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  • Writer's pictureDr Maike Neuhaus

Why everyone should learn the art of self-leadership

Entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, famously said, “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” The concept of self-leadership is certainly not new. Here is why you should learn to master it.

The term self-leadership was first coined by Charles C. Manz in the 1980s. Somewhat synonymous with self-mastery, it evolved from the field of professional development and organisational behaviour in the leadership literature. It emerged based on the insight that self-leadership is a prerequisite of team-leadership. You should learn the skill to manage and lead yourself before leading others. While that is certainly true and important for any working professional, self-leadership is a skill that can be applied by anyone and to life more broadly.

Anyone with the ambition to live their life intentionally and pursue their dreams can acquire the skills of self-leadership. On the other hand, psychological research has been providing insights into the elements of self-leadership for many more decades. But what are these elements?

I’m sure you can instantly name a few. Willpower, determination, motivation and resilience are often the first buzzwords that come to mind when thinking of striving for success. And sure, they play an important role in self-leadership. But there’s a lot more to it, which may not be as obvious.

Self-leadership is the practice of understanding who you are, identifying your desired experiences and intentionally guiding yourself towards them.

Self-leadership not only starts with an understanding of oneself, but also involves knowing how to orchestrate the many skills necessary for self-leadership. These include your values, strengths, goals, motivation, willpower, resilience, mindfulness, self-monitoring, self-efficacy, emotional intelligence, cognitive bias, your hopes and dreams, thoughts, emotions and reactions to them, your self-awareness and habits, grit, willingness to fail and so forth. Imagine an accomplished self-leader as conductor of a big orchestra, where each musician represents one of the elements of self-leadership mentioned above. Whenever they have a goal, the likelihood of them achieving it depends on how well they manage to conduct all the musicians of the orchestra so they know when and how to play in harmony. Makes sense?

What goals have you pursued before?

You may have renovated your house or a piece of furniture, dropped those five pounds, got that job or promotion, spent less time on social media, decreased your carbon footprint, be kinder to yourself or finally called that person. No matter what you’ve set out to achieve before, you would have applied some level of self-leadership. So how did you go about picking your goal? How do you go about achieving it? Did you succeed? And if so, how did you feel afterwards - satisfied and happy or disappointed and indifferent? The answers to these questions are found in the way you applied self-leadership skills - knowingly or not.

Mastering self-leadership is important for the same reason that we have goals in the first place: Because we want to have a say in what our life is about.

Sure, we can’t control every detail, but that’s not the point. It’s about taking our life into a direction we feel drawn towards. It’s about pursuing our ambitions and expressing our potential as best as we can. It’s about living our the best possible version. Because as humans, we like to believe that we can exercise free will. That we can reach our goals and make our dreams come true. That we can be happy. Understanding and practising self-leadership gives you the choice to live your life with intention and purpose as much as you can. That is what self-leadership is about. And science has already figured out many aspects of how to efficiently lead yourself.

And on this blog, I will share with you what I have learnt from my studies of psychology and behaviour change science. So make sure you subscribe to the newsletter, so that you don’t miss any of the articles, free resources I will share along the way and notifications about events and other services.

Maike x


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