Self-management and self-leadership

24.11.2016 |

Episode #9 of the course How to be a more mindful leader by The Plato Project


While researching the attributes of inspirational leaders, Bain & Company identified 33 elements that are important for inspiring others. An inspirational leader will have strengths in some or many of these elements, but every inspirational leader has a strength in what Bain & Company term “Centeredness.”

Centeredness is where a leader has the mental space to choose how to respond, rather than simply reacting. To be centered is to make time and space for the other leadership skills to emerge before carrying out an action. It requires powerful management of one’s self and a strong presence in one’s body—recognizing the breath, the physical feelings that accompany difficult news, the emotions.

Self-mastery is all about being able to manage and channel impulses, and it is very important for leaders. The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of a proactive person.

The world is filled with stresses, and this is as true of leaders as it is anybody else. Stresses can shift a person’s balance—they create the potential for somebody to react rather than respond. The proactive person identifies this stress, processes it, and shapes a response that is appropriate. It is deliberate, it is mindful, and it shows awareness of the leader’s own personal make-up. Importantly, it is not mechanical or cold. Rather than ignoring what is felt, self-management is the ability to feel emotions and process them.


Ten strategies of leaders who stay calm in the face of stress

1. They appreciate what they have
2. The avoid asking “what if?”
3. They stay positive
4. They disconnect
5. They limit their caffeine intake
6. They sleep
7. They squash negative self-talk
8. They reframe their perspective
9. They breathe
10. They use their support system

Managing stress is not straightforward. It requires considerable EQ, focus, and an ability to pay attention and discern what matters. These skills are developed through mindful effort.



Self-leadership sits at the core—and is the foundation—of any leadership program. Before a person can lead others, it is vital to be able to lead oneself. That requires all of the powers of mindfulness, of being able to interrupt the emotions that threaten to overcome us. To know how to put a brake on things like an “amygdala hijack” that strip us of our ability to manage ourselves and instead place us in a primitive state of pure reaction.

Self-leadership is described by Andrew Bryant as “inside-out” leadership. It looks at how to be a better, more effective person before looking at how to influence others. The three components are:

Self-awareness: Knowing your intentions and values, as well as knowing what can “push your buttons” and derail you
Self-confidence: Knowing your strengths and abilities
Self-efficacy: The belief that whatever comes your way, you can handle it

Self-leadership is so vital because emotions are contagious. If you walk into a room upset, especially as a leader, everybody in the room will rapidly reflect that mood. Being aware of the upset feeling and making the effort to manage that emotion leads to a much different reaction. It is the essence of responsible leadership.

Self-leadership is also vital because it is what makes a person effective. Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People explains self-leadership in the following way:

1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think win-win
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
6. Synergize
7. Sharpen the saw

These habits reflect the fact that the best, most powerful thing to focus on for improvement is oneself. A leader who has the self-awareness, confidence, and belief to know what needs to be done can make things happen.

Self-leadership means we avoid drifting into much less desirable self-centeredness. By acting in a way that is emotionally aware, we reflect an understanding of how our thoughts and feelings impact team members.

“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” — Aristotle


Recommended book

“The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” by Stephen R. Covey


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