Episode 109: The 5 Steps to Personal Leadership

Do you wish you were a better leader? How do you defend or answer for your lack of performance? In this episode, Jimmy shares five steps to personal leadership that will empower you to reach greater heights in life and your career.

Episode Keys

  • Understanding why the most harsh critic of your life is you!
  • Why you must find forgiveness in your mind to reach your potential in life.
  • How you can enhance your capabilities by increasing your knowledge – become a lifetime learner.
  • When you become satisfied in life is when you should begin to be concerned about your performance!
  • How I overcame negative self-talk when my performance was less than excellent.

Podcast Transcription

Good morning! This is one of those times in life that we must sit back and do something that is probably most difficult for each of us to do. Why do I say it’s one of those times? Because we have come through such a changing world in the last year, it is time to regroup, rethink, and rejuvenate ourselves to reach new heights. This is Jimmy Williams with Live a Life By Design, your Monday morning moments of motivation. I’m coming to you today from the heart. Now, I know a lot of speakers that say that. I truly am today going to share something that’s of a personal nature for me, and I’m going to give you my honest, candid responses to questions I’ve received over the last two years of doing this podcast. During this time, I have been so fortunate that many of you have emailed us at info@livealifeby.design with your comments, your gratitude, given me inspiration to continue to move forward in this podcast, to make a small difference in this world.

If there’s anything we can understand in this day and age, it’s that the world needs us to be the best we can be. The world needs you to be the best you that you can be. We often see a facade of movie stars, professional singers, these people that are on a stage, and in our own simple way of life, even though we may not be actors, we may not be musicians, we may not feel we play a role of importance, I can assure you today that you, and what you do in your world is vital and important.

Today I want to share with you five steps for personal leadership. I want to share with you these five steps, because these are the same five steps I have used my entire career even before I graduated undergrad school many years ago. These five steps, or five areas, will help you understand where I’m coming from, to bring you content, to bring you inspiration, to bring you guidance on a weekly basis through this podcast.

And working in conjunction with David, our webmaster, that also helps get all of this out to the public. I thank both of them for the outstanding work that they do to help make this process so much easier for me to just sit back, sit down with a microphone, be myself and develop content that I hope you find useful.

So the first of these five steps, I want to start off with a slight quote. This quote is one that I believe that if you think about it, has a lot of wisdom in a very few number of words. Thomas Edison… When I think about one of the greatest inventors in U.S. history, I always give the nod to Thomas Edison. Prolific in his approach to finding means and ways to make life better, to give us more artistic information such as the music that we hear today, started out from one of his inventions, the gramophone. And if you think about what he has given us in the variants of the light bulb, for example, electricity as a whole, this has been something that has transformed our lives for the better. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that if I had to burn coal or oil lamps all day, and candles to see at night, I’m so spoiled that when the electricity does go off from a storm, I’m still flipping the light switch when I walk out of a room, and I know that sounds crazy but that’s just a habit my father taught me many years ago as a child.

But this quote is going to probably seem a little bit crazy, but it is one in which I feel a lot of relationship in my life. Thomas Edison said, “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure.” Now, is Thomas Edison’s saying that we can’t be happy with our lives? No that’s not what he’s saying. Is he saying that you should be always ever striving to be a better you? And the answer I believe is an astounding yes.

So first and foremost of these five steps, number one is, be honest with yourself. Too often it is easy for us to feel like we live in a hidden room where no one can see the real us, where you can just do what you wish to do, not be honest with yourself, but to fool yourself into thinking that you are not important. And what a farce of a statement that is! You are important. Think about being honest with yourself in this way. If no one were looking, you take out your journal or whatever you do to record your deepest, darkest secrets, really record unblemished, what would be some of your thoughts about yourself? Not necessarily thoughts about the world or thoughts about your community, or thoughts even about your own family. What do you think about yourself? And by us being honest with ourselves, we find a new vision, perhaps to inspire us to even greater heights. By being honest with ourselves, we find a real purpose for our efforts and our energies to change the world around us. You see, we must first be honest with ourselves before we can truly be honest in what we give others.

By us being a small part on this planet but playing a mighty role in our local community, we must first find a means that we can be honest with ourselves. Now, one of the things I used to do was sit back and think, “I’m going to be just fine if I continue to do X, Y, and Z in my career.” But then the craziest thing happened. There was a mindset, a shift, if you will, during one of my annual reviews of my own performance. And yes you heard me, I don’t just do annual reviews of my direct reports in our company, I perform an annual review on myself. Now I’ve got to be honest with you as I am with me. I am one of my harshest critics when it comes to my performance. I actually allow on an anonymous basis for my team to give me a review of how I performed this year in the areas I am responsible.

How was my leadership? How was my communication? How was my creativity? How was my marketing? How was everything I need to do and perform to be the best CEO of our company, to be the best leader of our company? Did I do the job? And they rate me on that scale of, one being the lowest, five being the highest, and I ask them not to sign it. I ask them to just do anything they can to keep it nondescript so I don’t have identifiers. It has come to my attention after they evaluate me, and I basically aggregate all their scores, and I judge myself by doing my own review. Can you guess which of these sets of people giving review gave the worse of the two? Yeah, I did. I judged myself much more harshly than my team judged me on my performance.

