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  • Jeannie Doherty

The Why, What & How of Self-leadership in doing better in business and life

The most successful entrepreneurs I know, know how to lead others and themselves – a skill that can and must be learned. And so today, you're going to hear from Dr. Benjamin Ritter on self-leadership, because the first person you need to learn to lead is yourself.

Contemplating self-leadership

Dr. Benjamin Ritter is a leadership coach. He's also a values geek, international speaker, podcaster, author, mentor, and as you'll soon learn, a standout human. Ben has a doctorate in organizational leadership, an MBA in entrepreneurial management, plus over 10 years of experience. And, he's worked with some big name companies like Amazon and Pinterest. Ben has hopped on to help us understand the why, what and how of self-leadership in order to help us all do better in business and life.

So, what is self-leadership?

Benjamin Ritter: Well, self-leadership is exactly the word it describes – it's leading the self. When I first came out with this term and the framework, I actually called it internal leadership, which didn't resonate with people as much and also doesn't really resonate with the concept as much, but does exemplify pretty much the same thing. How are you leading yourself in everything? The most important leader is the one that lives inside. You ultimately make your own decisions. No one chooses or acts for you. I mean, you can even say when you feel something, there's a debate on do you have a choice of those feelings, but you do have a choice in how you react. So we can ultimately take accountability for everything in our life, and we can also feel empowered to do that. And if we can feel empowered, we can do anything we really want to do, and if we feel accountable, we're responsible for everything that we can create or that happens around us or how we react to that, then, a lot of magic can happen.

From this brief explanation, the word that came to me from this was intentional.

Living our lives intentionally.

I personally, I prioritize my health over everything else. So my mental, spiritual and physical health come first. I feel like if I get that right, I can be my best for my family, for my little boy and for everyone else. And this, for me, feels linked to that. And I know this is going to help us do better in business, but I can already tell that it's going to help us do better in life. Let's lean into this, along with the 3 C's of Self-leadership.

Benjamin Ritter: When I was coaching clients in the beginning, when I founded Live for Yourself Consulting, I was using the live system, which is a decision-making framework. And I realized that there were certain clients that I was coaching that were more likely able to do that. They were able to create an aligned life. That means, their goals, their intentions, their values and their expectations all led to them leading truthfully with who they are and what they wanted to create in the world. Some clients struggled much more than others, and the clients that had much more difficulty lacked clarity. So they didn't really know what they were striving for, they didn't really know the meaning behind it, and they didn't know the things they had to accomplish to actually get to the place that they thought they might want to achieve. There wasn't exact clarity. They also tended to not believe in themselves, and not just in who they were as an individual and a professional or business owner, but actually in their own skills. So if you believe in yourself but don't believe that you're capable of, let's say outreach or cold calling or marketing, or you just tell yourself I'm just not good at it, then you're also not going to take actions in certain places that you need to be successful. And then they also tended to live in an environment that wasn't serving them. So maybe, they wanted to work in the health industry, but they were working for a cigarette company, that kind of stuff. Or they were really trying to create positive relationships, but they were hanging out with people that were abusive or generally negative, et cetera. And so I identified these pillars and created the 3 C's of Self-leadership, and built a coaching program around them, to help people achieve whatever it is that they want to achieve in their life to lead themselves. The 3 C's being— Clarity, confidence and control. So for example, if you know what you care about and why you care about it.. If you know your values, no matter what, you can show up in a room and you don't worry about what people think about you because you're so sure about what you think about yourself. That's how if you have clarity, if you have that and you're able to show up in that room and have confidence. And so that foundation allows you to build on top of it, so you can actually deepen the belief that you have in yourself as well as understand the things that you need to learn. That in itself will build more confidence. When you know what you care about, know where you're going and believe you can get there, you're more likely to take steps towards it. So, you're more likely to create an environment around yourself that serves you because you start noticing the things that don't serve you. The problem is when you don't have clarity, you're more likely to stick around in environments that are negative or stressful or misaligned. If you don't have confidence, you're not even going to take any actions towards what you care about, or you're not going to feel like you can make changes in your life to live more intentionally. So they all work together. And if you're missing one, you're more likely not to be able to actually take actions than the others.

And actually, I can see theses with the clients that I work with. Clarity, confidence, and control is so game changing. And I'm thinking about real life situations where I've struggled to frame this up for clients, I might say, I feel like you don't know where you're going. You are working without an end in mind. You're working without a purpose. And then I might say, I hear you putting yourself down a lot. I don't hear you celebrating your skills in the mountain of value you're on that you've got.

What Benjamin is saying has given offense for all of that. And with all clients I work with, I could tell everyone the same things, the same rules of the game – I could give everybody the same information and the same support, but what I have discovered is there's one big thing that changes everything, and it's what I call the YOU factor.

