The Importance of Self-Management in Human Leadership

self management - it starts with you

To lead others effectively, you have to lead yourself first. This principle is a cornerstone of my Human Leadership operating model.

In my book, Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance, I walk you through the process of diving into your humanity to discover everything that makes you the unique human you are. I help you clarify your values, beliefs, and purpose so you can use them to inform your decisions to map your path going forward. Chapter 3 of Be Human, Lead Human teaches you everything you need to know to start leading yourself first.

Today, I want to dive further into what exactly I mean when I say you must “lead yourself first.”

Effective Leaders Manage Their Behavior

Leading yourself first refers to a lot of things. It means recognizing and honoring your human needs. Creating your vision for your life and your career. Knowing your values and goals and holding yourself accountable to act in accordance with them.

Perhaps the most important aspect of leading yourself first is how you conduct yourself. The standards you hold for your day-to-day behavior matter. 

Human behavior is heavily influenced by emotion. That’s why researchers like Daniel Goleman emphasize the importance of emotional intelligence. Without it, it’s easy to let volatile emotions control our behavior—which in turn influences the emotions and behaviors of those around us.

Why is this important? Because those emotions and behaviors can make or break performance in the workplace—and not just yours.

Effective Leaders Manage Emotional Labor

It’s a leader’s job to make decisions that address the needs of every team member while also accomplishing the goals of the organization. Emotional intelligence—developed through understanding and leading yourself first—is a necessity to accomplish this.

It’s imperative to practice regulating your own emotions because your role as a leader also entails navigating the emotions of everyone on your team. Depending on your job, this skill can be the difference between life or death.

In 2009, pilots Chelsey (Sully) Sellenberger and Jeffrey Skiles famously emergency landed a plane in the Hudson River after a collision with a flock of birds killed the engine’s power. Though some people sustained injuries from the incident, all 155 passengers survived this emergency water landing! 

How did these leaders pull off what became known as “the Miracle on the Hudson”? By regulating their emotions and maintaining control of the situation. Staying regulated made it possible for Captain Sully to keep his prefrontal cortex engaged and focused on the external environment. He was able to pull from his decades of experience, training, and education to keep himself and his crew calm and focused on getting through the crisis.

Without this level of emotional self-control, there likely would have been a very different outcome to that emergency water landing. Sully’s emotional self-management allowed him to understand what was going on around him and take immediate, considered action. 

While most of us will never encounter a situation as harrowing as flying a powerless plane, we do all face situations where we have to think under pressure—and live with the consequences of failing or succeeding to do so.

Learning to regulate your emotions is key to leading effectively.

What Happens When Leaders Don’t Regulate Their Emotions

Failing to regulate your emotional temperature doesn’t only impact internal performance. In today’s age of recording and calling for accountability on social media, lapses in self-regulation can have far-reaching consequences on your reputation and that of your organization.

Last month, MillerKnoll CEO Andi Owen went viral on social media for a “pep talk” telling employees worried about receiving bonuses to “leave pity city.” The backlash she and MillerKnoll received from the media was resounding—especially in light of the fact that Owen’s own compensation package in 2022 was nearly $5 million. (And yes, that includes bonuses.) Imagine the impact her outburst—and the company response to the public’s outrage—must be having on employee morale. There’s a lot more than money hinging on those bonuses thanks to Owen’s comments.

Another CEO’s failure to regulate his emotions led to remarks that completely undermined his organization’s values. Clearlink CEO James Clarke praised an employee for selling the family dog to return to in-office work, saying “I’ve sacrificed and those of you here have sacrificed greatly to be here as well.”

Clarke pushing people to sacrifice for the company goes against the work-life balance value Clearlink claims to have for its employees on its website. The blatant contradiction brought the company under fire, leaving a bad taste in many people’s mouths on social media. As one Twitter user aptly commented, “This is why you can’t trust a company’s ‘values.’ They respect work-life balance so much that you can’t even own a dog.”

Start Leading Yourself First

You cannot lead others effectively until you learn how to lead yourself. And you can’t lead yourself without understanding yourself. That’s why there’s a whole chapter of Be Human, Lead Human dedicated to honoring and understanding the human you. 

If you want to build your self-understanding and learn how to use it to understand others, order Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance today. Then, go take the complimentary Human Leader Index™ to gain personalized insight into your strengths and areas of opportunity as a leader.

You’re already doing great work elevating your leadership by reading my content! Be sure to check the blog every two weeks, and subscribe to my bi-weekly LinkedIn newsletter for even more helpful leadership content!

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