Now, why do you think that is? Well, it goes back to my being honest with myself and knowing that the goals I set, those BHAGs, those big, hairy, audacious goals you’ve heard me speak of many times on this podcast… They knew that we had made great strides, and where we had started the year and where we ended the year. But to me, I always believe there’s so much more that we could do. Now, I’m just like Thomas Edison in the sense that, I’m not trying to say that I’m truly satisfied – or as he used the term – thoroughly satisfied, I am just happy where I am in life, but always know that if we seek out greater improvement in ourselves and push ourselves, we develop greater skills, we develop greater capabilities, that is what I always seek. To me there’s no such thing as perfection, but also there is such thing as striving for perfection, that’s a big difference.

So be honest with yourself, have you done an annual review of your performance of you? How high did you set the bar? Did you overwhelm yourself with great works, things that you’ve done, or do you find yourself perhaps lacking in your performance? Well the good news is, you need to follow step number two. If step number one is be honest with yourself, step number two is be candid with yourself. Now this to me has to be watched carefully. I at one time in my life was my worst critic. I was my harshest critic. I did not leave in baseball home plate with a strike out on my mind and talking very positively, such as, “That’s okay, the great Hank Aaron, he struck out.” That’s not what I said. What I said was, “You’re crazy my friend, you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if you had a bat in hand.” I basically would take that negative talk all the way to the dugout, I would then throw my bat down, I would grab my glove with a gruff voice and get myself out in the field. All the while, guess who’s watching? Everyone in the stands, and who did I upset the most, but my parents.

You see, I really upset myself more than they. I just didn’t know it at the time because the emotion of anger overrode the emotion of shame. Everyone strikes out in baseball, the most elite hitter in the baseball ranks of major league baseball, strikes out at least two out of every five times at bat, or maybe even three at every five times at bat. The point I’m making is, be candid with yourself. Know that you are not perfect but you have the striving to perfection that makes you different. I said when we first started this podcast episode, that you are important, and I firmly believe that every one is important from the most mighty of us, to the lowest of a social economically, every life is valuable.

Every life on this planet has a purpose to help this planet become what it’s ultimately capable of becoming. You have a big role to play, be candid with yourself and let yourself express that candor, that you know you didn’t reach the bar you set for yourself. Do not sugar coat it. As a matter of fact if you could read some of the pages of my journal, I gave myself some very disparaging comments about my performance some days. Now I know what many of you think, I’ve got perfect children, I got a perfect wife and I lead a perfect life. Well you think wrong. There are challenges to all of us, no matter how it may look in our composure on the front page, once we turn into the magazine, there are some challenges that make us all strive to be better. So be candid with yourself.

Now this third step or third process is called live your talk. One thing I have always shied away from, was someone that would tell me they were going to do something and I knew that I could not count on that person to complete the process or the project. I knew in my heart that I could not at this time believe they were going to follow through. But boy, they could point out where someone else may have fallen short. So live your talk, if you’re one that says one thing, we’ll do one thing. Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no. And I will tell you, that two letter word is one of my most difficult to state in my vast vocabulary. Why does it seem so hard for us to say, “No, thank you”? Why do we have the feeling that we are letting someone down once they’ve approached us with an offer, and we simply don’t have the time, the talent, or the treasurer to fulfill it?

Instead of saying the magic two letter word that will allow someone more capable to have the role, we’re afraid of one thing. At least for me, I am afraid of letting someone else feel defeated because of the actions I didn’t take. I’m afraid of a project that didn’t meet its goal, and couldn’t help those that it were intended, particularly in fundraising, when I say no. One of the greatest things that I enjoy is being in front of people to speak and share kind words, and if given that chance, 99% of the time, I will find a way to change my schedule, accommodate whomever this may be.

Well as the requests pre-COVID started piling up and I saw more and more time needed away from family and other important matters of my career, I had to learn a valuable lesson. I had to let my talk be, “No means no, thank you.” And so you must find a way to live your talk, you’re going to build that honesty that people can count on. They may be let down for a short period of time, but they will have great respect for you in the long run. Isn’t that the key for what we’re trying to do in life? If we all would speak with candor but yet compassion, the world would be a better place, so live your talk.

Number four is a real difficult one for a lot of us. A lot of us carry some weight on our shoulders of defeat, maybe low self-esteem, maybe we’ve faced some things that are much bigger in our life than we could ever overcome, or at least that’s what we thought. So you must be forgiving to yourself. This four step is a difficult task for many of us, but we must find a way that allows us to forgive ourselves because the entire world is not our responsibility, but we must find a way that when we do fall down and we may fail at a task, that we must find a way to shake it off, stand back up, straighten your hat on your head, and start marching forward again.

