Self-Leadership: What It Is and How and Can Be Used To Boost Your Team’s Untapped Potential

So far in our discussions on leadership, we have focused on teams as a whole and what leaders do on teams. But one of our central theses is that the values and skills of leadership should and can be beneficial for all team members to learn. 

In this blog we’ll be looking at one way to do this, through the concept of “Self-Leadership”. This is a relatively new concept, which takes leadership skills as a basis to focus on individual motivation and self-actualization. 

It’s an interesting approach and one that blends traditional management skills with a self-improvement philosophy that can be applicable to anyone and in many different situations, including one’s daily life and personal goals. 

Here though, we’ll focus on how Self-Leadership can be used on teams to raise team members’ potential and make everyone feel more capable of achieving team goals and feeling as if they are part of leading the team in their own way.. 

Leadership vs. Self-Leadership

But first, let’s take a look at what Self-Leadership is and where the idea stems from. There have been numerous theories about leadership and where it stems from. While in the past leadership was thought to be innate, based on certain qualities that only a few possessed, nowadays many theories emphasize the structural dynamics of groups and teams, power and influence, situational mechanics, and how all of these lead to the emergence of leaders (something we have talked about as well).

However, even if we take these theories as correct, there’s still a question about why certain individuals will “step up” to leadership roles. That’s where Self-Leadership steps in. It seeks to answer the questions of why some people in some situations are more likely to become leaders. But it does so in a way that doesn’t portray these traits as innate or inherited. 

Rather, Self-Leadership seems to work backward from leadership in order to identify the necessary mental and self-regulating skills that lead to good leadership. In other words, Self-Leadership looks at successful leaders and tries to see what is common between all of them, and derives lessons that are shareable to anyone. 

An interesting point that emerges from Self-Leadership is that in order to be a good leader, you have to be able to manage yourself first. This often gets lost in talk about ideas like power and influence and empathy. But ultimately, great leaders are really just good at leading themselves, which then allows them to raise up others as well. 

Self-Leadership in action  

Self-leadership encompasses a lot of different ways of thinking and acting. But at its core it’s about being more self-aware and intentional about one’s actions and behaviors. It’s also about setting goals for self-improvement so that you can better yourself and your goal-achieving abilities. 

The following is a non-exhaustive list of some actions that are related to Self-Leadership:

  • Get into the habit of setting goals for your life and work.
  • Honor and respect others.
  • Embrace new experiences, ideas, and opportunities.
  • Do the right thing, not the easy thing.
  • Be fearless.
  • Find the beauty and goodness in everyone, as well as in the world around you.
  • Actively reject pessimism.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Care for others.
  • Question everthing.
  • Become a role model.
  • Surround yourself with teachers and mentors who aren’t afraid to criticize you.

As you can see, this list involves both actions concerned with self-betterment, as well as actions concerned with improving your relationship with other people. This is key, because Self-Leadership proposes that good leadership is about managing both intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships.

The idea is that teams are made up of relationships. We can imagine breaking down a team into three components: the individual team members, the relationship that team member has to other team members, and the individual’s relationship to the team as a whole.  

By teaching individual team members to manage their relationships with themselves, other people, and their environment, you can create team members that are capable of directing the overall relationship networks that make up teams. In this way, Self-Leadership is directly correlated with public leadership. A team of Self-Leaders can become a team of leaders. 

Values of Self-Leadership 

So let’s distill the ideas of self-leadership into some core values, which can then be instilled on your team.

1. Self-awareness

Have an awareness of yourself and who you are, what your needs and goals are, and what you can do to improve. Self-awareness also means understanding your limits and weaknesses, and in effect, being honest with yourself about yourself.

2. Self-regulation

Once you become more self-aware you can also start to regulate ourselves more. Self-regulation doesn’t mean self-censorship or imposing overly strict behaviors on yourself. But it does mean controlling to some extent how you spend your time, and what you choose to focus on. Focusing on what is most important and meaningful, and not what is simply easiest to do in the moment, can help you control your time better and make more meaningful decisions.  

3. Motivation

Be passionate about your work and what you are doing. It means putting as much of yourself and your energy into the tasks that you take on. And if you aren’t motivated about your work, it means taking the time to reflect and find out why.

4. Dedication

Similar to motivation, dedication means honoring what you are doing with your time and respect. Put thought and care into your actions so that you take on, and don’t cut corners or try to take the easy way out. The only way to become better is to sit down and do the work. Part of dedication is also being consistent and showing up for your team members–having loyalty to the team and what you have all accepted as your goals.  

5. Decision-making

Being able to make decisions for yourself is an important part of Self-Leadership. If you can decide for yourself, then you have an inner knowledge of your capabilities and the confidence to stick to your decisions, come what may. It also demonstrates independent thinking skills.

6. Empathy 

As we mentioned above, Self-Leadership is about both intra and interpersonal relationships. So empathy is necessary in dealing with others–caring for them, exhibiting trust, respecting their feelings, and discussing ideas in a productive way.   

7. Influence

We all have different levels of influence in our lives. Understanding that is part of understanding the fundamentals of group dynamics. Once we acknowledge the influence that we have, we can work to increase it or to become better at influencing the course of our work and team environments.

8. Accountability 

Being prepared to hold yourself and others accountable is an important step in Self-Leadership. This means you take responsibility for your actions and mistakes, and you are also willing to hold other people responsible when their actions demonstrate that they disrespect you or the rest of the team. 

The SOAR model and reflection 

The last critical aspect of Self-Leadership is reflection. It’s important to reflect on actions and behaviors so that you can become better and work to improve.

To do this, you can use the SOAR model, which stands for:

  • Self–understanding who you are
  • Outlook–how you view the world, which leads to…
  • Action–what you choose to do as a result
  • Reflection–thinking about your actions so you can start the process again and promote continuous growth.

The SOAR model is actually similar to the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust) model. Both involve a continuous process of thinking, reflecting and adjusting behavior in order to grow and improve. 

It’s important to understand that our selves are always capable of learning new things and growing, which means that our outlook and actions can also be changed. Being aware of this, and taking the time and energy to make those critical changes are what nurture Self-Leadership and your continual potential as productive and proactive team members and leaders.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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