As high-performing people, we tend to think a lot about leadership and the way we engage with and guide others around shared goals. We think less about how we lead ourselves.
The idea of self-leadership was first introduced in 1983 by Charles C. Manz.1 It was a concept for the workplace; if employees could think of themselves as self-leaders, then they would be better able to manage themselves and require less oversight and instruction.
The concept has since evolved into the personal development space. And why not? You can certainly set goals and objectives and execute on them outside of an employment setting.
So self-leadership refers to your ability to lead yourself in order to achieve and reach your greatest potential, as defined not by an employer – but by you.
What is self-leadership?
An employee who is a self-leader can work with very little supervision. This is a highly transferable skill! Because very little supervision is exactly what you’ll get when it comes to reaching your own personal goals.
Someone who has become a fully-realized self-leader is someone who is the “self-starter” of every ideal job description in their own lives. They have a defined vision, a solid process for decision making, and they are dedicated to the pursuit of their goals.
Self-leaders are in tune with their own desires and feelings; they are self-aware; and they are focused on their health, happiness, and success – however they define it for themselves.
Master the art of self-leadership
How do you master the art of self-leadership? The journey is an individual one, but there are some common threads to follow.
- Get clear on your goals and your “Big Why.”
Your “Big Why” is the reason you do all that you do. For some, this is more quality time with their families. Others strive to shape the legacy they’ll leave behind. The options are endless – take some time to think through your values and what’s important to you. Define your priorities, and identify your goals. What’s your overall purpose? What are the things you truly want to accomplish in your life?
- Take the time to know and understand yourself.
Self-leadership isn’t about “busyness” or pushing yourself too hard. It’s a process by which you come to know yourself deeply, and you activate that knowledge to live a happy, fulfilling life. Understanding your actions and emotions by way of emotional granularity is a great place to start. You can also enlist the help of a therapist in understanding more about your motivations and the things that might be holding you back.
- Take smart risks.
It’s important to challenge yourself. For high-performers who are used to being in control and succeeding, it can be scary to try something with a higher risk of failure. But taking smart risks is crucial to your growth and your success as a self-leader. Is there something you think you’ll regret not pursuing? A move you’ve daydreamed about that just seems a little too scary? How can you take the first step?
- Ask for help and guidance.
In addition to seeking the counsel of a qualified therapist, you can enlist the help of mentors or coaches who can help guide you through the process of identifying and reaching your goals. It can be valuable to get feedback and insight from an impartial third party. Self-leadership isn’t synonymous with “doing it all by yourself.” Leaders ask for help along the way.
- Evaluate your progress.
Most of us are used to evaluating our progress in one way or another when it comes to job performance and our career trajectory. We take less stock of our personal progress, but it’s just as important! Take time to reflect on how far you’ve come and the lessons you’ve learned over time. This can lead to more confidence and a sense of gratitude for all you’ve experienced.
- Engage in genuine self-care.
Self-care means loving yourself while being dedicated to your own personal development. Align your lifestyle – your diet, your exercise, your relationships – with your goals and priorities. Set boundaries that support your growth rather than allowing your energy to be depleted by things that don’t serve your ultimate purpose.
- Commit to lifelong learning.
A dedication to learning helps keep the world in perspective! Exposure to new ideas keeps up fresh and connected to our communities and the people around us, and it can help us to further define our own beliefs and values. As a bonus, studies have shown that lifelong learning can even slow down the effects of age.2
- Strengthen your strengths.
Don’t focus solely on your weaknesses! Traditional advice often has us scrambling to overcome the things that don’t come naturally to us.There will always be someone who can easily do what you struggle with, so assemble your personal dream team and outsource the things that just take too much of your energy.
It’s easy to point out our weaknesses and much more difficult for most of us to identify our strengths. But once we do, we can focus on getting even better!
Live fully through self-leadership
The art of self-leadership lies in identifying your values, maintaining your integrity, and staying accountable to yourself. While it’s easy to frame self-leadership as another harsh driver of personal success, it is – at the end of the day – simply a method for living your life fully and on your own terms.
In combination with kindness and compassion for ourselves and connection with our bodies and minds, building our ability to self-lead can be vital to optimizing our energy and impact.