There was a story about a gentleman that was a football player, he was a high school stand out. He was a captain of the football team, and remember it takes 11 players on either side of the ball to make a successful team work. Well, they were in the championship of their state, and behind by six measly points. As the final seconds of the clock were ticking away in the fourth quarter of the championship game, he made a play called the quarterback option and he took the ball without any blocking and ran to his left in what he saw was nothing but end zone, free of anyone. As he was only looking at the end zone, something terrible happened. One of the outside linebackers had grabbed his leg and tripped him up short of the goal line. It was the fourth down, the game was over. Turned over on downs at literally the one foot line, the young man reached all the strength he could to pull himself up to stand. Leaving his helmet on to hide the tears of defeat, he slowly, oh, so slowly walked toward his side of the field.

When he reached the side of the field, his coach looked him in the eye, patted him on the back and he said, “This was one of the best games you’ve ever played.” Well the quarterback looked up, he didn’t smile, he just told his coach, “You don’t understand coach, that was my call and we lost the state championship because I couldn’t get the job done.” His coach quickly pulled him aside and he said, “No, here’s what really happened. There were four quarters to this game, and many of our teammates were unable to complete their tasks the entire game. It just so happened that you took an opportunity that would have done the job, but came up just a little short. You didn’t lose the game for us, we all lost it together, but we are winners that because we’re the number two team in the state today, but we’ll be number one again, with the right attitude.” You must forgive yourself so you can move on.”

And that young man went on to play NCAA division one college football and was a stand out at an All American. The point I’m making is, this individual had to learn to forgive himself if he were ever to accomplish greatness in his life. If he were to say, “Everything else in my life from the age of 18 on is now moot because I couldn’t score one touchdown on a day that they needed me in high school.” What a waste of life that would have been for this young man. But as we all know, life is not always easy, but that’s what makes us the people we need to be. There’s always a purpose for life, we have to learn to forgive ourselves to accomplish that purpose.

The last is an easy one, I think. It may be hard for some people, but the last of these five steps to personal leadership is that you must be a lifetime learner. Thomas Edison, as I mentioned earlier in the quote, was a lifetime learner, I have been known to be a lifetime learner. If in fact you were to look at the five traits that I have, one of mine is lifetime learning, I just enjoy the process of learning new things. Now let me explain one of the new things I’m learning at my age, and I’m getting closer to 60 all the time, but I don’t act like it, that’s the point, right? One of those things I’m learning is a new language. Now it is funny to me, scientists say that as a child from ages three to 10, it is so much easier for them to learn new languages.

When we age, we somehow have to work harder to gain a footing on new languages. I’m learning Spanish. I feel it’s a language I’d love to speak and I have friends that are of a Spanish heritage that I wish to speak their native language so that I can enjoy conversations more fully. I am learning this and I have been at it now for 108 days straight in 2021. This has been a wonderful experience, and then some days not so much. Well, the purpose of this is, is to learn. I have come a long way, but with my competitive attitude, I’m trying to dominate this language and it’s just whipping me at every chance it gets, in certain areas of their language. But as I continue to grow, and learn, I’m feeling more confident as I go. So to be a lifetime learner, there’s a couple of things we need to do.

First and foremost, you must turn off the TV. I know what you’re saying, “Hey, I got my favorite shows.” Great, let me tell you my secret. I actually have a reward system I give myself for doing what should be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done. I grant myself some TV time. Now I don’t do any mind numbing or binge watching on TV. I have certain shows, typically sporting events and so forth, that I will record on the TV, and I will watch it by skipping the commercials. Now that’s lifetime learning, right? So my point here is, give yourself time to learn. In my automobile, I’m driving down the road, I do not listen to satellite radio. Now I’m not against satellite radio at all, but 99% of the time, I’m listening to The Great Courses. I’m learning history, science, mathematics, speech. I love to just sit, and learn, and listen as I drive, any new topic that might give me something interesting in my life.

Now I will grant to you that at this time, I probably have earned at least two PhDs from The Great Courses. I highly recommend them to everyone I meet. If you go to The, that’s T-H-E greatcourses.com, you will find quickly a subject I’m certain that you would find some interest. These courses to me are phenomenal, taught by some of the greatest instructors on the planet. These professors are renowned in their field. I’m not getting paid to tell you about The Great Courses, I take no advertisement, no sponsorship money from anyone. So I’m telling you this purely from my heart and my head, that I certainly enjoy their courses. I believe at last count I had approximately 92 courses in my library from The Great Courses.

So take it from me, lifetime learning is one of my strongest points of life. You see, by focusing on these personal leadership steps and capabilities, you will become the leader that is within you so that you may help those that are in your community, those that are in your organization. We are not perfect as leaders, but we must seek perfection every day.

So the five steps to becoming a personal leader and being the best of the best is to be honest with yourself. Number two, be candid with yourself. Number three, live your talk. Number four, be forgiving to yourself, and number five, be a lifetime learner. The challenge for you this week is to take these five steps and just give yourself a few minutes one day, and do your own self assessment of how you’ve conducted yourself, your performance in a period of time. You can do it year to date for 2021, or how about the past 12 months? How did you measure up to your own expectations? I’m going to bet on you. I’m going to bet that if you didn’t reach the bar you set for yourself, you’ll lace up the sneakers of life again, and get right back on the course. Because see, this is how you can live life by your design.

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