If you review the table of contents for most leadership courses, they focus on self-awareness, but not necessarily self-leadership. Leadership development tends to be about how well you lead others, not how well you lead yourself.
Self-leadership is not easy or everyone would do it. You are never done; you always have room for improvement. There are people I look up to, people who are better at self-leadership than I am, who will tell you they have a long way to go. Self-leadership requires discipline, accountability and humility, plus courage and vulnerability. These are all qualities you'd expect in a great leader. It includes self-care (mind, body and spirit) and attention to health in all areas of life.
Self-leadership is about character. More often than not, character is developed when things are difficult -- like during times of change. Self-leadership means constant assessment of character and shoring up gaps. It's not about perfection, but rather, relentless consistency. As Clay Scroggins writes in "How to Lead When You're Not in Charge," if you learn to lead yourself well, you will always have a good leader. He would say you must learn self-leadership before you can effectively lead others -- as in, put your own oxygen mask on first.
Character gaps show up in lots of ways. Blame is a common one -- like blaming others for your own performance issues or failure to keep commitments. I didn't recognize it at the time, but back in my last corporate job, I worked for a manager whose gaps in character highlighted MY gaps -- and I struggled in a role I should have excelled in. Instead, I allowed her to make me crazy and I blamed her for my issues. I lost connection with who I was at my core; I let her get under my skin and to pull me off-sides. I became someone even I didn't recognize. I complained constantly, commiserated with other employees, and found every reason I could to escape my office when she was around. It was a self-leadership challenge and I failed miserably.
Once you become aware of something, you start seeing it everywhere.
Change challenges the character of an organization, with increased exposure of the character gaps of leaders at all levels. Whether change is planned or unplanned, scheduled or unscheduled, gaps in character are exposed during times of change. Sometimes gaps are big; sometimes not. None are immune -- whether persons with big titles, status or long tenure.
Over time, character gaps of leaders become part of an organization's culture. Leaders who put work first -- leaving vacation time unused, arriving early and staying late every day, working weekends and holidays -- tend to reward employees who do the same even if corporate values or policies state otherwise. This can lead to favorites and resentment. Leaders who fail to follow-through and then blame others for their failures tend to create teams that lack accountability and quality control. I worked with a leader who dreaded conflict and avoided it as much as possible -- but his team's internal feuding created an ongoing problem for other departments. One manager's lack of self-esteem and low self-worth created a micro-managed, decision phobic team.
To compound the issue, leaders who achieve good business results are often rewarded in spite of their self-leadership & character issues. They may even be protected by more senior leaders. I can not think of one organization I have worked with where there wasn't at least one leader who people considered untouchable. They wonder why this leader could get away with behaviors that others could not. And they tolerated the behavior because they felt they had to, finding ways to work around that leader whenever possible.
Because we talk and learn about leadership of others, rather than leadership of self, leaders and managers are often ill-equipped to name character gaps in themselves or others. None of the leaders I approached back in the day were able to help me, nor did any of the leader training I attended. Left to my own devices, I crashed and burned. Similar situations go on every day.
Recognizing, accepting and addressing character gaps is essential for sustaining both change and growth. Change happens from the inside out, starting with the decision to do something different. How could you and your team start to change the conversation in 2019 to include self-leadership? My personal path of discovery started with the decision to hire a coach. A coach provides a safe space -- free from the weight of a performance review or pay decision -- for honest self-assessment and targeted learning. As you develop in your own self-leadership ability, you learn tools and techniques for supporting those who work with and for you.
What's your strategy to improve self-leadership for yourself and your team?