Leadership and self-leadership

Leadership and self-leadership are two terms that go hand in hand when we talk about leaders or managing oneself, whether you have your own business or are part of an organization. All leaders' success depends on mastering these two concepts and by having the mentality and talents to acquire the resources you need.

Understanding Self-leadership  

In early literature, the terms self-leadership and self-management were often used interchangeably. What they discovered was that self-leadership is rooted in self-awareness in combination with self-management.  

Today, self-leadership lies in 3 abilities:  

  • Setting goals, which essentially means being aligned with what you need to do and know when it’s the deadline for it. Mostly if you are in a creative business or industry, it goes as something essential to set from the beginning with your client or team.  
  • When setting goals, try the SMART method, which means that any goal you set needs to be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based.  
  • A goal also needs to be clear, negotiated (especially when it is not relevant enough for you as it might be for someone else) and reformulated so that it makes sense to you, as well as everyone else. 

Assessing oneself, in terms of skills and commitment to a goal or a specific task you need to do. With this ability, you can predict how well you can perform and how you might feel through the process.  

Matching with a style of leadership that brings what you really want to achieve. You can discover your style of leadership by asking yourself: who takes the final decision regarding the way the goal was met or how the task was completed? This is the moment when a leader may either encourage, guide, delegate or be directive.  

The abilities of self-leaders 

As Charles C. Manz said “All human beings are self-leaders; however, not all self-leaders are effective at self-leading”, you first need to strongly identify who you are, what your most desired experiences are and how can you guide yourself towards achieving them. Successful leaders are not always “natural”, they can also get inspired and learn how to perform better leadership. 

If you understand who you are, what you can do, where you’re heading and your ability to influence via your communication, behavior, and self-knowledge, then it might come easier for you to visualize the process by which you seek to ‘lead’ yourself to achieve your objectives. 

This simply spans the determination of what you do, why you do it, and how you do it (a.k.a. The Golden Circle Model).  

Being self-led also requires a sense of freedom and for those working in the creative industries or freelancers manage their time as they want and are more flexible than those working a 9-5 job.  

Quote to insert ["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 behavior on the way to getting there." (Bryant, Kazan 2012).] 

Knowing the fact that it all comes from you first in everything you do, you need to understand that self-leadership is about constantly developing the 'inner game' (the mindset) and the ‘outer game’ (the action): 

the inner game consists of intention, self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-efficacy (self-belief), the outer game consists of influence and impact. 

But what about leadership?  

Leadership, as many people might (or might not) already know, has nothing to do with titles, power, social status, or personal attributes. It relies mostly on social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others towards achieving a goal. 

Leadership should be about inspiration and direction. It is not synonymous with management, but good management is certainly needed, as management is about delivery – and having set structures and systems, where everyone knows what they should be doing.  

But let’s first a short comparison between management and leadership:  

  • leadership is the action of exerting personal power and influence to gain authority, whereas management stays on the position power and hierarchy to execute orders; 
  • leadership is the one that empowers people, whereas management imposes authority; 
  • Leadership encourages change, while management implies strict orders.  

So, we can rely on the idea that managers manage things, but leaders lead and are closer to the people. Warren Bennis completes this idea by stating that “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into action”.  

Leaders are formally, but mostly, informally defined, so if people around them share the same values and ideas, then it will come easier to work together towards a mission. Usually, leaders are expected to inspire and persuade, rather than give orders or try to control others and are driven by a sense of togetherness, doing things with others. But to be a better leader, you first need to find out that type of leader you are.  

Going from self-leadership to leading people 

Self-leadership is that critical success factor for individual and organizational success, as Peter Senge said: "Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it, no organizational learning occurs."  

One interesting study though, conducted in 2011 showed that self-leadership performs better at an individual level, showing better affective responses and improved work performance, aspects not so consistent at the team level.  

We can simply conclude from here that self-leadership really comes to everyone and their ability to self-assess and perform.  

Creative domains have quite the same characteristics when it comes to healthy leadership, but here, management is more natural to pinpoint. When it comes to leading creative people, you first need to understand:   

  • the whole creative process, which is not linear most of the time and it comes in streaks usually, and in any time of the day or night; 
  • that there are a lot of variables that affect the whole creative process, and the energy for fulfilling task might come in spikes; 
  •  that there might be certain behaviors associated with how creatives react: from being blocked from personal or external frustration to withdrawal and absence in the workplace. 

This might help you motivate your team to contribute to your vision and you should encourage them to align their self-interests with that of the business. A vision should be based on shared interests, by having people that care about similar things.   

As the creative market is somehow oversaturated and challenging to reach, it’s important for leaders to acknowledge and cultivate failure as inevitable, but at the same time, they should also promote personal fulfillment and a sense of purpose to their team.  

 So, how should leaders behave?  

If you are given the opportunity of a new role and you shift to a leadership position, here are some aspects to consider when you are leading people (but not managing them): 

  • Be self-aware, because great leadership starts with the ability to self-lead. If you already know how to manage yourself and you have great self-awareness, then that promotes you to a position where you can lead others.   
  • Help your team realize their potential, because great leadership is not about self-promotion. You should focus on the needs of your team before considering your own, know what your team needs, seek their input in decision making and finally, build a sense of trust to motivate your team. These should prove your success as a leader. 
  • Cultivate personal values and credibility, as your personal brand is critical in establishing your integrity from the first interactions with your team. Knowing what you stand for and by embodying specific values in your everyday behavior, you will earn the respect of your team. Lead by example and demonstrate integrity, by including everyone’s opinions and ideas on certain matters.   
  • Changing Relationships - Probably the most difficult part when shifting to a leading role. Try keeping a degree of distance to establish yourself as the team leader among your ex-teammates, remain neutral and try to look for the overall picture of things.  
  • Get to know your team. You will need to devote quite a lot of time to one-to-one talks with each member of your team to show them that they are valued as individuals, that their ideas matter and that you are genuinely interested in their progress. In the beginning it might also help with setting the plan for your team, see what they think about your new position, how this will or will not affect your relationship with each one of them and how they see your collaboration overall. 
  • Cultivate Your Empathy. As a leader and a previously successful self-led person, you will have the opportunity to develop self-awareness and knowledge in others, so use this opportunity and position to understand and try to pay attention to their needs.  

How can you lead and be self-led  

  • be aware of all your strengths, powers and abilities,  
  • set goals and make plans on how to achieve them, 
  • accept and take responsibility for the results and outcomes. 

Self-leadership is key to whether you want to take responsibility and ownership for your own life, or if you are a manager or leader, to wanting to create an empowered team or organization.  

Don’t blame other people, don't make excuses and you will be in full control of what happens in certain situations.  

Coming from what Lao Tzu said “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power”, goes the idea that we first need to understand and know ourselves very well before we try to teach or manage others.     


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