Want to Grow in Leadership Skills? Start By Leading Yourself

Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa, said:

“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50 percent of your time in leading yourself–your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20 percent leading those with authority over you and 15 percent leading your peers.”

For many people in leadership positions, those investment percentages are probably surprising. Afterall, you obtained the position you are in for the purpose of helping those you are in charge of navigate their way through projects, client needs, or anything else that is thrown at them. Yet, according to Hock, a mere 10% of your time should be dedicated to that cause. 

The largest percentage of your time spent trying to grow in leadership skills should sit in cultivating yourself. Let’s dive into what that might look like:

What Does Leading Yourself Mean?

Typically, people fall into one of two categories: Those that hold themselves to a higher standard than they do the people around them, and those who grant themselves allowances they wouldn’t dream of granting others. To be a great leader, it is absolutely necessary that you fall into the former category. If you can’t make yourself do hard things, it’s going to be almost impossible to have the charisma and drive to make others do hard things. 

Leading yourself looks like waking up every morning not with the intention of being better than those around you, but better than you were yesterday. It’s pacing yourself against yourself instead of against your peers. You have to hold yourself accountable every step of the way, even when it’s embarrassing, uncomfortable, or hard. 

Most importantly, leading yourself requires you to know yourself deeply. Great leaders have values, morals, and integrity to fall back on when they are facing difficult situations. In doing so, there is far less pressure to do things the fast or easy way, and even greater standard to stay consistent and firm in your beliefs. 

The Building Blocks of Great Leaders

To nurture yourself as a leader, you have to start with some key components that will translate easily from leading yourself to leading individuals to leading entire companies and beyond. 


Leaders have to start from a place of love, first and foremost. If you forget that you or the people you lead are humans with lives, experiences, thoughts, and feelings, you’re going to lose sight of your ability to grow in leadership skills. Bad days are going to happen. Tragedies and mental health concerns and stress and burnout are going to happen. 

To help yourself and those around you reach their full potential, you have to strike an (admittedly) delicate balance between compassion and tenderness, along with firmness and expectation. Leadership is all about tough love.


If you have trouble laughing at yourself, you’re going to have trouble becoming a great leader. 

Forbes notes:

“[Michael] Kerr says dozens of surveys suggest that humor can be at least one of the keys to success. A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.”

But why? It really has to do with how we handle mistakes. While some let mistakes discourage them, great leaders can laugh at themselves and grow. It makes the inevitable disappointments easier to take, it makes your peers more at-ease, and it increases everyone’s willingness to discuss mistakes in a productive way. Humor helps us fail forward, instead of letting stumbling blocks stop our progress completely. 


This is probably the most obvious ingredient, but leaders have to have the drive to do more, learn more, listen more, and continue to grow outside of the office. 

A leader’s drive is what pushes them to do more with less. It’s what propels them out of bed in the morning full of fresh ideas and the energy to execute them. Of course, keeping our drive is not always easy. There are days when burnout is looming, or we are questioning our abilities as leaders. Those are the days when compassion and humor come into play to help rekindle the drive that we’ve lost. Together, all three components form a virtually unshakeable foundation for success in leading yourself, and eventually, others. 

Growth isn’t easy! It’s sometimes painful, and oftentimes hard to see the forest for the trees. If you need a little help getting started, talk to us. Catalyst Group ECR works with business owners and executives to help them realize their potential and experience growth in their focus areas. Through one-on-one meetings, we work with you to build a sense of community and rapport that provides a foundation for growth.

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