When Self-Leadership is Needed

Over the years I have worked with thousands of managers and leaders in their leadership development, and the most common thing that is evident is that most want to do well. Most want to be good leaders doing good work. Most are keen to be productive and positive contributors to the team, the work, their own leadership and the organisation.

Despite the desire and drive to do well there are common challenges managers and leaders share with me. A lack of self-awareness and self-leadership, potentially having a lack lustre inner drive and struggling with speaking up, can create challenges to productivity, performance, culture and career success. For example:


‘I struggle to have the difficult conversations. I don’t want to be the ‘bad guy’ or get accused of bullying. I just end up avoiding it all.’

Not having a clear sense of what you need to say, the outcome you want and how to communicate to be understood will lead to increased stress, dancing around the issue or simply avoiding the critical conversations.

Personal Productivity

‘I come in super early so I can have some time to myself to get my work done.’

‘Because of the pandemic and work from home, I get a lot of work done. I seem to work even longer hours but I don’t see my team much and that leaves me worried about how productive they are being.’

Self-leadership involves understanding your value and drivers which are linked to boundaries. Identifying, setting and holding healthy boundaries helps boost productivity. John Pencavel, an economics professor from Stanford University found that productivity per hour declined sharply when people worked more than 50 hours a week[1]. He found that beyond 55 hours of work is pointless as you won’t be any more productive.

Delegating and Trust

‘Everyone seems to already be too busy so I can’t delegate anything to anyone.’

‘It’s just quicker if I do it myself.’

‘I don’t trust that they’ll do the work to the standard I want.’

Leaders with exceptional self-leadership will have the self-awareness and emotional intelligence needed to communicate expectations, to help their people prioritise so they may be available for delegation opportunities and build stronger trusting relationships with the team. Weak relationships will have weak trust. Strong relationships will have strong trust.

Control and Micromanaging

‘I can’t see my team so how do I know if they’re getting their work done?’

Micromanagement is one of the quickest ways to turn off creativity, passion and productivity in a team. It’s one of the biggest reasons that employees leave an organisation. And when a leader controls others through micromanaging, they’re just covering up their own leadership flaws.

On the other hand, a leader with strong self-leadership engages and empowers rather than dictates and micromanages. They act from within, sincerely and honestly. And with a mature, integrated self with high emotional intelligence they can act as a stable guide to others.

Decision Making

‘I often feel as though critical information is being held back and that makes it hard to make decisions.’

‘If I make a decision and it goes wrong I’m worried about the backlash.’

‘I feel like the world is on my shoulders and I have to have all the answers.’

Without self-leadership leaders may lack the confidence and self-assurance to be open to suggestions and ideas. This can lead to limited decision making, and therefore missed opportunities for creativity and innovation. Self-leaders have the courage to make decisions knowing they are doing the best they can with the information available and have the efficacy to adjust as things unfold.

Missed Opportunities

‘I left that meeting kicking myself. I should’ve put forward the idea I had. Now I don’t know how to get my voice heard.’

‘I’m sick of being overlooked. How do I get to be seen and get an opportunity to step up?’

Self-leaders know that the only thing that overcomes missed opportunities is making opportunities happen. Waiting to be asked is expecting others to work out that you want an opportunity. It’s expecting them to be mind readers. But mind reading just leads to confusion—and instead of saving time, or giving you the outcomes that you need, it could instead have the opposite consequences.


‘If I spend any time for myself I feel guilty but I also feel like I’ve lost myself in trying to be and do everything for everyone else.’

Great leadership starts with self-leadership, and it’s exactly like the safety message on an aeroplane—you are required to put your oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help others. In other words, it’s about putting yourself in the best position to give your best. You can’t give your best when you’re running on empty. So, spending time on yourself is not something to feel guilty about, but something to embrace and honour. And it will make you a better leader in the end.

Imposter Syndrome

‘I sometimes wonder if I’m actually cut out for this job.’

‘I am not sure if I can ask or put my hand up. What if they work out I’m not the right person for the job?’

Leaders often wonder if they are really cut out for their role. They question if they are good enough to be an effective and productive leader. Imposter syndrome is very common, and it can be debilitating too. Working on your self-leadership will give you the confidence to identify your value and personal power.

There will no doubt be challenges you face from time-to-time or day-to-day. Ignoring those challenges can give some short-term relief but unless you deal with them, they will just keep appearing when you least expect them. Dealing with the challenges can equip you with the skills and experiences to handle similar challenges in the future.

Actively working on your self-leadership will give you the confidence, influence and courage to stand up for what you and your team needs. It will help you to speak up so that yours is a voice of calm and reason, letting you handle whatever is thrown your way. Of course things will still go wrong or you’ll still have awkward situations, but you’ll have everything you need in your toolkit to handle it all.


Practice: Your Self-Leadership Insights

Take a moment to reflect on these questions

1. What are the top three challenges in your role?

2. How would it feel if these challenges were no longer a challenge for you?

3. What would you do if you had more confidence?

4. What would you do if you had more influence?

5. What would you do if you had more courage?

What would you do if you had more confidence, influence or courage?