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You can’t lead others until you lead yourself


John* had a pretty good idea what he wanted from executive coaching when he turned up for his first session. He was a successful partner in a global accounting firm – and he wanted to be better at empowering his team, and developing his organisational leadership profile both in Australia and globally.

He then said to me as an aside that he also really wanted to get back to his running, but this would not be his first priority. As it turns out, it was his running that drove every other change he made.

For John, hitting the pavement is his way of recharging his “batteries” and having some time to himself to think. We talked through the practicalities of having a run every day, and he realised that he could do a 20-minute run to work if he made sure he had clean shirts in the office.

The next morning, I got a phone call. He had taken his first run. “I feel amazing,” he said. He texted again at the end of the week, he hadn’t missed a day. Every few weeks during our 12-month coaching assignment, I would get another text: “Still haven’t missed a day”.

Leaders need to find ways to replenish their energy, or they will wear themselves out and be barely able to lead themselves.

What energises you?

One exercise I ask my clients to complete is to keep a journal for up to two weeks to track all the work they are doing, when they do it, and how they feel while doing it.

This reflection and journaling helps build clarity about their best sources of efficiency and energy. For instance, I know that, for myself, on Monday mornings I’m focussed on organising my week and my head is in the detail of our business. Seeing clients first thing on Monday is not the best use of my time – I don’t have the ideal energy and I’m not in the right headspace.

So, I use that day instead to do all my forward planning and administration. On Tuesdays, or Wednesdays or Thursdays, I love talking to people, and it gives me energy. I’m also much more successful in connecting with others – so it’s much more efficient for me to engage with clients on these days rather than Monday morning. This is how I then set up my meetings and my interactions so that I can be the best I can be.

Who depletes you?

Let’s be honest, there are some people who will sap your spirits. Just like knowing your best work times and tasks, you also need to be aware of the people who are energy depleters. After meeting with them, you may leave feeling deflated like a pricked balloon. That is a great thing to notice.

Observe what happens to your body and the thoughts and emotions you experience when you are with that person. It’s likely that what you are feeling inside is also visible outside and impacts the way you ‘show up’ with them. This in turn impacts the dynamic between you – and the result.

If you want to change the situation, you will need to find another way of showing up and choosing your responses so that you can maintain your own energy levels and achieve your outcomes. This is the underlying premise of emotional intelligence through self-awareness: the ability to name the emotions you are experiencing and then being able to choose how you respond to others (instead of reacting) to ensure you achieve the outcome you need.

Changing the “game” with that person may mean putting judgment aside, and becoming curious and interested in what you may not know. You are not reacting anymore, but leading for a successful outcome.

If you don’t adjust your approach in this situation, your relationship with that person may deteriorate.

What takes your time?

Another key to self-leadership is time. I have yet to meet a leader who feels they have enough of it. Part of leading self is to stay in control about how your time is used. For example, here is a simple way to test what you expend your energy on: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey used a time management matrix, which divides tasks into 4 quadrants based on Urgent & Important, Not Urgent & Important, Urgent & Not Important, and Not Urgent & Not Important.

The matrix helps to better understand how to manage all that must be done, and who is best to do it. Ideally, you should be spending at least 60 per cent of your time on tasks that are important, but not urgent.

When you only spend your time doing things that are urgent and not delegating sufficiently, all your energy for leading your team will be dissipated. If you are not factoring in this time for planning, you will always be on the back foot.

What this all comes down to is this: As a leader, you can’t expect other people to be motivated, directed and energised in their work if you are not leading by example.

You need to take care of you. Great leadership starts with self-leadership.

Kind Regards,
Melanie Gowlland

*Not his real name

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About the author: 
Melanie Gowlland helps executives realise their career goals, broaden individual leadership capabilities and become high performance leaders. Her focus as an Executive Coach and Facilitator with senior leaders over the last 12 years has given her significant experience and understanding of how to build and maintain the energy, agility and adaptability needed to be highly successful in today’s leadership environment.

She motivates her clients to achieve a balance between personal and career objectives, and coaches for clarity of purpose, team motivation and impact through influencing skills.

In a 20-year career in banking and finance, Melanie was an Associate Director in both Project & Structured Finance and Institutional Banking with ANZ, and acted as a Corporate Finance Coach within the Business Bank, coaching lending managers to build strategic partnerships with clients.

Her banking expertise spanned resources, construction, healthcare, manufacturing, technology, and telecommunications.

Melanie has also worked as a management consultant with developing companies, insurance groups and government trading enterprises.


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