Four Hard Truths about Self Leadership

I can’t get what I need. My boss doesn’t understand me. My organization’s systems don’t work. I don’t have the resources I need. My job doesn’t take advantage of my strengths. No one appreciates me. My boss micromanages me. There’s no room for me to grow. They don’t understand how much I could be contributing if only they’d give me a chance.

If you’re human, I imagine you’ve thought or invoked one of these statements. I know I have.

Even though we may be able to justify these types of statements, they often reflect our own assumed constraints: beliefs that allow us to escape personal accountability and fall victim to circumstances or the actions of others. In the new Self Leadership program I co-created with Ken Blanchard and Laurence Hawkins, we teach that self leadership is about having the mindset and skillset to accept responsibility and take initiative.

While it is wonderful to learn how to ask for the direction and support you need to be successful in your role, it’s also important to remember that when something goes wrong, there’s no one else to blame.

The Hard Truths about Self Leadership

  • Sometimes you misdiagnose your competence. Not knowing what you don’t know can be dangerous. Enthusiasm and high commitment are blessings, but don’t mistake them for high competence. Self leaders are able to appreciate where they are on the learning curve, diagnose their development level on a goal, and recognize the times and tasks where they need direction. Self leaders also have the wisdom to ask how to do something they’ve never done before.
  • You have to ask for feedback. One of the most important habits of a self leader is proactively asking for feedback every day instead of waiting to get it. Recent research suggests people are more likely to listen to feedback when they have asked for it. And neuroscience shows the brain is more ready to integrate feedback when it’s asked for and received at a time that is most relevant to the learner.
  • The best person to solve your problems is you. Nobody knows your problems better than you do. With experience, the best person to solve a problem is the person who identifies it. Self leaders go beyond problem spotting to proactive problem solving, which has been shown to reduce workplace stress and result in higher energy at the end of the day.
  • You must stop blaming others. Even if your manager is ineffective, dismissive, or a micromanager, you need to build on the positive direction and support you do get from them—and manage up or around to get what you still need to succeed. When you take the lead in regular one-on-one meetings with your boss and ask for what you need, you may discover they simply weren’t aware of those needs.

Who Benefits from Self Leadership?

At an organizational level, recent research shows that the most important key to successful initiatives in organizations is the proactive behavior of individual contributors—self leaders who have the ability to accept responsibility and take the initiative to make change happen.

At an individual level, self leadership helps you liberate yourself from the perceived tyranny of organizational life, which frees you from assumed constraints that can limit the quality of your work experience. Being able to respond effectively to everyday challenges can be personally and professionally rewarding.

The responsibility for your success at work falls to you. The good news is that you have a choice. Is developing the mindset and skillset required to be a self leader worth your effort? Yes! A not-so-hard truth: the benefits of self leadership are as good for you as they are for your organization.

About the Author

Susan Fowler is the co-author of the newly revised Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard and Laurence Hawkins and lead developer of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Self Leadership product line. She is also the author of the bestseller, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does. Susan is a Senior Consulting Partner at The Ken Blanchard Companies and a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego.

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