First, Lead Yourself

Posted by Bruce Peters

dog with leash

While discussing the link between initiative and leadership, a female executive (MJ) in her early thirties and new to her managerial position asked (challenged rather),

“What would you do if you had this really great idea to improve our team efficiency, and your boss rejected your idea?”

Finding the Answer

MJ was a student in my Facilitative Leadership Program (FLP). For those who know me and FLP, you can guess what follows.

“Why do you ask?” I questioned.

“Well, I did present such an idea to my boss and he told me to forget it.”

“How did you respond?”

“I said nothing and walked out.”

“What are you going to do about that?” (Later, I added more emphatically, “…other than whine about it?”) 


“How are you feeling about that?”


“Are you saying that when you have a great idea and someone in authority tells you it’s a bad idea, that you just do nothing? You just quit on the idea?”

This exchange continued at full bore in the presence of the entire class. It lasted It only a few minutes with the back and forth of my questions. A pattern merged of her avoiding and retreating behind defensive answers. It was the perfect moment to help her make a realization that had the potential to make her a more effective leader.

I asked, “How many other times in your life have you quit on your idea?”


“If you quit on the idea, what have you learned other than how to quit?”


Silence on a topic that made MJ feel lousy (as she described) certainly did not sit with her very well. No surprise, my leadership students are accomplished individuals who pride themselves on getting things done. Ultimately, she agreed to put together, and bring to the next class, a fully-baked, one-page plan outlining the implementation of her idea.

After MJ baked the idea, she could decide whether to present to her boss or not. The idea behind this mental cooking process was that by creating the plan, she would learn something. If not for this job or boss, but for herself and professional growth. 

Two weeks later, at the FLP next session, MJ walked into the class, we made eye contact, and with a bright, sly smile and dancing eyes said, “I did the plan.”

“Great! What else?” 

“I showed it to my boss.”

“What happened?” 

“He accepted the plan and put me in charge of leading the implementation.” 

“What else?” 

 “I realized my boss had a full plate. But having an articulated plan showed him and gave him confidence that I could take the reins and I handle this without him.”

Facilitate Your Leadership

For almost 15 years I’ve been “non-teaching”[1] FLP program, which is a series of classes where student gain tools to help them to take ownership of their choices in their personal and profession lives.

The above true story is about one of the participants. From experience, I knew that different versions of this story, could be about every single class participant. What I’ve learned over the years is that everyone has locked inside of them untapped potential aching to surface. In this instance, MJ learned to take ownership for her choices not just in work but also in life.

After the program was over, MJ offered up another great idea. This time, it was to me...

“You should change the name of the class,” she said.

“To what?” I asked, a bit surprised.

“First, lead yourself.”

Aaah, of course. MJ learned the most fundamental, necessary skill that is so easily missed by those in leadership positions. If you do not have the awareness, integrity and know-how to lead yourself, how can you possible provide guidance to others?

What version of this story resonates in your life? If you’re ready to add to your “taking ownership of your choices” tool kit, please consider joining us in our fall FLP programs. We didn’t change the name of the class but that’s another story.

Looking forward to seeing you!

1 Jerry Harvey. How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints Are on the Knife? : And Other Meditations on Management

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Our fall lineup of  Facilitative Leadership Programs begins September 12th   Check it out!

Learn more about  Facilitative Leadership (FLP)

Topics: FLP

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