We see leaders all around us—running organizations, institutions and countries. What is visible to you about these leaders is just the external act of leadership, but you do not see all the effort that goes into being a leader even before you start leading others. This is where your leadership journey actually begins.

People assume that leadership is only for those who are interested in “leadership roles", or are higher up in your organization. However, no matter where you are in your career, you need to understand how to lead yourself better.

Personal leadership, essentially, means taking charge of your growth and development to become the best possible version of yourself. It combines self-awareness with emotional intelligence and personal accountability. It involves adapting to change and working more congruently with your purpose. We believe mastering personal leadership is a function of developing these five skills:

Manage self: Organizations are collaborative spaces. As an employee, you are expected to work with others to complete tasks and meet goals. As part of this process, you may face disagreement and conflict. Responding thoughtfully to such situations is arguably the most important skill in building stronger relationships and dealing with challenging circumstances. For example, how do you manage your emotions when someone shares tough feedback with you?

Lead self: To be an effective professional, one needs to take charge of one’s own personal growth. It means stepping out of your comfort zone by setting stretch goals for yourself, deliberately taking responsibility for your own actions and achieving your goals by overcoming fears and managing failures intelligently. For example, when you fail to deliver a project on time, do you learn from the experience and plan better the next time?

Embrace change: Growth and change are essential for survival not just in nature but also in the workplace. The ability to adapt is more critical today than ever before as the world is changing at a rapid pace, and success for individuals lies in constantly re-inventing themselves. You may face setbacks and disappointments in your career that may make you feel like you can’t get back on track. You need to believe that you have the ability to learn new skills and can bounce back from difficult situations. Reaching out to mentors, advisers and buddy-coaches can help you find solutions to your challenges. Mastering the art of receiving feedback can be an extremely useful skill for those who truly want to embrace change. For example, when you face a setback at work you cannot deal with, reaching out to mentors can help you navigate the situation better.

Practice excellence: Being top-of-line is not just something you achieve. It is a way of being. It means holding yourself to a high standard of output as an employee and of behaviour as a person. Shoddy work or lack of adherence to procedures and timelines immediately translates to a lack of commitment or interest. Those who consistently deliver their best build high credibility and a reputation for being reliable, which is critical for establishing trust in today’s workplace. For example, do you proofread all documents that you send out and ensure you meet deadlines?

Find purpose: As part of any job, you will undertake tasks that seem meaningless and boring. You will also get to do some things which make you feel productive, satisfied, and motivated. To feel more of the latter, start defining your purpose and making it the anchor that gives meaning to your work. For example, how do you shift from a role which feels like drudgery to working where you feel like you are always “in a zone".

We all want to lead and go ahead of others. But, to truly lead others, you have to build the habit of leading yourself first.

Art of Work is a five-part series about habits critical to career success. This is the last in the series.

Pramath Raj Sinha and Shreyasi Singh are founders of an online learning venture that helps professionals and students build career enhancing habits.

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