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Who Are the Hardest People to Lead? (It’s Not Who You Think)

Who Are the Hardest People to Lead? (It’s Not Who You Think)

By General Robert Van Antwerp

11 years ago




I’ve been in the leadership business for most of my life—from captain of the pee wee football team at age 10, to the West Point Corps of Cadets at age 21, to leading over 30,000 at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at age 60.  I’ve read tons of books and articles about leadership and have even pontificated a little on the subject myself.  Over the years I’ve learned a few things about leadership.

The first is how little I know and how much I still have to learn!

The second is the recognition that the toughest person to lead is…myself!

I’ve heard many say the hardest people to lead are volunteers because they “don’t have to do what you want them to.”  I don’t think leading volunteers holds a candle to leading yourself.  D.L. Moody once was asked which people gave him the most trouble.  He answered immediately, “I’ve had more trouble with D.L. Moody than any man alive.”

I’m absolutely convinced that a lot of the leadership issues we face would take care of themselves if we just learned to better lead ourselves.  If you want to be a better leader for others, the best place to start is with yourself!  If you can’t lead you, it will be challenging to effectively lead anyone else.

Self-leadership involves some very important elements such as self-control, self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice and selflessness. But I’m convinced that the most important element of self-leadership is self-awareness.  Self-awareness is the ability to accurately and insightfully look at and evaluate yourself.  It’s the ability to see who and what you really are and see yourself as others see you.  It’s the ability to reflect on your personal attitudes that drive your behaviors and then drive you to work on what they should be and need to be.  Self-awareness is necessary for growth, humility, and maturity.  Self-awareness leads to personal insight, which is essential for self-development.

Our self-awareness process starts with The Flippen Profile—a 360 profile in which you describe over 30 of your behaviors and combinations of behaviors which is then combined with descriptions from others.  The Flippen Profile gives a baseline of how you see yourself and how others see you.  You would be amazed by the lack of self-awareness I see in leaders we work with.

The truth is, we all have behaviors that hold us back or hold those we influence back.  At The Flippen Group we call them personal constraints.  I have learned that there are basically 4 groups of people when it comes to constraints:

1. Those that don’t know themselves.

2. Those that are sure they know but are wrong.

3. Those that know but don’t have a plan to develop.

4. Those that know and have a plan to grow and develop.

You want to be a better leader, then start with yourself!  Start leading yourself towards self-awareness and you will truly have something worth giving to others—a great example!

General Robert Van Antwerp

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