And I've been trying to really narrow in on the elements of that You factor that make the big difference. Those business owners that are really forging ahead and business owners that are incredible and talented and skilled and amazing, but they're struggling and leadership, leadership is just a massive one as well. Management's really important. But as a business owner, you can technically hire a manager. But leadership, I'm looking at the most successful entrepreneurs I know and they are strong leaders. And based on what Benjamin said, I can also tell that these strong self leaders have the elements of clarity, control, and confidence.

The next thing we would all love to know: Does Benjamin have tools and resources where we can just have a bit of a look and see how would we go?

Benjamin Ritter: You can always go to and sign up for the email lists. I also have some articles on LinkedIn that you can check out or videos on YouTube. I speak about self-leadership a ton. So all that content's out there, if you can't find it, connect with me on LinkedIn, Dr. Benjamin Ritter, and send me a message. And, I'm happy to also go through one of the pillars right now and share an exercise that people can start with. I just want to disclaimer for everyone reading: When I say clarity, I can't tell you how many people come to me seeking clarity and thinking that they're going to know exactly what they want before they've actually done anything. A lot of times people tend to misunderstand that clarity is actually not knowing. Sometimes, it's actually the fact that I'm going to put my explorer cap on and get curious about the world. I'm going to know what I care about. I'm going to have a variety of decisions in front of me. I'm not going to know the correct one to take because there isn't a correct one, and I'm going to start doing some mini tests. So that means connecting with people and having conversations about what they're doing that relates to what you want. It means going and doing a small project. It means trying something out with maybe one client or selling one thing. It's just you learn most of the time from doing more than you do from thinking. So please keep that top of mind when we discuss clarity. Before we even get to, well, what do I do and what do I explore? We need to figure out what our values are, and our values can be utilized in any action that we do. So that allows us to feel good about exploring and doing. For example, right now, I'm a career in leadership coach. I also conduct leadership trainings and I also build talent development departments for organizations. All of those things that I do have the undercurrent of the value of health, mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, with also the value of loving your work, feeling empowered to create the life that you want. I can do anything and apply those values to it. I can work in any industry. So what I'm saying is knowing your VALUES create a sense of freedom for you instead of, am I doing the right thing? Am I showing up in the right way? That's why our values are so important. And an exercise that we can do to uncover our values is to explore our memories. You'll want to actually explore five of your happiest memories in your life. So give yourself some space, write down my five happiest memories and put on a song if you'd like, and just jot down these experiences that you've had. When you're done with that, you want to explore what are the themes within those memories. Those themes can hint at some of your values. Now, you want to do the same activity for moments in your life where they were the most unhappy experiences left, a pretty strong emotional impact in a negative way where you were dissatisfied. And then you do the same thing. You look for themes. And the opposite of those themes tend to also hint at your values because where we feel uncomfortable, where we feel like something is wrong, where we feel frustrated and stressed tends to be in environments to go against who we truly are as individuals. With that reflection, with that awareness, try to answer the question, who am I? And you can answer this question in phrases, sentences, but you want to try to actually use two to three keywords. I'd say give yourself 15 minutes just to freely write and try to distill this down now to actual instead of sentences, those two words or one word. And so you should, after that activity, have a list of probably 10 to 20 words or short phrases that have answered the question, who am I?

And actually, I was doing something a little bit like this recently. I journal a lot. I've done it all my life and just open a book pen, no idea what's going to come out. Sometimes it's just a shopping list, but it's about giving myself that beautiful time and space to do that.

And what Benjamin is talking about here, it's a great way to understand your BRAND STORY to reflect, and why the heck, why am I here, why I'm here, and why does what I get joy from bring me joy and therefore what am I want to do more of and how does that connect me to the people I serve?

