Tue Nov 02 2021

The Importance of Self-leadership

Leadership starts with you. Being a good leader for others is difficult if you are a not a good leader for yourself.

What is self-leadership?

Self-leadership is simply how you lead yourself. Self-leadership covers everything that goes into how you act, how you make decisions, how you communicate with others and with yourself, and how you understand yourself.

Why is self-leadership important?

Self-leadership is important because you have to be a good leader for yourself before you can be a truly good leader for others. Whether or not you are a leader, you are an example for others. Other people on your team and in your organization (or company, unit, family, etc.) will look at your behavior and use it to inform their behavior. They will generally decide they will act more like you or they will specifically not act like you. Your behavior sends countless signals, both loud and quiet, about who you are as a person and what people can potentially expect from you.

But that’s not fair!

You might be thinking that it isn’t fair for people to judge you without listening to you directly or paying attention to your actions. That’s an understandable reaction; however, people are paying attention to your actions and listening to everything you say. In fact, you may be essentially screaming certain things at the people around you without realizing it.

What are you saying to others about yourself?

There are certainly things you directly tell other people about yourself, like your interests, desires, the things you do, your profession, etc. However, there are countless other things you tell people about yourself unconsciously. Some of these things may seem superficial, but they can have a direct impact on how other people treat you or respond to the things you say or do.

For example, keeping an untidy work or living space suggests to those around you that you may not be as concerned with quality or fine-details.

Showing up late to meetings or other commitments, especially consistently, signals to other people that you are not organized or you are not as personally invested as they are. They might think you are unreliable.

Being too intimately involved in the work your team is doing could tell your team members that you do not trust them to handle the work. This micro-management also suggests you are anxious or uneasy about the status of the work.

Working overtime and long hours, while often praiseworthy, can create an expectation among other team members, especially subordinates, that they also need to work longer hours, regardless of the business need for additional work hours. In extreme cases, team members may come to feel that being seen at work is more important than actually getting work done.

Presenting a positive attitude and a welcoming demeanor when working with others tells people who see you work that you are friendly and can be easily approached. Conversely, if you are not open to talking or working with others, other people may go out of their way to avoid talking to you or working with you, even if they have information you require to perform your job.

Both positive, negative, and neutral behaviors provide information to others about the kind of person you are and how they will interact with you. Your behavior and the way you lead yourself has a direct impact on your life and your work even if you feel you are a satisfactory member of your team.

How to be a good self-leader?

Being a good self-leader can have several starting points. It really depends on what you need as an individual person.

One guide for finding a path to being a better self-leader is considering how your actions or behavior looks to other people and what practical impact that has on your life or how other people treat you. You should not necessarily be too concerned with other people’s opinions of you, but people will act differently based on how you act. How other people act can have a direct impact on your life, such as in the quality of service you receive, whether or not you get a job or a promotion, or how willing people are to work with you.

You can also consider if you would want to be on a team of people where everyone behaved a particular way (for you philosophy types out there, this is an adaption of Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative). One of the main goals of good self-leadership is providing an example of behavior for the team. Everyone on the team will start to work more like you and act more like you; is that going to lead to a good outcome for you, your team members, and your team? If it is going to lead to a good outcome, especially over the long term, you may want to consider exploring a change in behavior.

Make small, sustainable changes

Becoming a better self-leader takes time and dedication. One of the most important things to remember is to start with small changes that you can easily keep up. You are not going to be able to turn into a good self-leader overnight or all at once. Try to find a few small changes to make at a time, and if that is too difficult find a single change to make to achieve a better outcome.

The changes should be changes that you can keep up over the long term. The point is to change yourself so that your normal behaviors are the behaviors of a good self-leader.

Don’t give up! You can do it!

You may have to keep up your new behaviors and changes for weeks or months before you start to see an impact, but learning how to be a better leader for yourself will help you to lead a better life and to lead your team better. Your team members can also learn from you how to be better leaders for themselves as well. What can you do today to start being a better self-leader?