Four Pillars Of Self Leadership

by  Alan Derek Utley  |  Self Leadership
Four Pillars of Self Leadership

Much has been written and talked about on the importance of leading others. But what about leading ourselves?

I believe that our ability to self-lead has clear links to our ability to lead others. This ultimately affects our ability to achieve success in whatever endeavor we undertake.

But, as the age-old saying goes, sometimes we are our “own worst enemy.” This is because we forget to check in and take care of ourselves in the midst of our daily grind to lead our teams and our organizations.

This is a risk because if we don’t take care of ourselves we can hardly take care of others, let alone lead them. While an obvious notion, it helps introduce four ideas – pillars – for success in self-leadership.

These Four Pillars – ideas for strength in daily self-leadership – are inspired by some of history’s top thought leaders.

The Four Pillars

  1. Know your plan.
  2. Feed yourself first.
  3. Do one more.
  4. Get up.

Know Your Plan

Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said this:

“Begin with the end in mind.”

The First Pillar of Know Your Plan is about setting goals. It requires having a before and after picture, but starts with an honest and clear-eyed assessment of your current state. Otherwise, how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are?

As Socrates famously said:

“Know Thyself.”

Once you know your current and future states, you can then start the hard work of meeting small goals that move you closer to your finish line.

Be ready to adapt to changing, unplanned circumstances along the way, because they are inevitable. The best leaders have vision but can also change course when necessary.

Feed Yourself

Simply put, if we don’t eat, drink, or breathe, we don’t live. Further, if we don’t learn, we can’t grow. Extending this idea one step further:

If we don’t grow, we can’t grow others.

Marshall Goldsmith, famous leadership coach and author of What Got you Here Won’t Get You There, said:

“To help others develop, start with yourself.”

I once heard John Maxwell, another popular leadership coach, author, and pastor offer this idea about the importance of taking care of ourselves:

“If you’ve ever flown, you’ve heard a flight attendant say, ‘If you are traveling with children or seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, and then offer assistance.’”

The Second Pillar of Feed Yourself means that before we can lead others, we must first be follow-worthy. This requires feeding our body, mind, and spirit.

For expanded thoughts on the Second Pillar, read Follow-Worthy Leaders Do This.

Do One More

Sam Parker and Mac Anderson, authors of 212◦ The Extra Degree offer this inspiring metaphor about making an unwavering effort in every task we undertake:

“At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive.”

The third Pillar of Do One More is about the daily grind. It reminds us that seemingly small things can make the difference between competing and winning. When we’re tired, up against a wall, out of time, or out of ideas, that’s when we dig deep and find a way to just do one more.

Vince Lombardi, hall of fame football coach, said:

“Inches make champions.”

Get Up

Thomas Edison clocked exponentially more failures than successes. But in his own words:

“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The fourth and final Pillar of Get Up reminds us that on our way to the finish line, we may trip and fall, and sometimes we just won’t be fast enough.

But it is not how many times we fail that matters. Rather it is how many times we embrace the failure and then get up and get going that truly counts.

Once again from John Maxwell:

“You will not succeed unless you are willing to fail.”

In summary, do, fail, learn, and do again.

Final Thoughts

The harsh reality of leadership is that people choose who to follow, despite hierarchy and formal authority. Therefore, follow-worthy leaders have earned the right to lead others by first showing strength in the daily leadership of themselves. Doing so allows them to offer their very best while leading everyone to success.

Tell us about the best leader you have had, and how they aligned with these pillars!
Photo Credit: Flickr

About The Author

Articles By alan-utley
Alan Utley is a Regional HR Director for one of the world’s largest vacation businesses. By night he dabbles in executive coaching, blogging, and public speaking and is proud to serve on the management faculty at a major university. In his own words, Alan is a “world-class wannabe expert in all things leadership and careers.” Connect with Alan at and on Twitter @AlanDUtley.

What People Are Saying

Mary C. Schaefer  |  02 Dec 2015  |  Reply

Excellent post, Alan. “Therefore, follow-worthy leaders have earned the right to lead others by first showing strength in the daily leadership of themselves.” Well said.

Alan Derek Utley  |  02 Dec 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Mary. I think my personal favorite from this list is #3. The 212 degrees idea from Parker and Anderson is just brilliant and it reminds me of the value of making that extra effort every day…especially when I don’t feel like it.


John E. Smith  |  03 Dec 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Alan – very interesting post:)

All four of your points are well-taken, solidly reinforced by some of the best leadership development thinkers I know of, and clearly stated.

It is the mark of good ideas that, while they may be challenging to do consistently, they are easy to describe and illustrate. Your thoughts show this perfectly by helping us understand these important leadership concepts easily.

Thanks for contributing:)


Alan Derek Utley  |  04 Dec 2015  |  Reply


Thanks for the nice note. The great influencers I reference here have certainly made it easy for us to grab onto these ideas. But, you’re right – daily execution is certainly a challenge! Everyday I’m a work in progress.

Have an amazing day,

Linda Torunski  |  04 Dec 2015  |  Reply

Alan ~ Great article. You certainly bring home a lot of points that are overlooked in our day to day routines. It’s a great reminder to just pause and re-group can really make a difference.
Thanks Linda

Alan Derek Utley  |  07 Dec 2015  |  Reply


Thanks for your comment. So true. Remembering to do these things everyday is a challenge. It takes commitment and creating new habits <– also not easy. That's for sure.


Josh Gernatt  |  04 Dec 2015  |  Reply

This article reminded me of our conversation at the gym today.

Alan Derek Utley  |  07 Dec 2015  |  Reply

Josh, that’s great. Believe it or not, these ideas first started taking shape in my head while at the gym. And in reality these ideas have application anywhere, most certainly at the gym.

Thank you for your comment!

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