The start of a new year presents a fresh opportunity to think about what we can do to make the next 12 months a time of intentional progress and growth in areas that matter to us.
If we ever need reminding of the importance of leading ourselves, this quote by top leadership expert Robin Sharma gets straight to the point:
“You cannot lead others until you have first learned to lead yourself.”
The term ‘self-leadership’ was coined as far back as 1983 by author and consultant Charles Manz, but it was popularised in 2010 by top management thinker Peter Drucker, who said that being a self-leader is to serve as chief, captain, or CEO of one’s own life.
It’s an inspiring idea, but the real impact happens when we ground it in action. Global self-leadership expert Andrew Bryant says that it is what we do on a day-to-day basis that really counts. When it comes down to it, Bryant says that “self-leadership is the practice of intentionally influencing your thinking, feelings, and actions towards your objective(s)”.
Start with your ‘why’
“Whether leading yourself or leading others, it is essential to begin with ‘why’. Intentional action is like a laser, whilst unintentional action is like hitting everything with a hammer.”
Setting meaningful objectives for yourself derives from knowing your purpose and having a strong sense of what motivates you and why. The stronger your self-knowledge of who you are and what you stand for, the better you will be at leading yourself to achieve what’s important to you.
Ask yourself: What does success look like for me this year and how will I work towards it? What is it I would like to achieve in my career or in my personal life?
This could be a desire to pursue further education, for example an Executive MBA, contribute by becoming a NED or Trustee, learn business Spanish to strengthen relationships with colleagues, or complete the Couch to 5K running programme to boost your physical and mental fitness.
Whatever your goals, let’s look at how you can take up the mindset of a self-leader to help you achieve them.
The three things self-leaders attend to
There are three things self-leaders commit to doing regularly. We’re going to introduce them here and will do a deeper dive on each in subsequent newsletters.
1. Self-leaders commit to developing Self-Awareness
This is the capacity to look inwards and reflect on your thought patterns, emotional life, motivations, strengths and weaknesses, and how these affect your relationships with others and your ability to achieve your goals.
Those who invest in self-knowledge are better able to harness and amplify their strengths. They will also be willing to identify and take ownership of any gaps or weaknesses that may be getting in the way of achieving their goals.
Having a good understanding of yourself will not only improve your ability to lead people but will make you far more effective in building relationships and engaging successfully with others.
2. Self-leaders commit to Self-Learning
Self-knowledge is a source of great personal power. Self-learning is about taking the initiative to diagnose the gaps in your skills, capabilities and motivations, identifying where you need to develop and grow, and the resources you need to take you there.
The gift of self-learning is that we come to realise we have options and choices, perhaps more than we initially thought, and can take the necessary steps towards our aims and goals.
As a thoughtful self-leader, we will also ask ourselves about the relationships we might need to cultivate; whose help might we need? Reaching out and seeking help, is a strength because it ensures good collaborative outcomes while valuing the strengths of our colleagues.
3. Self-leaders commit to Self-Regulation
Self-regulation is the degree of self-control we have over our behavioural and emotional responses. It is what helps us manage our impulses and keeps us on track to achieve our goals.
An effective self-leader becomes familiar with their triggers – they consider what causes them to behave out of sync with their principles and intentions, what gets them into the ‘wrong’ mindset or into an unhealthy, unproductive space.
Knowing our triggers gives us the insights we need to develop strategies for reframing our emotional and behavioural patterns. We can take ownership of our thoughts and feelings and choose to pursue the behaviours that are more closely aligned to moving towards our goals.
Two great tips for developing your self-leadership
Value consistency over intensity
“Most people overestimate what they can do in a short period of time and underestimate what they can accomplish in one year, two years, three years.”
In his excellent TEDx talk, Rogers explains how preferencing intensity over consistency “leads to exhaustion and to underachievement, frustration and unfulfillment”. He continues: “Exceptional leaders know that it’s a long game, and consistent contributions every day will far surpass the contributions of intensity.”
I must admit to this ringing true for me. There have been more than a few times in my life when I’ve impulsively set a new goal and expended much energy to achieve it – for a few days or weeks at most.
To paraphrase what Rogers is saying, the best way to achieve your goals is to do little and often.
An effective self-leader is intentional and deliberate with their planning; they don’t leave things to chance. For us, this might mean going to bed earlier so we can get ourselves up in time to pursue our goal of Couch to 5K, or organising your work diary to protect two lunchtimes a week to practice business Spanish with a colleague.
Strive for high standards, not perfection
Liberatingly, Rogers argues that self-leaders hold themselves to high standards, not perfect ones. This is an important distinction because we can put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect that we become defeated by our own exacting expectations.
Instead, we can aim high and strive to be the best we can be, while understanding that there is no such thing as perfect. In fact, self-leaders learn from their mistakes, or ‘missed takes’, and view them as opportunities for growth.
Developing your self-leadership: questions to ask yourself
“It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you came from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.”
Spend a few minutes defining what success looks like for you this year. (You might want to differentiate between success in your career, in your family, relationships, and in your health and wellbeing.)
- What are your goals and ambitions and why are these important to you?
- What do you need to take greater ownership of for yourself to achieve your goals?
- In what ways would you like to grow your self-leadership this year?
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 both Leadership Circle Profile-accredited coaches who work with many leaders to support their effectiveness and development. Contact us here to find out more.
Watch clinical psychologist and leadership consultant Pete Rogers’s TEDx talk, Great leadership begins with three commitments
And/or the one by executive leadership trainer Lars Sudmann, Great leadership starts with self-leadership
You might find these articles and websites useful:
- Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action
- How to reconnect to your purpose
- Being your authentic self
- Mindset and practices of the best leaders (part 1)
- Mindset and practices of the best leaders (part 2)
- What’s the role of the leader?
Why Self-Leadership Is The Most Important Leadership (forbes.com)
Next month, we dive deeper into this topic and explore tools for developing our self-awareness and ability to self-regulate our thoughts and emotions.