Most people associate leadership development with climbing the corporate ladder and learning how to lead others. Self-leadership, on the other hand, is not really on their radar. But how can you successfully lead others unless you first learn to lead yourself? I would argue that you cannot. Leadership starts from within, and “leadership development” is just a sexy term for “personal development”.
So, what exactly is self-leadership, why is it important, and what are some of the key strategies that can help you develop it?
Finding balance within and without
The most comprehensive way I have found to define what it concretely means to achieve self- leadership is to harmonise our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
When all these three aspects of how we express ourselves in the world are aligned, we are in balance. If, on the other hand, our actions (including the words we speak) are in contradiction with what we think and feel inside, we are in a state of imbalance and opposition within ourselves.
Aligning our thoughts, emotions, and actions requires that we learning to balance the natural flow of feminine and masculine forces within us – the yin and the yang. On a mental level these forces can also symbolically be associated with the qualities of the two brain hemispheres.
In his book “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain And The Making of The Western World,” Iain McGilchrist argues that our society is suffering from an over-dominant left brain hemisphere which is losing touch with its natural regulative master – the right brain hemisphere. One way that we can all contribute to creating a more balanced society would therefore be to develop self-leadership, and more balance within ourselves.
Self-leadership expressed: as I think, so I feel, and so I act
Before moving on, I therefore encourage you to do a little personal check-in with your own thoughts, feelings, actions. Take a deep breath and ask yourself:
- What am I thinking?
- What am I feeling?
- What am I doing?
Contemplate on what are you discovering. Are you uncovering any inconsistencies in how you are currently going about your life and career? If so, what is a small step that you can do already today to start creating change? Remember that sometimes small steps can already create big changes. This is a simple exercise that you can use to check in with yourself any time.
No one-size fits all when it comes to strategies for developing self-leadership, it depends on the nature of your imbalance. However, before any strategy must come an inner wanting to improve oneself. That’s the first step. You need to have a desire for learning and wanting to become a better version of yourself.
I believe, this important aspect is often neglected when choosing candidates for leadership roles in the corporate world. Ideally, leadership development training should start long before someone is promoted to a leadership role, and not afterwards, as it is often the case today. This would allow organisations to see who is willing, motivated, and actively seeking to develop themselves in preparation for the responsibility of a leadership role. Instead of just wanting it for the sake of achievement, status, and financial gain.
Claiming your power
Taking responsibility for our own thoughts, emotions, and actions means stepping out of victimhood. When we claim our power and stop blaming others or circumstances for whatever is happening in your lives, we unleash the energy we need to get out there and pursue our true dreams and desires.
Taming our emotional triggers and overcoming limiting beliefs also give us true superpowers that help us turn every challenge into an opportunity for learning and personal development. Hence, we become more resilient, and we more easily bounce back in the face of adversity.
Self-leadership means looking inwards to gain a deeper understanding of who you really are. What are your key strengths, your core values, and what’s your purpose? It can take quite a bit of contemplation to answer these questions for yourself. Self-leadership coaching is one of many possibilities, which can help guide you in the process. Once you know the answer to these questions, you can also set meaningful goals and objectives in your life.
Having a moral compass
We are not alone in the world, and, in nature, the law of cause and effect governs the consequences of our actions. Developing self-leadership therefore means making sure our actions do not cause harm to other living beings. We all have an instinctive knowing of what is right and wrong. When we choose to do the right thing, we trigger positive feedback loops, thereby increasing our ability to thrive and achieve great results in the long term. When we do not do the right thing, we create negative feedback loops and self-inflicted suffering.
Sometimes it takes courage to stand up for what you know to be right. Especially, if it means going against the mainstream. In some cases, civil disobedience might even be called for. We also trigger negative feedback loops for ourselves if we follow man-made laws and orders that cause harm to others. And remember that sometimes inaction, or being a bystander, also makes you a reinforcer.
Self-leadership and the mystery of life
“Heed these words, you who wish to probe the depths of nature: If you do not find within yourself that which you seek, neither will you find it outside. In you is hidden the treasure of treasures. Know Thyself and you will know the Universe and the Gods.” Oracle of Delphi.
What if, on a higher level, developing self-leadership (or self-mastery) is the ultimate goal for all of us?
I believe that life is a personal journey towards self-leadership, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. We can choose to accelerate our journey towards self-leadership by working on ourselves.
Conscious self-leadership development gives us a better understanding of who we are, a clear sense of direction, and the strength to follow our own path, no matter what other people say.
Alternatively, we can choose to walk through life unconscious of who we really are and where we are going. In this case, we will probably make some detours and learn things the hard way while the forces of nature gently but firmly guide us towards self-mastery.
One path is not necessarily “better” than the other. It’s simply a personal choice. As a Self-Leadership Coach, I help people who choose to consciously work on their personal development discover the tools and strategies that work best for them.
The magic of self-leadership
Self-leadership is key if you wish to inspire others to follow you. When you’re around people with strong self-leadership skills, you will feel their strong sense of character. They radiate authenticity and a balance of assertiveness, humility, and vulnerability. As a result, they easily build trust, respect, and connection with the people around them.
When we align our thoughts, emotions and actions, we emit clear signals to the world around us, and we more easily attract the right people and opportunities. We are in tune with the natural flow of things. Synchronicity kicks in and we just happen to be in the right place at the right time. As a result, we are able to operate more efficiently and be more effective in the world.
Summary with key highlights
Self-leadership is not just the foundation of leadership development. Learning to know ourselves on a deeper level, expressing ourselves in a truly authentic way, and living in harmony with other living beings, is the ultimate journey of life.
Written by Norun Laahne Thomassen
Norun is an enthusiastic coach, trainer, mentor and facilitator with a holistic approach to people & organisational development.
In her work, she provides effective and transformative tools and strategies for personal growth and wellbeing both on a private and a professional level.
She loves seeing her clients expand their awareness and find more clarity, fulfilment, and balance as complex physical, emotional, mental and spiritual human beings.