Self-Leadership: Behave Like a Leader Until You Become One

Zoran M Pavlovic MD, CEO Heruka Lifescience & Health Innovations

“Becoming a leader is an act of self-invention. Imagine yourself as a leader: Act as if you are a leader until you actually become one” Lorraine Monroe

“There is a person with whom you spend more time than any other, a person who has more influence over you, and more ability to interfere with or to support your growth than anyone else. This ever-present companion is your own self” Dr Pamela Butler

Radical changes in the nature of work in the twenty-first century are particularly characterized by flexible and dynamic organizational structures, empowered work structures, and employees’ occupational self-directing behavior. In this collaborative, decentralized environment, training people to become self-leaders — team members who set priorities, take initiative, and solve problems while taking a personal ownership — is more important than ever. According to Manz and Neck, fathers of the Self-leadership (SL) theory, SL is a self-influence process through which people achieve the self-direction and self-motivation necessary to perform. It consists of specific behavioral and cognitive strategies designed to positively influence personal effectiveness. SL strategies are usually grouped into the three primary categories of behavior-focused strategies, natural reward strategies and constructive thought pattern strategies.

Behavior-focused strategies include self-observation, self-goal setting, self-reward, self-punishment and self-cueing. Self-observation involves raising one’s awareness of when and why one engages in specific behaviors. This type of self-awareness is a necessary first step toward changing or eliminating ineffective and unproductive behaviors. Armed with accurate information regarding current behavior and performance levels, individuals can more effectively set challenging and specific goals that can significantly increase individual performance levels. Self-rewards may be something simple or intangible such as mentally congratulating oneself for an important accomplishment, or something more concrete like a special vacation at the completion of a difficult project. Self-punishment or self-correcting feedback should consist of a positively framed and introspective examination of failures and undesirable behaviors leading to the reshaping of such behaviors Finally, concrete environmental cues can serve as an effective means of encouraging constructive behaviors and reducing or eliminating destructive ones. Lists, notes, screensavers and motivational posters are just a few examples of external cues that can help keep attention and effort focused on goal attainment. In short, behavior-focused self-leadership strategies are designed to encourage positive, desirable behaviors that lead to successful outcomes, while suppressing negative, undesirable behaviors that lead to unsuccessful outcomes.

Natural reward strategies are intended to create situations in which a person is motivated or rewarded by inherently enjoyable aspects of the task or activity. There are two primary natural reward strategies. The first involves building more pleasant and enjoyable features into a given activity so that the task itself becomes naturally rewarding. The second strategy consists of shaping perceptions by focusing attention away from the unpleasant aspects of a task and refocusing it on the task’s inherently rewarding aspects. Both strategies are likely to create feelings of competence and self-determination, two primary mechanisms of intrinsic motivation. To summarize, natural reward strategies are designed to help create feelings of competence and self-determination, which in turn energize performance-enhancing task-related behaviors.

Constructive thought pattern strategies are designed to facilitate the formation of constructive thought patterns and habitual ways of thinking that can positively impact performance. Constructive thought pattern strategies include identifying and replacing dysfunctional beliefs and assumptions, mental imagery and positive self-talk. Individuals should first examine their thought patterns, confronting and replacing dysfunctional irrational beliefs and assumptions with more constructive thought processes. In addition, negative and destructive self-talk should be identified and replaced with more positive internal dialogues. Self-talk is defined as what people covertly tell themselves and involves mental self-evaluations and reactions. By carefully analyzing self-talk patterns, negative or pessimistic self-talk can be suppressed or eliminated and replaced with more optimistic self-dialogues. Finally, mental imagery is the symbolic and covert cognitive creation of an experience or task prior to actual overt physical muscular movement. Individuals who envision successful performance of an activity in advance of actual performance are more likely to perform successfully when faced with the actual task.


Dimensions of SL

SL theorists have made application of self-leadership concepts within a variety of contextual settings including:

  • performance appraisals (Neck et al., 1995);
  • organizational change (Neck, 1996);
  • self-leading teams (Neck et al., 1996);
  • diversity management (Neck et al., 1997);
  • job satisfaction (Houghton and Jinkerson, 2004; Roberts and Foti, 1998);
  • goal setting/goal performance (Godwin et al., 1999; Neck et al., 2003);
  • team performance (Stewart and Barrick, 2000);
  • team sustainability (Houghton et al., 2003);
  • succession planning (Hardy, 2004); and
  • ethics (VanSandt and Neck, 2003)


A model of SL theoretical contexts and performance mechanisms

According to Ken Blanchard, another leading authority in organizational and leadership development field, there are three constituents that every prospective SL needs to acquire in order to develop a self-leadership mindset:

  1. learn to challenge assumed constraints
  2. use his/hers points of power and
  3. be proactive in getting what you need to succeed

Challenge assumed constraints. An assumed constraint is a belief usually based on past experience, which limits new experiences, so SL needs to persistently challenge and question it.

Use points of power. The second asset of self-leadership mindset is learning to use points of power — whether it’s knowledge power, personal power, relationship power, task power or position power.

Being Proactive in getting what he/she needs to succeed. If people don’t have the tools, skills and competence to do a specific task or solve a specific problem, they need to ask for direction — someone to show them how. If people doubt themselves and are wavering on their commitment to do the job, they need to ask for support — someone to cheer them on. The willingness to look inside, assess your shortcomings, and ask for help is the hallmark of a self-leader. Accepting responsibility for your own growth and progress while not resisting change but rather contributing to it.

In addition to developing the necessary mindset, according to Ken Blanchard self-leaders need to pair this with the right skill set. This includes understanding how to:

  • Set goals
  • Diagnose where they are in regard to their projects and tasks
  • Negotiate for the leadership style from their managers that matches their diagnosis

Imagine how successful your organization could be if every employee receives the training and tools to become a SL who takes initiative, resolves problems, actively looks for ways to improve his/hers own performance and creativity, so your organization can become more customer driven, cost effective, innovative, fast and flexible.


Zoran M Pavlovic