Lead Yourself First


Guest post by Susan Caba

The ancient Greeks said it first: “Know Thyself.” 

That timeless piece of advice was inscribed on the Temple of the Oracle at Delphi, and it’s been the basis of philosophical, psychological and self-help theories ever since. Most great leaders know themselves–their strengths, weaknesses and motivations–very well. Their self-awareness contributes to their effectiveness as leaders.

Why? Because in order to lead others, you must be able to lead yourself. Self-leadership only comes with self-knowledge. It gives you insight into how others see and respond to you; it confers the ability to interact more successfully with others. This is as true for a relationship between two people as it is for the CEOs of enormous organizations.

4 Ingredients

There are four basic ingredients in everyone’s personality or behavioral style. All four are present in every person, to different degrees. Just as the flavor and texture of a particular bread depends on its ratio of ingredients, spices and baking time, an individual’s personality depends on the varying ratios of all four traits. Nobody is all one style or another; no particular mix is better than the myriad others.

The four key traits or “ingredients,” first identified in 1928 by Harvard psychologist William M. Marston, are still the basis of most behavioral analysis systems. The traits are:

  • Response to problems and challenges
  • Ability to influence others
  • Preferred pace of your environment (serene vs hectic, for example)
  • Compliance with procedures and rules

Assessments: A Beginning

imagesIn talking with Jone Bosworth of inCourage Leading, LLC she made it clear:  merely taking a self-assessment is not the end-all, be-all of knowing yourself. It takes an intentional, lifelong process of self-reflection. But the assessments are a good place to start.

At their most basic, the assessments categorize you as either task-oriented or people-focused, an extrovert or an introvert. They look at how you deal with risk, how you communicate and how you cope with conflict and change. Many research-based systems identify individuals as one of four types, depending on their dominant traits. Again, these are basic categories and each assessment puts it own “spin” and depth:

  • Task-oriented extroverts are intuitive decision-makers, quick, self-confident, ambitious and future oriented. They have a take-charge, get-it-done attitude.
  • People-focused extroverts are influential, visionary, often charismatic and passionate. They multi-task, focus on the big picture (and often neglect the details), inspire others and thrive in teams.
  • People-focused introverts are deliberate, steady, loyal and stable. They listen intently, are patient and supportive; they thrive in close-knit teams.
  • Task-focused introverts are analytic, cautious, process-oriented and devoted to completing a task flawlessly. They find security in process and structure.

Cozy Up to Your Inner Self

As I say in my book, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Leadership, Fast Track:

Cozy up to your inner self. Contemplate the reasons for your successes and your failures. If you know where you are likely to trip up, you can modify your behavior (or ask for help) and avoid those pitfalls.”

Knowing yourself allows you to adapt your style to become a more effective leader. But don’t attempt to become who you are not–if you try to hard to act in a way that isn’t natural, you’ll become inauthentic, less trustworthy, get less done and increase the discomfort others feel with you and your leadership.

This is an encore excerpt of a guest post by Susan Caba, Author Complete Idiot's Guide to LeadershipSusan Caba, author of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Leadership Fast Track. Sue has observed and written about leaders and the art of leadership for more than 30 years. She’s covered the leadership structures of business, science, education, professional sports, governmental bodies and philanthropic organizations.

Today, she “lives like the rich and famous” though she’s neither. You can find her at Resale Evangelista  creating an artful life.


  1. “To thine own self be true.” A thought provoking post, Jone ! Great job, Susan!

  2. I was just thinking about you this morning, Cath, and the wonderful response to you Fearless Females Forum feature! Thank you so much for comments on Sue’s great post — means a lot to me and I’ll make sure she remembers “to thine own self be true.”
    All my very best,

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