When starting any leadership training program, whether the audience is new to a leadership role or a more senior leaders, one of the first questions an Excel trainer will ask is what the expected outcomes for this program are.
The answers are often many and varied, from developing a flexible communication style to managing top talent and how to give developmental feedback.
What’s more interesting is the ensuing conversation about what “team members are doing wrong or not doing at all” and how can the manager “get” their employee to change their behaviour.
While all these skills are valid, it’s not that often that a participant says, “I want to learn more about myself to be a better leader and manager for my team.”
Leading yourself before others might sound basic and simple, but it’s something that very few people can truly hold themselves to.
In this article, we look at what self-leadership is, why it’s critical and what you can do to develop your self-leadership.
What Is Self-Leadership?
Self-leadership is having a developed sense of who you are, what you can do, where you are going coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions and behaviour on the way to getting there. (Bryant, Kazan 2012)
A simpler way to describe it is:
“Self-leadership is the process by which you influence yourself to achieve your objectives.”
It involves a combination of being aware of your behaviours and responses to people and situations combined with an ability to manage and choose your response.
I’m sure I’m not alone in remembering situations where, through sheer frustration with myself or colleagues, I have wanted to share my thoughts in no uncertain terms and without holding back in my choice of the Queen’s English! Fortunately, experience has taught me that using this approach rarely helps anyone achieve their goals.
In case you are wondering, self-leadership impacts all aspects of life, relationships, our career, even health.
With the increasingly complex world we live in where change happens at such a rapid pace, combined with the challenges of a multi-generational workforce, self-leadership is a must–have skill and is the foundation for any leadership development program.
Why Is Self-Leadership Important?
Firstly, we live and work in a highly competitive world which raises the question, ‘how do I stand out in a crowded market as I look to develop my career?’
If we were discussing how a business can stand out, we would be discussing how the business would need to develop its company brand. As leaders, we’re no different, except we are talking about personal branding.
For any leader to distinguish themselves from others, they need to present a unique and unmistakable personal brand that stands out in a crowded and competitive market. You must also be able to communicate your personal brand and what you stand for.
Secondly, if you want to become a leader, self-leadership is about leading yourself and being committed to developing yourself as a leader.
Often new leaders look to their organisation for development, yet it’s often the standout leaders
who take up these opportunities and invest their own time and financial resources outside work
who accelerate their growth.
Self-leadership and leadership development are different but complement each other.
How To Strengthen Your Self-Leadership
Have a Purpose
What your purpose is, isn’t something many people discuss over a glass of wine on a Friday night, yet it does define our reason for living. Without a well-defined purpose, you are at the mercy of others who will try to define your purpose for you.
So the self-leadership journey begins by asking the vital question: Why do you exist? This can be a rather intimidating question. I remember the first time a friend asked me; I wasn’t completely sure at first what was meant by ‘purpose’.
I didn’t answer straight away; I needed to go away and reflect. Once I found my answer it inspired me to take a step forward in my career. And in case you’re wondering, I was visiting some gardens, sat on a bench looking at sunflowers when I turned to my Mum and said “I know what my purpose is!” My purpose is to help others realise their potential and it drives my behaviour and actions in everything I do.
Lead To Serve
You may have come across the phrase “Servant Leadership” and wondered what it means.
The phrase “Servant Leadership” was first mentioned in a 1970 essay, written by Robert K. Greenleaf. He suggested that as a servant leader, you’re a “servant first”, meaning you focus on the needs of others, especially your team members, before considering your own.
On a practical note this means;
- Finding out what support team members need collectively and individually so that they achieve their goals
- You are seeking input from your team in decision making when appropriate
- Building a sense of team community and not just camaraderie
As a result, you create more trust, which leads to stronger relationships as well as increased engagement and innovation.
Understanding the responsibility you have as a leader is the first step in getting others to allow us to serve them. Before others can trust you, you’ve got to trust yourself.
Personify Your Company’s Vision, Mission And Values
Take a look at your company’s vision, mission and set of values, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you know what these are without having to read them from your company’s website?
- To what degree do your behaviours and attitude align with them?
- Finally, do you demonstrate these values every day?
It’s easy for a company to list a set of values such as Integrity, Cultural Diversity or Daring To Be Different.
However, how are you demonstrating integrity when working with your team and clients?
How diverse is your team and are you empowering your team to be creative and different?
Remember, your team are looking to you to lead the way, and it starts with you. Whatever their experience is of you, they will think it’s ok to behave as you do.
When looking at your development as a leader, it’s easy to look at the skills you may want to develop to support your team, forgetting that, “you” are the starting point.
The more aware you are of your behaviours and responses to people and situations, combined with an ability to manage and choose your responses, the more successful you will be as you then begin to develop each team member.
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