Leader, lead yourself. Lessons along the way – Part One

In March 2023, I turned forty. I had been looking forward to it since I turned thirty -nine! Naturally. This is despite me promising myself that I would be staying thirty-five forever. Thirty-five was supposed to be my default age. Someone said it was young enough to be crazy and old enough to be wise. But I arrived at forty with so much excitement! I forgot my pledge. It feels like a really grown-up age.


A few days after the party and the euphoria of the “arrival”, I was invited by the MTN Foundation to speak to their Bright Scholars. My topic was “Making your life your project.” Because I was still in the milestone celebration, this speaking opportunity was a gift to me. It provided an opportunity for me to really reflect on my journey and share. I shared with them “Ten Lessons I’ve Learnt Along the Way”. These ten lessons continue to evolve albeit with a few constants. This is the first of a ten-part series on the things I have learned about life and work on my journey so far.


One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my journey is that leadership is imperative. Not just leadership in relation to titles and pedigree but in relation to (first) leading oneself before influencing others. Self-leadership is the foundation of leadership in general. It is one of the first things I learned in my leadership journey – that a lot of what I had to do on the outside, depended on how I was leading on the inside – leading myself.


Very early in my career, I realized that there were things I had to own. Owning my time, owning the discipline of being on time and being dependable, owning the discipline of working independently on tasks and seeing them through. All that required self-leadership. A case in point is when I started off in sales, I was told, “Sales isn’t done by sitting at your desk. You must go out there and bring it in”. Two opportunities presented themselves: the first was to pretend to do the work and drive around burning time (which was a nice prospect to a young sales executive with a company car) but the option behind door number two was the route that brought me here – actually doing the work. It was hard work. It was tiring. I had to do it unsure, sometimes afraid, and at a point carrying a baby bump until the 6th month. However, self-leadership will make you do what you have to do even when no one is watching because leadership is built on integrity. A true leader does what has to be done whether they want to do it or not. A leader does what has to be done, even when they don’t feel like it.


Polonius, in Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare, is quoted as saying to his son, Laertes, “To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”


The starting point of self-leadership is a good understanding of yourself and a determination to stay true to yourself. Know yourself, know what you are great at and what you struggle with. Know what you want to achieve and know what leads to negative outcomes for you.


So how do you begin to lead yourself? Here are a few pointers:


  1. Commit to realistic goals:

To lead yourself, you need to be able to start and finish what you set out to do. Determine what is important for you in the day, week, month, or year, and work conscientiously towards achieving them. At forty, one other thing I have learned is that no one is coming to save me! So the goals that I have set for myself are mine to work towards. You too, dear friend. You are on your own.



  1. Embrace discipline:

Self-discipline will require that you focus, work, push yourself, and stay on track. As a child, it is likely you will get adult supervision that ensures you stay on track. However, at some point, you will be responsible for yourself and what you do. Your decisions and actions will yield consequences. Every great achiever – in sports, business, academics, art, music, etc. is a disciplined person. It takes discipline to become successful at anything.



  1. Be comfortable without the applause of the crowd:

Self-leadership may not be publicly acknowledged. No one will applaud you for waking up on time consistently or exercising consistently. No one may applaud you for being a ferocious reader or an enthusiastic learner. No one may applaud you for achieving the goals you set for yourself. You must be comfortable with applauding yourself. The silent battles you win against laziness and addiction to your devices for instance are to be celebrated, by you!


  1. Own your decisions like a BOSS!

Often when things don’t go the way we want them, we tend to seek an explanation or something or someone to blame. A leader starts from a place of deep introspection and would ask, “What role did I play to get here?” I once read somewhere, “Things happen for a reason and sometimes the reason is that you made bad decisions”. That’s the stark reality. We don’t always make the best choices, but a leader owns their decisions – good or bad and works from there.


Leadership is a journey of learning and it starts with you!





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