How to Ignite Your Career

One of the best movies ever made is “The Dead Poets Society”, which stars Robin Williams as an inspiring school teacher. I will never forget the scene where he takes his students into the memorabilia hall decorated with the photos of past students. He refers to the photos with phrases like: “These boys are now fertilizing daffodils” and “we are all food for worms, lads.” As an English teacher he instils a sense of urgency with his students, so that they are encouraged to live their lives with purpose and vision. Have you ever had such an experience, where you were challenged in a compelling way to make the most of your life?

I had such an experience as a young man when I had the privilege to attend a leadership conference in Chicago. I can’t remember who all the speakers were that year, but speakers who usually attend or have attended this conference were Jim Collins, the late Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, John Maxwell, some ex- senators from somewhere in the US, various business leaders and church leaders. But one speaker I remember from that year was Bill Hybels. The topic he spoke about was self-leadership. It was a new concept to me, but it was a 90 minute talk that would change my life.

Hybels referred to various research studies done by business schools and research institutes on the topic of self leadership. I later did a check on all the research he spoke of and that just drove home the concept of self-leadership. Since that day, self-leadership has become a skill and discipline that has provided direction and purpose to my life. The fact that Hybels spoke of that astounded me most was that all successful leaders in all sectors spend 50% or more of their time on self-leadership. I struggled to believe this fact, but over time, as I read more about leadership, it became quite clear that the most effective leaders spend great amounts of time on self-leadership.

But what is self-leadership? Self-leadership is the ability to guide yourself towards your desired future. As a new generation CA, self-leadership is the skill that will serve as the ignition towards success. Without self-leadership you will never attain the future that you envisage. Self-leadership starts with a high level of self-awareness. How do you lead yourself, if you don’t know yourself? How do you get to know yourself if you don’t spend time by yourself reflecting? How do you reflect without asking yourself powerful questions? So self-leadership starts with reflective questions about yourself that lead to greater self-awareness, which then leads to the start of self-leadership.

According to the Harvard Business Review (February, 2007), members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capacity for leaders to develop. The results were nearly unanimous: the best leaders develop self-awareness. They know their values and understand what drives them. They are willing to accept feedback. They are kept on track by honest supporters who surround them. These leaders are able to be the same person in all aspects of life – at home, at work, alone, with friends, or when meeting strangers. These leaders are authentic. There is nothing phony about them. As a result, they have an unusual capacity to inspire, empower and guide others.

Good questions to reflect on to develop your self-awareness are the following:

  • Do I have a clear picture of my desired future?
    If you don’t have a vision for your life, chances are you will end up where others want you to be. Your desired future, however, will provide focus.
  • Am I still passionate about the work that I do?
    Passion provides creativity and perseverance.
  • Am I moving closer to my calling?
    Your calling might entail more than your career. This is important to explore, especially in our country that provides great scope for the new generation CA to make a difference.
  • What are the most prominent emotions in my life lately?
    Your emotions provide energy. The word “emotion” means energy in motion. You need to monitor your emotions to determine whether they energize you, or drain your energy.
  • Are my psychological wounds undermining my performance?
    Bad things happen to good people and few understand the impact of bad things on their lives. John Maxwell said: “Hurting people, hurt other people and are hurt easily”. Where in your life do you still need to deal with hurt? One of my mentors told me that if I don’t deal with my pain, it will wait for me.
  • What feedback have I received lately from those who are a part of my life?
    Feedback from those around you is crucial for your self-awareness. We all have blind spots and need those around us to point them out. If you get feedback, it would be wise to write it down and reflect on it and discuss it with a mentor.

Self-leadership is a skill that will develop as you grow in self-awareness. As a new generation CA, self-leadership will serve as an ignition for your career and calling. Read about it and practise it if your desire is to make your mark in life.

Adel du Plessis CA(SA), is an Executive Image Consultant, and completed a Masters Degree in Accounting Education with a specific focus on assessment.