“I am not a leader.” Says Who?

July 2015, by Chelsea Chen

*Special thanks to Will Tang for the video

Too often, when we ask employees, “What would you like to change if you were a leader or manager of this organization?” we get the reply, “I am not a leader or manager.” Granted they might not see themselves as such because their official title suggests otherwise, but their nonchalance and attitude points to a bigger issue on hand: they don’t see themselves as leaders of themselves.

Out of the many leadership articles, theories, and frameworks in the market, one of the least talked about topics is self-leadership. Why is that so? Could it be that people are so used to being treated as a herd that they don’t see themselves as distinct individuals, or that employers treat employees as pure headcount and as a means to serve their ends? What people don’t realize is that constant kneading down of individuals leads to disengagement, a lack of fulfillment, and most disturbingly, a loss of identity. And all of this is happening on a subconscious level like a malignant tumor that doesn’t show any symptoms until it is too late.

So what is self-leadership? There are many definitions out there but the one I find most useful is by motivational speaker, Andrew Bryant:

“Self-leadership is the practice of intentionally influencing your thinking, feeling, and behaviors to achieve your objectives.”

It is an ongoing process. It is intentional. It is about discovering your why, your raison d’être. It is not something that can be achieved overnight or something that comes to us serendipitously (sorry, Hollywood has been selling you that fantasy for decades).

So how do we go about cultivating self-leadership?

1) Start by observing and listening to yourself. Many people have been going through life trying to figure out why bad things happen or why others treat them in a certain way. But what if you stopped and asked yourself these questions instead: “Why am I so negatively affected? What is it that is really bothering me?” By becoming more cognizant of the things that make us happy, depressed, angry, energized, or tired, we develop a greater awareness of our own values and triggers. This will also help us see the people we interact with or the binds we find ourselves in a different light.

2) Discover your own strengths and abilities. There are several assessment tests in the market and there are two that I have personally tried and felt are useful: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) and Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. By discovering your natural strengths and abilities, you will be in a better position to develop your skills. Coming to terms with your weaknesses will also help you work alongside people who have strengths that complement your weaknesses.

With the confidence that comes from developing your strengths, your internal locus of control will grow and you will feel a gradual increase in empowerment. Instead of shifting the blame and wallowing in self-pity, your empowered self starts to shift into problem-solving mode and you are less likely to see yourself as a victim of your circumstances.

Kick off this path of self-leadership by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is one thing I wish I could change today?  
  • What am I most grateful for?
  • How would I like to be remembered? 

Have a conversation with yourself and let us know how it goes.