Benjamin Ritter: You can use this if you're trying to understand your career path, what brings you happiness in your career, what brings you to satisfaction, what you need from a position – and do this for leaders. What do you need from a leader? You can even do this for partners. What do you need from a relationship? So now, you have this list of words or short phrases. You then need to prioritize them. So for example, if you could have health but not openness, would that be okay? If you could have loyalty but not learning, would that be okay? And you go down your list and try to prioritize your top five to 10. You have a list of five to 10 words or short phrases that really are your top values right now, and you want to pause, you want to go away, take a couple hours away from it, come back to it maybe the next day and go through that list again and see if the order still resonates with you, what you then need to do. This isn't easy, right? This is a long process is define what these words mean to you. Words and phrases have unique meanings to each individual. And so for example, health for me is going to be very different than health for you. Health and work is going to be very different than health in my personal life. You can also categorize, what does this value mean in my business? What does this value mean in my relationships? What does this value mean in my personal life? What does this value mean for me personally? And again, this is a lot of work, but it's important because if you don't define them, they're ambiguous and you can't actually live aligned to them. So then when you have this information, you can then do some fun activities. You can actually start ranking your day or your relationships or your job or your business to your values. So let's say you have 10 values. Just to make it simple, each one of those values would be one to 10, 10 being the most aligned, one being the least aligned. And when I say aligned, what I mean is you're showing up and you feel completely like you are honoring this value. No matter what you are, this is the perfect place for you. Either it's your business or a relationship. So for example, if I was going to use the value of health, does my current job allow me to honor that completely? Whatever that means for myself personally. So I'd rank it a 10. And so let's say you go down your values list and you rank them and you get a score of 50 out of a hundred, it's not very good, but let's say you get a 90 out of a hundred, then you're potentially in the right place. So you can use your values to basically assess, is this a good fit for me? Am I showing up in a way that aligns with who I truly am? And then you can identify problem areas that you need to actually improve. If I am ranking a client, I'm a business, I'm a coach, so I can go, does this client align with this list of values? And if that client doesn't, let's say that client is under 70 on my list of values, I kick 'em out. So you can also use this to define your target clients, your ideal client. You can assess clients, you can assess business opportunities, but more importantly, when you have your list of values, you can start building from there in terms of how you want to show up in the world, or how you need to show up for yourself to actually feel satisfied and fulfilled.

Leadership is something that I've identified is so critical, and for me, I feel like I had to become a self leader early. I'm someone with a fair bit of adversity in their life, and I feel like people who have been through a lot of adversity have to step up as leaders or we end up victims. That's what it feels like anyway. And one, as I mentioned, one of my values is health. So a while ago I run a bookkeeping practice and if somebody said, what do you do? And you're out in a social function, you're not going to give them a pitch. So I'll usually say, I'm many things, but I a bookkeeper.

And they say, do you like that? And I used to say, I love it so much. And they would look at me, how can you love book bookkeeping so much? But what I didn't tell them is how it aligned with my values. So what had happened is I scaled my practice in the first five years so that I only had to work a few hours a week if I wanted, I could choose my adventure, and it meant I was able to put my health first and my little boy first and all these things first. So it wasn't that I loved the bookkeeping, it was that

I loved the way my job and my business had aligned with what I really wanted out of life.

And in another way, I've got a business buddy who is at that point in her business where she wants to hit reverse, reverse. She is doing something that she loves, but it's not aligning with her values and what she really wants. So even though she's doing a job she loves, she's ended up not being able to get time with her kids, her health and all these things. But again, she does lack the clarity and a lot of those little things. So I feel like they're real life examples of how we look at our business and ask, is it giving us what we want? And occasionally, I get myself into that spot where I have to stop, take a breath and go, hang on a sec, hang on a sec. I'm not getting enough time with my son. I'm not getting enough time for my health something. The pulse is weak here. There is a problem and I need to fix it because business is about giving us what we want.

We don't go into business to work and work and work and work. I hope if you ask any entrepreneur, why did you start working for yourself? It's usually I wanted time, I wanted freedom, I wanted to be the leader of my own destiny, those things. So if we just end up working long hours with clients that we're not resonating with, and we're not taking care of our health and all of those things, then if we were to take pulse of our business, it's not going to be great.

Benjamin Ritter: Our values are an indicator of if we're doing the right thing or how to do the things that we maybe plan. So my perspective on work is that there's infinite amount of ways to achieve something. So why not do it in a way that works for you? And a lot of business owners will tend to choose ways that they think they have to do something. For example, the only way to get client is to have a TikTok account or to have a YouTube channel or to have an Instagram account use social media. When I'm working with a client right now who has very different value set, especially around branding and publicity, and also his work really is focused on being discreet, and it would make sense then that he wouldn't use social media platforms to build his business. And so identifying those differences in between what you think you have to do and how you really should be serving yourself and serving your business is really crucial and important, and your values can hint at that.

And I've been struggling a bit with this lately too! We can have a tendency to look at what somebody else is doing and think, well, that's how you do it. So that's how I better do it. And then we have this, well, wait a sec, that doesn't sit well with me. That doesn't match up with my values. And social media is a great example. I love socials. I'm a Latin dancer. I love it for that. I love keeping in touch with people, but I don't like being a slave to social media. And another thing I heard was rather, let's say you are an occupational therapist, rather than looking at other occupational therapists and seeing everything that they do, if you avoid doing that and maybe just look at other industries that inspire you, then you can create a pathway.

Like, there's infinite possibilities.

Create a pathway to get what you want, doing it your way rather than doing it 'the way'.

And I know I've done that in my new business I've recently launched. I'm very much avoiding looking at any of my competitors. I've been doing this 13 years, I know what I'm doing and I want to do it my way. And one of my marketing team suggested I needed to do things the way, which a lot of was social media. And I said, no, I don't want to do that. And I actually know that I don't have to do that. I can choose to do it a different way. I can choose to connect with my audience, for example, via responsive email list. I can choose to give them something amazing where they'll want to tune into me. That way I can choose to go slow and steady wins the race and not aim to be the biggest with the biggest list, but aim for what I'm aiming for.

