As children, we are taught to listen to our parents and to our teachers, and we look to pop stars and now influencers for guidance. As adults, we continue to look for external validation of our choices from our peer group and other role models, while at work we are often micro-managed by our bosses and look for permission to do anything that isn’t within our agreed remit. Even as independent business owners and entrepreneurs, most of us look to mentors and experts to tell us what to do.
What’s the problem?
The benefit of this system – of effectively giving others authority over ourselves and our lives – is that we can blame them when things go wrong. Hurrah! I chose the wrong career (but it was because I got poor guidance from my school and parents). I ended up burning out (but it was because of the toxic work environment and my horrible boss).
While that excuse may make you feel better for the moment, it’s actually deeply disempowering. It takes away all your agency and effectively means that you resign yourself to a rubbish situation because you claim you have no power to change it. You’ll end up feeling frustrated, unmotivated, and unfulfilled.
What is self-leadership?
So, what’s the alternative? Instead of looking to others, how about looking to yourself? Instead of blaming others, how about taking responsibility for yourself? Instead of resigning yourself to whatever negative situations you are experiencing, how about deciding to change your own fate?
Self-leadership is leading yourself. It means that you are proactive rather than reactive, intentional rather than accidental, and ultimately taking responsibility for your own life.
Let’s explore some of the components of this idea of self-leadership and what it will look like in practice…
1. It starts with understanding who you are
To lead yourself (and others, for that matter), you have to have a good degree of self-knowledge and self-awareness. You need to be able to observe yourself objectively, without judgement or bias. What are your personality and character traits? Your core personal values? What is it that drives you? What are the beliefs that you hold and the stories you tell yourself? How do you tend to behave with other people? Taking the time to reflect on these questions, and to come back to them regularly as you and your answers evolve, is the foundation for everything else that follows.
2. …and what you can do
Beyond your core identity as a human being, you have your skills, knowledge, and abilities. If you focus only on this piece and neglect your values and motivators, you may feel unfulfilled or you may burn out in your work. On the other hand, if you neglect your skills and abilities, you may not be able to realise your full potential and achieve your vision.
3. Then you need to know where you are going
Speaking of vision, to be a leader you need to know what you are leading to. Self-leadership requires you to question conventional definitions of success and come up with your own personal definition that is meaningful to you. What is your ‘big picture’ vision, your north star? What are your ambitions for the next few years? What are your goals for this year, this quarter, this month? You have to take responsibility for setting yourself targets that you are committed to achieving.
4. You’ll need a growth mindset
Okay, so you have your self-knowledge, you’ve mapped your skills, and you have your goals. What is it going to take to get there? First of all, you’ll need a good dose of curiosity. You’ll need to be open to new ideas and committed to lifelong learning. The fixed mindset is your enemy here as it will limit what is possible. You need to believe that you can grow and learn, that you can find a solution, and that all the effort will be worthwhile.
5. …and you’ll need resilience
Let’s be honest, self-leadership is no panacea and this is not going to be an easy road. If anything, it will be more challenging as you set yourself bigger goals and hold yourself more to account. You’ll need grit and you’ll need to be able to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks along the way. Stay focused on your bigger purpose, work on building your confidence, and create a solid support network for yourself.
6. Finally, you must take complete ownership of the outcomes
On my recent driver awareness webinar, the trainer talked about taking “absolute personal responsibility” for road safety. In a similar vein, a relationship coach that I worked with talked about how each person in a partnership is not just 50% but 100% responsible for that relationship. This is a massive shift in how you think about things. Although it might seem at times unfair, it’s rather empowering and you’ll find that it will help you to develop greater empathy and understanding on the one hand while opening your eyes to all sorts of creative possibilities and solutions.
Self-leadership is about taking responsibility for your own life, your actions, and your decisions. It involves having a clear understanding of your values, your strengths, and your weaknesses, and using this knowledge to make intentional choices that align with your vision and purpose. And it means developing the skills and behaviours that you’ll need to achieve real success and fulfilment.
Self-leadership is the foundation of effective leadership, as it enables individuals to become more self-aware, confident, and motivated… and to inspire and influence others to do the same.
What does ‘self-leadership’ mean to you? Are you willing to take “absolute personal responsibility” for everything that you do?
I look forward to your thoughts…