Leading yourself

  • Published
  • By Command Chief Master Sgt. David Stevens
  • Headquarters, West Virginia Air National Guard

Leadership challenges always involve changing situations. You, however, are the common factor. Your ability to lead yourself is your greatest ability. 


What does “leading yourself” mean? It means holding yourself accountable to a personal set of values, beliefs and goals. It means acting with integrity, even when no one else is looking.


In the Marine Corps I was taught there are three values: honor, courage and commitment. They are the bedrock of the character of each individual Marine. I was also taught there are 14 leadership traits: justice, judgement, dependability, tact, integrity, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty and enthusiasm. And, like most, when asked which is the most  important, I often had said integrity, since my belief was that you are only as good as your word. But, it wasn’t until just recently when I read in Gen. Mattis’ book “Call sign Chaos” that I better understood. In the book he explained that, “no single trait is more important than the other, that to be a good leader, one most have all these traits and that they are intertwined and supportive of one another.” Only then did I really grasp the concept that it does take all of that and more to be a good leader.


The Army ethos are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Soldiers learn these values in basic combat training, and from then on they are to live them every day in everything they do. It’s what being a Soldier all is about.


The Air Force core values are integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. These core values are a statement of those institutional values and principles of conduct that provide a moral framework for our Airmen.   


To be good Soldier or Airman, you need to be the best version of you!  Leading yourself to be the best version of you can be very challenging at times. Here are 10 things that you can do to be the best you.


1. Know what you want - knowing is deeper and stronger than just wishful thinking.

2. Engage with your intention - they help us to achieve goals and improve our quality of life

3. Practice your passion - take action, be willing to learn, practice, improve and make mistakes.

4. Raise your energy - turn up the heat, be grateful for all you have in your life.

5. Gather positive people around you - spend time with people that are supportive of you.

6. Get rid of what is unnecessary - clear out the clutter.

7. Organize yourself for success - only agree to do what you will actually do.

8. Set no time limits - live in the present moment. There is no point in worrying about the past and thinking about the future will only make you anxious.

9. Believe in yourself and in your vision - be persistent in going after what you value most.

10. Treasure yourself - take care of your health mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. It is a wise investment of your time and attention. 


As I said earlier, the ability to lead yourself is your greatest strength. Some of the books I have read and the podcasts I have been listening to all say the same thing.  Leading yourself well means that you hold yourself to a higher standard than others.


The point of leading others is to not cross the finish first, but it is to take others across the line with you. I remember attending the Chief’s course at Andrews AFB and hearing, “it’s not about you anymore, chief.” That statement really hits home when you think about leading yourself and being the best you so you can be the leader your troops need. Be the best you, set the example for others to follow and hold each other accountable.