It's kind of it's okay to be you and to do things your way. As Benjamin said, we're still explorers. We're doing rather than thinking. And so we don't have to have it all figured out immediately – this is a journey and a moving target.

Benjamin Ritter: And the next step is to actually figure out what that moving target is. You set goals. Now, those goals may or may not be achieved because the satisfaction doesn't come from achievement. It comes from the learning of making progress towards those goals. And a failure is actually still progress. But now, you know who you are and how you want to show up and what alignment means for you in terms of your values and work. You start picking some goals that you really want to strive for and you have to make them specific. So they have to be measurable, they need to be important. So they align with your values, they align to things that you care about and they have to be time bound. And then you work backwards. For example, one of my clients wants to open up five locations coming up next year. So that's a very, very, very, very broad goal. And there are many different branches and components of that goal. And if I just sit and look at these five locations, I'm going to be overwhelmed despite if they align with my values or not. And so you need to actually branch out. This is another exercise. What is your goal? What are all the branches to that goal? So for example, this is an annual goal, 12 months. Okay, what do you need to achieve in 11 months? What do you need to achieve in 10 months, nine months, eight months? Basically create a project plan for yourself. Who are the stakeholders that need to potentially be involved? What are the daily goals instead of the monthly goals to get there? What's the one thing I need to do today that's going to move me 80% forward tomorrow? And so this is very much getting into the strategy of things. And you may not know the answers, but the things that you want to achieve. So the 80% that is going to move the needle could be just meeting people, talking to people that have those answers. But this is where that action creates more information than sitting and thinking where you're going to figure out the right thing to do if you're showing up in a way that you feel is right. So once you take the values, then you would move into visioning. So what is the life that you actually want to create because now, the values that you want to create and then after visioning you, then you can break that down into goals in terms because your vision is actually what you want to achieve. And usually, the vision is about three to five years out. So then you figure out what goals are a component of that vision, and then you break those goals down into annual goals and then monthly goals, weekly goals and daily goals. And then that creates the things that you need to work on to build confidence around and to build into your environment. So it becomes the foundation, it becomes the C of self-leadership, trying to distill a three month coaching program down into 30 minutes or so. And actually, the reason why people tend to feel stuck is because they don't feel that the things that they want are possible. When you figure out what you want, you then create a plan, even if it's right or wrong, it doesn't matter. It allows you to think that what you want is achievable, and that allows you to feel unstuck and you're making progress. And that progress builds confidence, right? Builds momentum, and then we can start achieving what we want to achieve in life.

Whenever I feel a bit stuck or confused, I take a break. I've got a big 10 meter whiteboard and I stop and I think, what am I doing? Let's go back to, what is my plan today? How does that relate to my long-term plan? And the big results we get with clients too is when we, even if it's a simple plan, if we're clear on the end goal and we're clear on we're all on the same track and we've all got the same thing in mind, then it's so much. Then we get there, we get to the end result.

We've seen clients go from zero profit to 80,000 a month. But the key to that was really, okay, so what are we working for? What's the plan to get there and keeping everyone on track. So we just all kept on with those habits that we were forming to get to the end goal rather than everybody being on having a different plan. And I have a special needs child and with special needs kids, they often struggle to understand that everybody has a different plan in their head. And even when you're working with teams, it can be the same. A leader can think, well, surely everybody knows the plan, but they might all have a bit of a different plan. So clarity around planning, I'm all about that.

Benjamin Ritter: It all comes to what is your vision? You express that. Do they understand that? How have you really confirmed that they understand that? Do they know what they care about? Do they know what they're working towards? And when I say, I mean your direct reports, do they understand the values of the organization, the vision of the organization? Do they feel confident in it? Do they feel confident in themselves? Do they feel confident in you? Do they have control? Do they have the resources they need to show up and do their job successfully? How is their health? What are their stressors? And all this comes from conversations with them. And so you basically create an environment that helps them lead themselves. That's what true leadership is.

Leadership, self-leadership, clarity, confidence, control – these things don't fall *ss first out of the sky. They take effort. And so I just want to encourage, because sometimes business owners can think, isn't it more important they get on with making revenue?

Well, I can tell you I see revenue every day, every day, and it doesn't plop out the bottom as profit. And I also see that cash and profit doesn't equal prosperity. Prosperity is time rich freedom, aligning with your values, and we're working for prosperity. Once the cash and profit is there, which is oxygen for a business, what we really, really, really, really want is prosperity. And that's what this is all about. But these things do not just fall out of the sky. You need to work for them.

And, it costs nothing to reach out, have a conversation, and ask questions about these things. I can tell you from experience, nailing this stuff makes all the difference.

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