How to Lead Yourself First

Lead Yourself First, Michelle Ray | BCBusiness
In her new book, Michelle Ray discusses the importance of taking control of your own life before becoming a leader in the workplace.

Leadership strategist Michelle Ray discusses the importance of determining your own success

It’s not difficult to get stuck on autopilot and lose sight of leadership goals in the workplace and in life. In Lead Yourself First: Breakthrough strategies to live the life you want, Vancouver-based leadership strategist and author Michelle Ray argues that leadership is not a job title, but rather a state of mind.

Ray touches on the importance of learning to lead yourself first, which means recognizing personal goals and summoning the power to determine your own success. She adds that leadership doesn’t come from being thrust into a management role; it comes from recognizing your own strengths, taking charge of your life and creating change by dreaming big and eliminating the fear of failure.

Ray says she felt compelled to pen this book because her story in the business world is that of many—full of ups and downs. “When I started my career, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” says Ray, with a laugh. “I think it’s the same for many people who first step into the world of work—they are in a state of shock.”

Originally from Australia, Ray developed an insatiable desire for North America and moved to Vancouver with big dreams of launching a career in business. Her unique perceptions on leadership strategies and her personal stories of climbing to the top—by becoming an international business keynote speaker—inspired her to found the Lead Yourself First Institute, an organization that assists business leaders to take charge of themselves and become effective stewards in the workplace.

The Fear of Success

In Lead Yourself First, Michelle Ray writes about the fear of success and the three factors it is based on.

Regard we have for ourselves: A positive or negative self-concept is created by your own personal belief system. “Many of us maintain a personal belief system that keeps working against us, without understanding its origins.”

Lack of clarification in relation to success values: You need to find clarity in your own personal definition of what it means to be successful in order to lead a fulfilling life. You need to realize that you are responsible for removing the barriers that stand in your way. “You may discover that nothing short of a beliefs and values overhaul is in order to create the momentum for change.”

Impact of conditioning: It is imperative to find out what success means to you as an individual. For some, the terms “wealth,” and “success,” aren’t defined by money, but rather by having a personal interest in what they’re doing. “We are conditioned to think of ourselves, our values and other people in terms of either/or. It becomes difficult to discern our own unique value proposition.”

But how do you actually “lead yourself first”? Ray shares her tips for leaders and entrepreneurs.

Recognize your personal strengths

According to Ray, leaders must be self-determining and recognize their own thought process and how it can potentially hold them back. “You have to buy into your own belief system and if you don’t—you have to change it,” she says.

Those who have transcended to another level professionally and personally by overcoming tremendous odds are those who believed in themselves, regardless of their background. “You can create change,” she says. “Your thoughts govern your actions and govern your words.”

Ray says when people look at leaders on the surface, they automatically assume they must be an incredibly confident person. “But when you really understand yourself, it’s a journey,” she says. “There were definitely some weaknesses about myself, you just have to be honest with yourself.”

You are the leader of your own life

To become a leader you cannot blame external sources for your own failures or unhappiness. “You have to say, ‘My life has to be different and my business has to be different,’ because you are the common denominator,” she says.

Ray adds that it’s common for people to feel “stuck” if they are not moving forward in their professional lives. “They don’t know how to manage themselves or lead themselves out of it, so they come up with all these excuses,” she says. “Other people don’t change so you have to find a way to change.”

In her book, Ray reflects on her own personal job experiences in the past. “You may find that the only way to create change is to detangle yourself from toxic jobs, people and situations in order to make higher-calibre decisions,” she writes.

Face-to-face interactions will always prevail

Ray notes that you can have all the education in the world, but when it comes to dealing with people, you have to learn through hands-on experiences. “We need to recognize that while we absolutely need technology, at the same time, the world we live in will still always be about people.”  

Therefore, in order to be an effective leader, honing in on interpersonal skills is of utmost importance. “For managers and leaders, it is more important than ever because they’re the catalyst in the decision of employees staying or leaving the company,” she says.

The importance of mentors

Although Ray says she has had her share of bad mentors, she is quick to credit those who have had a positive impact on her life, both personally and professionally. “It’s important to seek out others who have wisdom and experience,” she says.

Ray says these personal relationships with others can help propel your business and set the tone for relationships with future clients. She mentions that mentoring has nothing to do with age and that we can all learn from one another. “It’s not always about the younger generation learning from the older generation—I think sometimes it’s the other way around,” she adds.

Acknowledge the fear of success

It is no secret that people often develop a fear of failure that can hold them back from achieving their goals, but what about the fear of success?

Although the fear of failure and the fear of success seem like disparate concepts, Ray says they contain a similar interpretation because of the connotations attached to the word “success.”

“The idea of success can elicit an equal, if not greater ‘fear’ response as failure,” she writes. “Many people cannot ‘cope’ with success and, as a result, they unconsciously sabotage it.”