Before a manager can make a difference with others – and make them deliver a desired experience to customers – he must first learn to lead himself. If you can’t lead yourself, then how can you expect to inspire others? I believe this is why there are so many would-be leaders and so few actual leaders.

As a leader, it is important to know yourself and what you are good at doing. Many people fail in leadership because they don’t know what their strengths or weaknesses are, or they don’t believe they have weaknesses. Yet, we all have weaknesses.

People must understand the idea that no one person has all the answers, skills, knowledge or attributes to make a company or team successful. Coming to terms with one’s own limitations is an essential step in a leader’s journey. Leaders must manage their personal limitations while simultaneously focusing on their strengths.

Once managers realize they cannot do it all alone, they being to utilize the strengths of their people to deliver a great environment to the whole team, which then creates a desired experience for the customer.

Leadership is found in a group or team of people—not just in one individual. Now, this contradicts much of what the media would have us believe. Popular media and culture promote the idea that it is an individual who bears the responsibility and ability to create greatness.

I call this the Lone Ranger mentality—developed from my boyhood hero and his faithful companion, Tonto. The Lone Ranger was able to handle any problem, villain or situation, and always come out on top. This idea is developed in all heroes today. As children, we are taught that individuals can conquer anyone and overcome anything.

In real life, we also praise the efforts of the individual. Our sports heroes like Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Wayne Gretzky and Rinaldo are all placed on a pedestal; yet, even they all require a great team to be successful. Batman had Robin and the butler. Michael Jordan had the Bulls, his coach and the support of his family. As outsiders, we see the effort of an individual and often don’t recognize the beautiful orchestration of an entire team to make that one individual seem amazing.

Mia Hamm at the World Cup

Credit: Creative Commons courtesy of Curtis Gibbs.

I love the Mia Hamm quote, “Soccer is not an individual sport. I don’t score all the goals, and the ones I do score are usually the product of a team effort. I don’t keep the ball out of the back of the net on the other end of the field. I don’t plan our game tactics. I don’t wash our training gear (okay, sometimes I do), and I don’t make our airline reservations. I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team. I defter to it and sacrifice for it, because the team – not the individual – is the ultimate champion.”

As a leader, understand that to be successful you are always going to need other people around you, and you must know how to utilize those people. Great teams are made up of individuals with different strengths that – when combined – create a whole that surpasses anything the individuals could create alone. Yet, you still must master the leadership of one (yourself) before you can hope to collaborate with a team of leaders.