The hardest work of leading you’ll ever do is not the coaching, problem-solving, communicating and other externally focused activities that occupy your days.

Rather, the heavy lifting of creating success as a leader goes on in the space between your ears. It’s choosing right versus wrong; thinking long-term versus short-term, deciding left or right and saying no, when the temptation is yes. Successfully navigating these and the many other challenging issues you encounter demands that you regularly refresh on five key and very personal issues.

Five Personal Issues Every Leader Must Master:

1. Cultivating an accurate view-of-self. How well do you understand who you are as a person and as a leader and how does this internal view manifest in the right behaviors? Do you see and understand and apply your superpowers? Are you aware of your gaps and are you doing something to mitigate or eliminate the adverse impact of your gaps. (Hint: most coaching scenarios with senior leaders involve working with them to stop or alter the behaviors that make people around them crazy.)

2. Retaining and renewing your sense of mission about your role. It’s easy to lose track of your real purpose and approach for creating results. As a reminder, regularly ask yourself: “At the end of our time working together, what will people say that I did?” If you do not have good, honest answers for this question, or, if the answer is closer to, “I approved their expense reports,” than “I changed their lives for the better,” it is time to renew on your mission in your role. To refresh, try asking your team this question and then listen carefully to what they hope you will do to support their efforts.

3. Developing the self-confidence to trust yourself. Trusting yourself is a combination of self-esteem and self-confidence. If you struggle with these issues, everyone feels it. I once coached a smart, talented professional who struggled to make the big decisions on talent and direction. He had been promoted to a leadership role based on his individual contributor skills. In his new role, he struggled with decisions in large part because he feared the repercussions of being wrong. As an individual contributor, he was an expert. As a leader, his expertise did not translate and he became fearful of making mistakes.

His reticence on making the calls frustrated his team members, and when I was called into the situation, they were on the brink of giving up on him. With coaching and a lot of uncomfortable (to him) practice at decision-making, he learned to trust himself enough to quit holding his team members hostage. Today he leads a much larger enterprise and is a mentor to others on developing as a decision-maker.

4. Learning to trust others. The inability to trust is the root cause of destructive micromanaging behaviors. Instead of requiring people to earn your trust over time, give yourself and them a break and give your trust. This shift in the trust-giving process from, “Show me why I should trust you,” to “I trust you, unless you give me reason not to,” is a difficult step for many, but liberating for everyone. No trust, no team.

5. Retaining a strong sense of empathy for your team members and showing genuine commitment. Your success is a function of how interested and motivated people are to work around and for you. Regularly ask yourself (and answer) this important question: “Why will anyone on my team trust me to lead them to safety and success?” For others to trust you, they must perceive that you have their safety and best interests at heart. They need to understand that you care, and they need to see you exhibiting these beliefs on a daily basis.

The Bottom-line for Now:

Self-confidence, self-esteem and clarity of purpose are fundamental to succeeding at leading. You cultivate these critical attributes by regularly renewing around the five core issues identified above. The best leaders seek honest feedback on whether they are getting it right and they are relentless about knocking out the bad habits and inner thinking traps that get in the way of success. This heavy lifting for the inner game pays dividends with effective performance for the external behaviors we associate with successful leadership.

popupimageGet the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.