How to Achieve Great Results through Self-Leadership by Ryan Holiday

On 16 February, we sat down with Ryan Holiday, a world-renowned bestselling author, to talk about self-leadership. Holiday shared many valuable pieces of advice on how to approach challenges with the right mindset, how to continuously develop, and how to recover from failures to aspiration and success.

If you missed the session or want to go back to it, you can watch the recording on our website. (The recording will be available until Sunday, 21 February. 

Here we give you a brief overview of Holiday’s thoughts.

What Is Success?

Holiday kicked off with the notion of success. He admitted that when was younger he thought success is about external factors like money and influence. However, he has come to understand that this is not true. “My definition of success is autonomy; how much control do I have over my life day to day.”

He highlighted that success cannot be based on recognition from others, about making money, or winning a contest, because those things are not fully under your control.
Holiday said that naturally to some extent in life we need external validation for our success. For example, a company needs to meet some external metrics in order to be successful. But, he highlighted that in general, it is more important to be ambitious about maximizing your own potential. “Are you doing great work that you are proud of?”, that should be the key according to Holiday.

So, he suggested: “You need to have that clear definition of success for yourself, or you end up making decisions that can make you less successful”.


Why Ego is the Enemy?

Holiday then went on to elaborate on his idea that “ego is the enemy”.

“Ego needs to be validated by other people. It needs to hear from the outside world that you’re good enough, that you’re important, that you’re better than other people.”

That is exactly why ego is vulnerable – it’s controlled by other people. “If everyone is criticizing you, ego feels bad. If everyone is praising you, ego feels good.” Holiday proposed that you shouldn’t want to go through your life along with the opinions of others. Instead, you should aim to be (as the stoics say) “on an even keel along the way”.

Holiday emphasized that he believes ego can’t be for the good. Ego gets in the way of success, so instead, you want to have confidence. “What ego does is it prevents you from being as successful as you could be.” Thus, you need to focus on confidence and humility.


How to Avoid Your Ego Getting on the Way of Success?

Holiday referred to a concept of an inner and outer scorecard that Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, successful American football coaches, have used. The inner scorecard is about are we playing well and fulfilling our potential, whereas the external scorecard is about what is the score of the game. “As far as my ambition goes, I tend to focus on this inner scorecard. Am I growing, am I getting better, am I realizing my potential, rather than focusing on these external metrics, which can make you really vulnerable.”

Secondly, Holiday proposed that you need to take some time to reflect and review. Holiday does this by daily writing in his journal. There, he reflects on questions like what is he doing and why, what does he like about what he is doing, where he needs to improve, etc. “I try to look at myself as objectively as possible.”

Another way that can help you combat ego is feedback, because “ego is really threatened by feedback”. To keep yourself humble, you should surround yourself with people who challenge you and tell you the truth. Holiday explained that often very egotistical people surround themselves with yes men or yes women, which only feeds into their ego and prevents them from improving themselves.

Lastly, Holiday advised that in general, you can fight ego by challenging yourself. “If you’re doing the same thing, the same way over and over again, ego creeps in because you think you’ve mastered it.” To continuously throw yourself into challenges keeps the ego in check. “I like to remain a student of what I do so that I never really feel like I’ve got it. I’m always pushing myself and that prevents me from getting conceded.”

How to Continuously Develop Yourself?

Related to continuously challenging yourself, Holiday continued by providing insights into how to continuously develop yourself. He talked about a concept by the mixed martial arts pioneer, Frank Shamrock. Shamrock proposes that you need to surround yourself with three different kinds of people:

You need to have a mentor who is better than you or as Holiday put it “a master you’re studying under”.
You need to have those people who are evenly matched with you – “the other competent people around you”.
You need to be paying your knowledge forward – you need to teach someone else.

So, you need to focus on getting insights from all three angles in order to develop.

Holiday also highlighted that having the mentality that no matter how good you are, you still have a lot to learn is the key to continuous development. “Even as you learn, even as you grow and get better, it shouldn’t be making you feel that you know everything. It should be reminding you and constantly showing you that there’s still so much to learn.”

Why Purpose is More Important than Passion?

In his books, Holiday has underlined the importance of purpose rather than passion. Why?

Because passion is about you; what excites you, what you get, and what you want. Whereas purpose is about something larger than yourself. Holiday suggested, that getting through life by focusing on a purpose – on a cause that goes beyond yourself – is essential.

In life, there will be moments when you need to choose between what’s good for you and what’s good for others. Holiday implied that if you are driven by your passion, you will choose what’s good for you. Whereas, if you are motivated by your purpose, you will choose what’s good for the cause – even if it would come with a cost for yourself. Being driven by purpose will keep you humble and make you do the right things.

To elaborate on this point he introduced John Boyd, a famous fighter pilot, who spoke about the difference between wanting to be someone and wanting to do something. “If you focus on the doing – the cause – it’s just a much better way to go through life.”