The Key to Self-Leadership: Don't Break Promises

You can probably think of a leader who inspired you in some way. For many it's a great boss, a teacher, or maybe a coach. In the world of work, working for a great leader can make a potentially boring or thankless job into something more meaningful (and a bad leader can take something that should be awesome and just absolutely ruin it).

As an independent worker, there are fewer ways for good (or bad) leadership to impact your work life. Obviously you don't have a boss, supervisor, or some kind of inspiring CEO to give meaning to your work. Instead, leadership of you falls into your own lap. You are simultaneously a leader and a follower and at that point, you have to ask yourself, "Do I find myself an inspiring leader? Am I a leader that I should/would follow?"

I've been thinking a lot about questions like this because I've recently been so focused on school and work I've let my physical and mental health (i.e. meditation) slide for several months. I'm certainly working hard and getting some great stuff finished but in the back of the mind I find myself being disappointed in myself. By not doing the things I know I need to do to feel like I'm living my life driven by my values I feel like I'm letting myself down. I'm definitely not inspiring myself to something greater, that's for sure. At the end of the day I want to be able to look at the sum total of my decisions in all realms of my life and be able to admire myself. When I'm consistently breaking commitments to myself to get into better shape or take my meditation practice more seriously it's hard to take myself seriously.

How do you be the type of person you would follow?

It probably varies from person to person just as every leader and follower are unique individuals. For me, I know the main thing I need to be doing on a regular basis in order to be the type of person I would happily follow is:

"Don't break promises."

Obviously, breaking promises and commitments to other people is a bad thing and nobody who regularly does that is going to be a credible leader. However, I'm more interested in the idea of not breaking promises to myself. This is the metric that is more important than whether or not I keep my word to other people because at a certain level there is a social expectation to not screw other people over which helps keep me (and really, everyone) somewhat in line. Crass but true. When it comes to keeping promises to myself, however, nobody but me knows whether or not I do it. It's between me and myself and that's it.

When I'm not keeping promises to myself it means I'm not making smart decisions about how I exercise, about how I eat, about meditation and keeping up my hobbies and other interests. I know the types of things I need to do to feel healthy and happy. When I don't do them even when I have every intention of doing so I'm sending the message to myself that I can't be trusted. I think that lack of trust chips away at the sense that I know what's best for me and that I should work hard to meet the goals I set for myself. 

Why should I follow a guy who can't even keep promises to himself?

For that reason I'm going to try a little weeklong experiment where I focus on doing all my *non-work* habits extremely consistently (for the purpose of this experiment that means daily exercise, daily meditation, and daily journaling). My hypothesis is that by putting more attention on these intentions I have for myself that help support my self-identity as a physically fit, mindful, and deliberately conscious person will spillover into my effectiveness when it comes to writing, coaching, and everything else that makes up my work life. Taking care of these commitments is a signal to myself that I can be relied upon to do the things that I know I need to do to be healthy and happy.

In a nutshell, the foundation of leadership is respect and the foundation of self-leadership is self-respect.

Photo by GrowWear