Leadership Starts with Leading Yourself

In my post last week, I talked about how Disney hires employees that fit in well with their values and culture. This benefits not only the company, but the individual being hired as well. When you are forced to work outside the realm of your own values, there will be cognitive dissonance at play that can make your work frustrating, boring, or even downright depressing. It’s impossible to be a good leader if you don’t believe in what you’re doing. If you wouldn’t follow yourself, why would anyone else?

The great leaders of the world have all had strong convictions and unwavering confidence in their causes. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Golda Meir, and anyone else esteemed enough to be considered among their peers were leading in a cause that they were passionate about and that they believed in wholeheartedly. The first step in leadership is not an easy one. As Warren Bennis, who is regarded as the pioneer in the field of contemporary leadership, puts it, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.” It requires identifying that first spark of fire in yourself to ignite the enthusiasm of those around you. To do this, you have to understand what you stand for. What are your values? What are the principles that guide your life? What is it that you care about?

I’ve decided to take this opportunity to really think carefully about what is important to me and what my values and principles are. The approach I’d like to take is to define my values first, and then use those values to shape my guiding principles. I didn’t take this exercise lightly. After a few hours of thoughts, and more than a few words and phrases scratched out on more than a few pieces of balled up notebook paper, I came up with my personal values system. I’m sharing it here to keep myself  accountable to live within the realm of values and principles that are important to me. Without further ado, here is what I came up with as the final list of my five core values.


  • Concern for others
  • Authenticity
  • Continuous improvement
  • Fun
  • Quality

A couple of explanatory points, I think, are necessary here. First, I made a conscious effort to keep this to a list of five core values. It would have been very easy to list out 20+ attributes I’d like to see myself fulfill, but I think it’s important to get to the root of the few that are the most important to you. While this particular list of five is really in no particular order, I took care to make sure that they were the five of the many I considered that seemed the most important to me. Secondly, I thought over and over again about adding “passion” to my core values. I firmly believe that passion is an important thing to have in your life and something that has to be central in your life to be happy. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like passion was inherent in living life according my values. How could I not be passionate about doing things that are central to my very existence? That’s not to say I’d be passionate about any and all forms of improvement, necessarily, but I think the core values work best when you mix with them all together. I’d be very passionate about improving the quality of something that provided a great benefit for others – and I’d have fun doing it!

The next step was to develop my personal guiding principles. With these, I tried to make my values more actionable.

Guiding Principles

  • All people should be treated with respect and dignity.
  • I will actively seek and value the opinions and perspective of others, as they view the world differently than I do and have valuable insights to offer.
  • I will seek first to understand others. I will listen, observe, and put myself in their shoes without evaluation or judgment.
  • I will be an authentic version of myself. I am who I am, no matter where I am or who I am with. My words and actions will be synonymous. I will strive to keep my commitments to others and myself.
  • I will foster an environment of continuous learning, growth, improvement, and innovation for myself and those around me. I will share my knowledge with others and seek their knowledge to grow collectively.
  • Fun will be a central part of my life. I believe life is too short not to have fun. I will integrate fun, in some way, shape, or form, for myself and others into everything I do.
  • I will hold myself to the highest standards of quality in everything I do. I expect the same quality from myself as I would from anyone else.

So, that’s that. The next thing I want to do is develop my personal mission statement, but since I’ve been working on this for hours now and all I have to show for it is scrap paper, I think that might have to wait for another post!


One Response to Leadership Starts with Leading Yourself

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like the conclusion you come to about being passionate in life. That does include having fun, because it balances neurology- it’s simple brain chemistry. Working against that balance is the reason for excess stress, and therefore, disease. I think a lot of us older generation people could stand to remember that. It’s possible to be at peace with ourselves and still live with passion if we remember that the meeting place between passion and peace is PLAY! I think Disney knew that secret!!

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