Are You a “Go First” Leader?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve blogged about material from my new book, Leadershift: 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. We’re nearing the end of that process, so I want to talk about one of the more challenging shifts some leaders face.

It’s the Cost Shift—moving from the perks of leadership to the price of leadership.

Because I’ve invested my life into teaching about leadership, people frequently come up to me and talk about their desire to lead. I usually ask them why that’s the case, and sometimes, what I hear is about the perks of leadership. People want others to do what they say, or they want more money, or they want the satisfaction of being in complete control.

Over my career, I’ve received just about every perk imaginable. I’ve been awarded honorary degrees, titles, authority, nice offices, money, preferential treatment—you name it, I’ve had it! And while those perks are nice, here’s the truth:

I don’t lead because of the perks. I lead because of what I can do for other people.

And it’s that focus on other people that keeps me paying the price of leadership. You see, leadership costs something—it exacts a price from any woman or man who would stand up and say, “Follow me.”

Leadership is being willing to go first.

“Go First” leaders understand that leadership means…

  • You Believe Everything Worthwhile is Uphill—nothing worth doing comes without a price. Leaders understand and embrace that truth before anyone else.
  • You Climb the Hill First—setting the example for the people we lead is critical. We can’t stand at the beginning of a worthwhile initiative and tell people to go ahead of us—we have to go first and invite people to follow.
  • You Never Stop Climbing—when you summit one hill, you automatically look for the next one to climb. Progress is never made on a plateau.

So how do you “go first” as a leader?

Here are three practices that every leader must embrace if they want to be a leader that truly shows the way:

Believe in Yourself First

I’ve met a lot of successful people that other people didn’t believe in, but I’ve never met a successful person that didn’t believe in themselves. If we want other people to believe in us, we must go first and believe in ourselves.

Self-belief has a lot of components—positive self-talk, self-investment, self-reflection, and most importantly producing results. Competence as a leader is a huge factor in developing the confidence necessary to lead people.

We may borrow belief to get started, but a leader must be able to create belief internally if they want to create it externally. We must get bigger on the inside if we want to get bigger on the outside.

Set Expectations for Yourself First

If you wait for your people to establish expectations, you’re not leading. Leaders must establish upfront where the team is going, what the team is chasing, and what it means to be part of the team. This means establishing expectations for your own work—and living up to the expectations you set.

You can’t set low expectations for yourself and high expectations for your people. It simply won’t work because The Law of the Picture says that “people do what people see.” If your team sees you living under the bar you’ve set for them, it won’t take long for them to slip under that bar themselves.

When that happens, you have no credibility for calling them out because—well, they’re only meeting you where you’re at!

Leaders must set the standards high for themselves before anyone else does.

Keep Your Commitments First

To be successful, leaders must continually make commitments. Commitment is key. But the first and most important commitments that any leader makes is to him- or herself.

A commitment to integrity. A commitment to responsibility. A commitment to selflessness.

There are other commitments leaders must make—a commitment to team, to family, to doing the job well—but those commitments hinge on the ones a leader first makes within. If you as a leader cannot be

true to your word with yourself, you will struggle to keep your word with other people.

If you’re a leader, or desire to become one, you must always be willing, ready, and committed to “go first”. You will never lead at a level higher than the level at which you lead yourself. If you won’t push yourself to go and grow as a leader, you’ll lack the influence to move others.

You must be willing to pay the price of example if you want others to follow your lead.


By John Maxwell


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