Updated: Mar 31, 2020
By: Kristina Närman
Self-leadership, a necessity to stay relevant in today’s and tomorrow’s fast and ever-changing professional life. But self-leadership 1.0 is no longer enough, it’s time to upgrade to self-leadership 2.0.
Self-leadership is something that more and more organizations talk about and start implementing. And no surprise, as self-leadership is a key to keeping up with today’s and tomorrow’s fast and ever-changing professional life. Studies at Harvard University has found that the most important reasons to increase self-leadership is faster decision-making and to unleash the employees’ full potential.
Fast decision-making is crucial to stay relevant in a changing market; the person who sees the need has to be able to implement the solution. If not, the organization will be too slow.
Unleashing the employees’ full potential is closely connected to engagement. And we’re facing sort of an engagement crisis, with less than 20% engaged employees according to Gallup. Self-leadership is one way to increase engagement as it includes important aspects of human motivation. Autonomy, Belonging and Competence is the ABC of highly motivated and engaged employees according to one of the most well-recognized theories on human motivation, the Self-determination Theory.
Autonomy means you do something because you want to, not because you have to, and is the basis of self-leadership.
Belonging, or relatedness, means to feel that you’re being cared for, respected and connected to people around you. In my opinion this occurs when you’re true to your values and work with people with similar values, one key ingredient in successful self-leadership.
Competence is about your talents and contribution being recognized and appreciated by the organization. Developing self-leadership includes gaining awareness of your unique strengths and how you want to use them, which strengthens the sense of competence.
I would argue self-leadership as a win-win-win for individuals, organizations and society. Why? Increased self-leadership can make us happier, healthier and help us unleash our full potential. A win for us as individuals (no further explanation needed). A win for our organizations both in terms of increased relevance, benefit and profit but also declining sick-listing frequency etc., and for the same reason also a win for society.
So, what is self-leadership? Well, there seems to be as many answers to that as there are people and organizations working with self-leadership out there. For some, self-leadership means planning your own work and no more. For some, self-leadership also includes goal-setting, making budgets, deciding whom to recruit (or fire) etc. Consequently, self-leadership has no firm and common definition but each person and organization need to identify their common understanding of the term.
"It’s about self-awareness – to understand what’s important to you and what you want to achieve in life".
Developing self-leadership is in my opinion no different from developing leadership. Might be even clearer in the case of self-leadership that leadership starts with yourself. It’s about self-awareness – to understand what’s important to you and what you want to achieve in life. It’s about knowing your unique strengths and talents and what you need to develop these. It’s about growing our self-belief, realizing we can do so much more than we think, so that we dare to use our creativity and full potential.
But with the speed of change and the complex challenges we’re facing today, self-leadership 1.0 is no longer enough. It’s time to upgrade to self-leadership 2.0!
If self-leadership 1.0 means taking responsibility for your own growth, self-leadership 2.0 means taking responsibility also for our common growth. For developing the organization, the business, how we work, what we do, where we’re heading…
This is important because we need all our brains and our collective power to find solutions to the complex challenges we’re facing. Everyone’s talents and skills have to be utilized in the very best way. We then need self-leaders 2.0 that are aware of their unique strengths but also have the ability to see how they complement each-other and contribute to the organization’s evolvement in the very best way.
Another aspect is idea generation. Research has found that the relation between the total number of ideas and the number of good ideas is constant. Thus, to get a good idea the best we can do is to generate many ideas. Ideas also tend to get better when we add different perspectives, competences, experiences, backgrounds etc. In an organization with self-leaders 2.0 everyone is involved in idea generation and innovation. Because making sure the organization stays relevant is everyone’s responsibility.
The recipe: Time, love and action
How can we level up the self-leadership to 2.0? I’ve found three key ingredients, just as relevant for you as an individual as for a whole team or organization: Time, Love and Action.
We have to prioritize developing and growing our self-leadership, and I’m sorry to say it’s no quick fix. Rather a never-ending story… We have to continuously clear spots in our calendars when we give ourselves the opportunity to gain self-awareness, grow our self-knowledge and expand our self-belief. We also have to remember nothing is constant so our self-leadership will change over time.
Development and growth per se mean entering the unknown. Unfortunately, our brains are hardwired to equal the unknown and danger. Great back then at the savanna, not so helpful in today’s professional life… Furthermore, we’re often trained to be super critical. Critical thinking is great, but sometimes we would benefit from pausing it for a while. For example, when trying out new things and generating ideas.
New ideas need love and warmth to grow. So instead of immediately focusing on the problems (what will not work, what we haven’t figured out yet) my recommendation is to start with actively seeking for the good; What’s great with this idea, why is this good, how can we build on that? And remember, this goes for your own ideas as well as your colleagues’. An attitude of love creates a culture that allows experimenting and not least important, failure. Which brings us to the third key – action.
If you should remember one thing from reading this article it’s this: Action Changes Things. We can have the most brilliant ideas and make the smartest strategies but you know what? Nothing will happen before we act. As Walt Disney said: “The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing”. But again, our brains can cause some problems. It turns out our brains are really good at overrating risks. And acting mean taking a certain amount of risk. Again, I recommend to add some love to the equation. Instead of spending loads of time creating the worst-case scenario, use some time to create the best-case scenario. Help your brain get the risk analysis right.
It’s also very easy to become a bit overambitious when it comes to action and try to do everything at once. But the hardest thing is to start. So, by making the start as easy as possible by identifying one tiny little action you could easily take, you’re giving yourself great conditions for continuous success.
Time to level up!
After all, leveling up the self-leadership comes down to this: courage. Courage to believe in ourselves, our ideas and our vision for the future. Courage to unleash our creativity and good craziness. Courage to let go of control and the illusion of safety that hierarchy brings. And last but not least, courage to act.
It’s not easy but if we get it right, we’ll have a future proof, sustainable organization with happy, engaged employees that together make sure the organization evolves.
Kristina Närman, self-leadership and change consultant, runs a company that helps organizations grow and develop self-leadership, including innovation and “interpreneurship”.