Self Leadership is Required in Every Role. Lead yourself first. This is the most important lesson I have ever learned and, yet, I keep relearning it with every new chapter of my life. The most recent iteration of this was over the past year after retiring from the U.S. Air Force and joining the civilian workforce.
No matter what your role is or was, this lesson is always relevant.
This process has been eye opening for me and I have learned a lot. Over my 20-year career I have held all types of leadership roles. At one point, I had oversight of 1,800 personnel and 52 C-17 Cargo Aircraft. One time I led a crash site investigation team in an active combat zone; another time I was responsible for the career development of 48 elite instructors; and so on and so on.
Now, the job and career path I chose was intentional. I did not want supervisory responsibilities at this time. Being a father was priority one. Now, I am only responsible for myself and the product I deliver. For the first time in 20 years, I am an individual contributor. I thought this would be much simpler; however, I was about to learn an old lesson once again.
Within the first week or so, I asked my new boss what his expectations were for me. He simply replied with, “do your job and add value where you can.” This was pure brilliance. This is essentially what every single supervisor tells their subordinates during feedback sessions and on a daily basis, but few of us truly understand what we are saying. It was then I realised, the “what” we are in charge of doesn’t matter, we still have to lead ourselves first.
If we look back on all the different types of roles we have had over our careers, we will quickly discover the day-to-day routines were probably very different. However, one thing remained the same every time: you. The only difference is now you are a better version of yourself and have all of the lessons from previous positions.
Now, let’s look at how we can all apply this lesson to our current and future roles.
Do your job
So many people are busy looking to do so many other things that aren’t part of their job description. They are looking to get the next certification, volunteer at a community outreach event or seek a role in an organisation to pad the evaluation. This is all good stuff, but useless if you are not able to do your job first. I once had a subordinate who renovated our break room and did an amazing job, but he neglected his basic duties and was confused when he was reprimanded. It took some time to get him to understand all the extra stuff was great and important, but we have to do our basic role too to keep the lights on.
Once you are focused on task, effort needs to be placed on challenging yourself in your role. Even if you feel you know the job well, there is always something new to learn. Set small goals to learn something new each week/month. Once you get to the point peers are asking you how to do things, you can ascertain that you know your job and seek ways to add value.
Still not sure on what to do next? Seek feedback from your boss and peers.
I have monthly sit downs with my supervision and this is the perfect time to ask where I am lacking. If they say you aren’t lacking anywhere, ask what skill you could hone more to be even more valuable to the team. As for your peers, this is a bit easier. Just pay attention. I noticed my coworker making some formatting edits to a weekly document I gave to him. The next week, I made those edits before delivery. There are cues all around you on how you can do your job better.
Add value where you can
This is an angle most never think of, but most of us instinctively do it anyways. It looks like this: I am doing my job and see a way to make things better. I fix this problem and now this task is more efficient in the future. We used to do these locally generated daily turnover sheets that took hours each day and were useless 10 minutes after turnover. We were the only ones who saw them. One day a friend suggested tinkering with the automated reports generated by the system that ALL of the worldwide maintenance community used. This not only saved time each day, it increased the quality of information placed in the actual system of record and only required a help ticket to be submitted.
Not sure where to add value? We all have something we are giving to a boss, peer or client. Ask them what they do with it after you deliver it. If they simply send it on, great. If they have to add more information or reformat it, see if it is something you can do. My goal is to solve one problem each week. Basically, seek out speed bumps slowing a teammate or yourself down and look for a solution. Each week you become more efficient and more valuable to your team.
As leaders, we preach these things to our teams, but often don’t see them within ourselves. Being a leader at any level requires us to first lead ourselves. So, do your job and add value where you can.