Key Learning Outcomes

  • Determine that self-leadership is influencing yourself so you develop the self-direction and self-motivation to carry out a task.
  • Recognise the benefits of self-leadership include a sense of achievement and happiness which can flow through to your business and your team.
  • Learn about the key elements of self-leadership, including goal-setting, constructive thought patterns, designing natural rewards, self-monitoring and self-reinforcement.
  • Apply our recommendations for addressing any issues with your self-leadership.


Regardless of what we do in life, the one person who has the greatest impact on our own success or failure is ourselves. Self-leadership is a skill that once mastered can have an enormous impact on our business and personal lives. It is defined as the process of influencing oneself to establish the self-direction and self-motivation to perform a task.

Self-leadership is considered to be the most important characteristic sought by many leading organisations when looking to employ new team members. Skills and the ability to do the job are of course important, but a person’s ability to self-motivate is considered essential. The personal benefits of self-leadership include an increased sense of achievement and happiness, and these then flow through to the business if self-leadership is encouraged and developed through the team.

There has been extensive academic research into self-leadership and some key elements have been identified as essential in the process. Authors Charles Manz and Christopher Neck define them as personal goal-setting, constructive thought patterns, designing natural rewards, self-monitoring and self-reinforcement.[wlm_ismember]


Personal goal-setting should be done alone and should not be based on the goals of the business or the expectations of others. In order to be effective at setting personal goals, there is some work to be done to understand yourself in terms of your performance to date. Conducting a personal SWOT analysis is an excellent way to gain a greater level of self-awareness. The SWOT analysis tool will assist in clarifying your strengths and weaknesses and allow you identify opportunities for improvement and areas to capitalise on. Remember that to be effective, goals need to be specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time bound (SMART). You will find learning articles on both of these tools on the website.

Constructive thought patterns

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, all of us talk to ourselves. For a vast majority the self-talk is negative rather than positive. Have you ever wondered why athletes pump themselves up so demonstratively before a big moment? It is not because they are just putting on a show;  they are practising self-talk (not letting any of those doubts creep in) in order to perform to the best of their ability. It is proven that positive self-talk and positive mental imagery can have an impact on your performance, and it is not always about winning and losing but about doing your absolute best.

Mental imagery is practising a task in our minds before actually doing it. For example, an Olympic athlete may go over and over a race or a jump hundreds or thousands of times in their mind. This allows them to identify any potential problems, but more importantly they imagine the end result, that is, crossing the line or jumping over that bar.

If you use constructive thought patterns you can improve your level of performance in whatever you do. Does simply saying something or painting a picture of victory in your mind get the job done? Of course not – there will still be a lot of hard work to do. But one thing is certain: if you start with the right attitude you will be well on your way to success!

Designing natural rewards

Self-leadership recognises that tasks can be altered to make them more motivating. For example, perhaps one of your personal goals is to get fitter and so you are jogging four times per week. Perhaps you have been doing this on a treadmill and you are finding it boring, and perhaps you can find a track or path outside that might be more motivating. Can you vary the route you are taking so that there is a bit of variation in the scenery or even mix your routine up by using a different form of exercise? This can work in business as well. Sometimes slightly varying the way or time that we do something makes a huge difference to the end result.

If your goals are long term it is important to break them into smaller chunks and make sure that you reward yourself whenever you reach a milestone. Returning to the jogging example, you may be aiming to run 10 kilometres. To do this on day one would be detrimental to achieving the end result, and it would be better to build up over time, starting with a smaller goal of running for say two or three kilometres without stopping. To keep you motivated you may set yourself a reward at the three kilometre mark, such as the purchase of that fancy new running outfit.


One of the keys to self-leadership is self-monitoring. It is essential to sit down and reflect on whether you are on track or off track in terms of your progress. With the running example, there are a number of software options that can help you keep track of your progress. In business it can sometimes be a little more difficult unless you are very clear about your goals from the outset. The more thought that goes into setting the goals and forming an action plan, the easier it will be to ensure you are still on track to achieve them. If you find that you are not where you need to be, then you need to assess what needs to change or what you need to do differently. Quite often the only thing that is standing in the way of our success is ourselves!


Part of the self-monitoring process is self-reinforcement. The more you practise self-leadership, the better you will become at being objective in your assessment of your progress. Remember to review your goals at regular intervals, say monthly, and make sure you take the time to acknowledge your achievements. We are often too hard on ourselves, looking at how far we still have to go and not patting ourselves on the back for how far we have come. If we go back to the jogging example, having mastered the 10 kilometres you may have decided you now want to do a half marathon, but it may seem like you have a long way to go. It is a great idea to keep a journal or folder that tracks your progress over time. And when you look back you may find is was only several months ago you could not run more than one or two kilometres without stopping! Self-reinforcement is not about basking in our own glory, but about objectively looking at what we have achieved and how we can keep doing it.

Off track?

So what happens if you find you are not doing as well as you hoped? At Absolute Best we like to always work from the positive point of view. Rather than giving yourself a hard time about what you did not get done or did not achieve, look at the goals one by one and identify which areas you have improved on. Try to pinpoint areas that worked for you and then analyse the areas that did not work. Perhaps in the jogging example, you went out too hard. You ran every day for one week, and then got an injury or set the goals a little higher than was achievable. Perhaps one of your goals was to spend more time with the family, so you set out to finish work in time to eat dinner with the kids every night. A more achievable goal might have been to be home by 6pm just on Tuesday and Friday nights. This may still have been a big improvement on your current situation. The key is not to give up on your goals just because you did not achieve them the first time, but rather to work on finding a better solution for the next attempt.

Self-leadership is a skill that the most successful among us have mastered. These people are clear on their goals and are constantly monitoring to see if they are on or off track, and re-adjusting their goals accordingly. Focusing on this area is certain to bring results in both your business and personal lives. There are a number of related tools and articles on this website that you will find extremely helpful.[/wlm_ismember]

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