Personal Leadership—A Definition

by Joel Thigpen

In business, in politics, in government, in civic organizations and in society generally, the need for improved leadership is blatantly obvious.  We have a huge leadership gap in this country and that gap will not be closed by wishful thinking that the “other guy” will step up or someone new will emerge to shoulder the responsibility for leadership.

Paul J. Meyer, the founder of Leadership Management International (LMI), writes that leadership is primarily determined attitudes and that every person starts with the childlike qualities of curiosity, flexibility, adaptability and self-confidence, which if retained, developed and channeled into productive activities will determine one’s own personal leadership.  Being dependent upon attitudes, personal leadership then is internal. It is expressed in the commitment to a course of action that is personally fulfilling. 

As defined by Mr. Meyer, “personal leadership involves the development of a positive self-image that enables you deliberately to choose a course of action because it satisfies your own needs, to follow that path and to accept responsibility for the outcome.  Personal leadership demands your conscious assumption of control over your own destiny through the establishment of personal goals that give depth and meaning to your action.”

Said another way… everyone, regardless of education, experience or personality has the potential to lead and we exercise personal leadership far more often that we realize. Doing what you know is right and productive for you regardless of the obstacles or the opinions of others is the essence of personal leadership.

Personal leadership is often confused with formal leadership but it should not be. In a given setting, leadership patterns vary and emerge based on the situation.  In organizational settings, leadership is often a function of position, and one person, therefore will be in a position of leadership more often than others. But even in organizations, leadership responsibility is shifted appropriately according to the situation and the needs of the group.

What should be clear is that the exercising of formal leadership is an outgrowth of one’s self-confident commitment to doing a needed job because it benefits both the group and person leading.  Without the internal quality of personal leadership, effective formal leadership cannot exist. 

Joel Thigpen is a Victory Lap Architect with The McGrail Group (; a leadership, productivity, membership development and performance improvement company located in Raleigh, NC, affiliated with Leadership Management International.  We inspire leaders to engage their teams and take a  Acknowledgement: “Effective Personal Leadership” by Paul J. Meyer and LMI.