In addition, the margin on the account isn’t even that large.   She examines her purpose through drafting a mission statement and develops a plan to delegate certain activities to her employees based on her desire and purpose to live proactively and align with her purpose to develop others.   She has a frank conversation with the “high maintenance” client and lets them know that until they are current on their payments, she will not able to follow-through on work they want done (again tied to her purpose to live proactively).   Quiet simply, she turns the ringer on her phone off and closes her email inbox to eliminate distractions when she is working on things that help her live proactively.

Two Birds and One Stone I’ve found it helping to consider where in examining your week and roles you might be able to combine functions to gain more benefit.  For example, my role and purpose as a mother has led me to stay at home one day a week with my child.  This is important, and I shift work priorities around accordingly.  Often, I try to find ways to incorporate spending time with him into other roles.  On Thursday, we made brownies together (he’s only two but loves to stir and stir and stir) for a meal we were preparing for two friends that just had babies (fulfilling the role of friend and mission to be gracious to others).  I run with my dad and a friend.  It helps me “sharpen the saw” and helps me find quality time in communicating with two people who are important to me. Beware of killing two birds with one stone…. Now that I’ve said killing two birds with one stone helps you achieve your mission, sometimes it doesn’t. It is just a distraction. For example, if my commitment is to stay at home and spend quality time with my little one 1 day a week, pulling out the computer to check work emails 3-4 times a day (like I also did this Thursday) is not a way to help you meet your mission.  It is a distraction.  Eliminate these things that don’t allow you to focus intently on your purpose at the moment, just as you would eliminate large tasks or commitments that don’t align with your purpose.

What has helped you focus on what’s most important in establishing priorities and personal leadership for yourself?


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Mary Ila Ward