White wolf

Navigating the inner game of Self-Leadership: insights and strategies

Last month, we delved into the world of self-leadership, setting the tone for a year of purposeful growth in 2024. This month, we’re continuing our exploration by focusing on the ‘inner game’ of self-leadership – gaining a deeper understanding of self-awareness and honing the skill of self-regulation.

Cara McCarthy and Rose Padfield

Self-regulation might sound like a technical term but, at its core, it’s about understanding our emotional and behavioural responses and effectively managing them. We all encounter individuals who struggle with controlling impulses, leading to frustration, defensiveness and damaged relationships.

To truly master self-regulation, we first need a deep understanding of our inner workings – the ‘inner game’. This is the mental arena, where challenges such as fear, self-doubt, distractions and limiting beliefs are battled daily. The ‘outer game’ is the environment in which we pursue our goals and interact with others.

A journey into self-awareness

How is your inner game influencing your outer game and what can you do to level up?

Here are a few reflections to kickstart your inner game exploration:

1. Your values: the compass of your choices

Take a moment to reflect on your values – the personal principles guiding your choices and actions. Ask yourself, “What values are important to me right now?” (If you’re not sure what yours are, please email us and we will provide some exercises to help you identify them.)

Over time, we may lose sight of whether our values align with our work life and our relationships, potentially leaving us feeling disconnected from what was originally important to us, or ill at ease with where we’re going in our work. Upon reflecting on this, have you observed certain aspects of your work or relationships causing discomfort by conflicting with your values or, in some cases, outright contradicting them?

Consider a specific situation where aligning with your values could lead to a more authentic response. What would this look like and what would you need to do to get to that stage?

2. Your goals and strengths: redefining success

Evaluate your definition of success. How you defined success in the past may no longer suit your life stage and motivations. Changes in your personal and professional life may require a refreshed goal-setting approach and a re-evaluation of what you want to put your energy into.

Identify your strengths. Knowing where you excel – or equally where you can grow – is crucial for goal achievement. We use several research-based tools to help our clients explore their strengths, so do get in touch if you’d like to learn more about yours.

3. Life health check: thriving or surviving?

From time to time, it is worth asking the brave question, “How am I doing? Am I thriving? Or am I just surviving?” If you’re not sure where to start, assess your wellbeing with a tool known as a Life Wheel. Creating a Life Wheel involves identifying key life areas and rating satisfaction levels and plotting them on a wheel diagram. Here’s a template if you would like to try this.

It is a simple yet powerful way to assess the importance of each area, recognise imbalances and determine which aspects need attention. This will help to guide decisions to restore balance.

Based on the newfound awareness this gives you, envision what you want more or less of in your life. Take one actionable step within the next week to move towards your desired goal.

Knowing your triggers: self-regulation is learning to feed the right wolf

One of the most practical things you can do to improve your ability to self-regulate is to identify situations, people and feelings that trigger your best and worst reactions. Knowing what provokes the worst in your inner game can help you to create a plan for handling those moments when they arise.

You may have heard the story entitled The Two Wolves. An elderly Cherokee man is telling his grandson about a battle that often goes on inside people.

He tells him, “The fight is between two wolves. One is evil. It is angry, envious, jealous, sorrowful, regretful, greedy, arrogant, self-pitying, guilty, resentful, inferior, dishonest, proud, superior and egotistical. The other is good. This wolf is joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, serene, humble, kind, benevolent, empathetic, generous, truthful, compassionate and faithful.”

His grandson thinks for a while and then asks, ‘Which wolf wins, Grandfather?’ The elderly Cherokee replies, “The one you feed.”

Which wolf are you feeding?

Three practical ideas for managing your triggers

  1. The habit of simple breathing techniques, such as box breathing, can help to calm the nervous system and restore one’s ability to emotionally regulate. You can use the box breathing technique anywhere. Exhale to a count of four, hold your lungs empty for four, inhale for four, hold air in lungs for four, and then exhale and repeat for a minute or two.
  2. It can also help to imagine yourself from an external perspective – how are others perceiving you in emotionally-charged moments, and is this how you want to be seen and experienced? Consider how the best version of yourself would react in this situation. What do you say? How do you feel? How do you behave? Write a list and think about what steps you can take to match this best version.
  3. Intention planning is a technique you can use to plan ahead and make a decision about a situation you know will trigger certain reactions. For example, if you know a colleague is likely to dominate a meeting and you usually become irritable and passive, you can form the intention: “When I start to feel annoyed and want to mentally check out, I am going to take five calm breaths and ask Jane and Bill what their perspectives are instead.” Thinking about your week ahead, pick one or two situations for which you can plan ahead and write your intention.

The impact of self-leadership on overall effectiveness

The development of self-leadership skills has a profound impact on overall leadership effectiveness. Here are a few key examples:

Influence with intent: Influence is the result of intentional action. When we are grounded in self-awareness and have the confidence and skill to manage our own responses, we can more positively influence ourselves and the world around us to facilitate change.

Anticipating challenges: Proactively identifying and addressing challenges becomes second nature, fostering adaptability and creative problem-solving in teams.

Continuous learning: Self-leadership encourages continuous learning, making leaders more flexible and open to change and enabling them to lead their teams more effectively in dynamic and uncertain environments. This learning takes the form of improving self-awareness as well as the acquisition of more industry knowledge and workplace skills.

Emotional Intelligence: Leaders who practice self-leadership are better equipped to understand and manage their own emotions as well as the emotions of their team members, leading to stronger relationships and improved team dynamics.

Inspiration and motivation: Self-leadership enables leaders to inspire and motivate their teams by setting ambitious yet attainable goals and providing support and encouragement along the way.

Effective communication: Self-leadership emphasises effective communication skills, including active listening, clear articulation of ideas and constructive feedback. This helps to fosters trust, collaboration and alignment within teams.

Mastery is a lifelong journey

We encourage you to embark on the journey of mastering your inner game. The power of self-awareness and self-regulation will not only enhance your leadership but also contribute to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven life.

If you relate to anything discussed in this article and you would like to work on your self-leadership skills, coaching might be a useful tool for you. Rose and Cara are executive coaches who work with many leaders to support their effectiveness and development. Contact us here to find out more.

Try this

Watch the TEDx talk by social enterprise CEO Sharon Kelly Hake entitled Discover Your Inner Leader

Listen to Dr Kim Hires’ ‘The Leadership Antidote’ podcast entitled How to Harness the Power of Deep Self-Reflection

Related/further reading

If you found this information interesting you might enjoy our related articles.

Next month

We will delve further into the third vital aspect of self-leadership: self-learning. Discover the secrets of how seasoned leaders continuously expand their learning and explore strategies for fostering a culture of continuous learning among your teams and colleagues.

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