What is self-leadership and why is it important?

10/05/2024 | Santander Universidades

Have you ever wondered if your relationship with yourself affects your performance as a leader? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Most professionals regard business as objective and go to great lengths to minimize personal thoughts and feelings while on the clock. But the research is in: self-leadership is one of the core tenets of long-term success for business leaders.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs Report, there was a 53% leap in emphasis on ‘leadership competencies’ over the last year. Those who show skills like self-efficacy improve work productivity in their teams and also contribute to boosted innovation in the workplace. 

What does this mean for entrepreneurs? Intelligence, tenacity, and discipline aren’t enough — leaders must also possess the skills to ‘lead from within’ when the path is unclear. If you feel like you’re floundering to level up, then maybe it’s time to turn your lens inward. Discover how you can do that using self-leadership models like SOAR.

What is self-leadership?

Self-leadership is a balance of personal and interpersonal skills that revolve around self-awareness, self-efficacy, and self-confidence. It even involves emotional skills like empathy, mindfulness, and inclusion.

The concept was first discussed by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl in his 1984 book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Reflecting on his life’s toughest battles, Frankl developed the concept of self-leadership as tools that can be fostered for a higher purpose — regardless of external circumstances or our innate, inborn traits.

But what skills develop positive self-leadership? There are dozens of qualities worth fostering, but the most important are:

  • Accountability. Accountability requires leaders to take responsibility for mistakes and make the effort to fix them. This is exemplified in their actions, as well as their behaviour and attitude.

  • Emotional intelligence. This encompasses soft skills like social awareness and empathy. Leaders must be in tune with their own feelings and those of their employees. They should also make an effort to understand another’s perspective. 

  • Focus & discipline. Leaders must be able to identify the topics that matter most to success. They should also have the discipline to achieve their goals day in and day out with incremental and meaningful steps.

  • Motivation. Motivation is the ability to inspire others to achieve a goal, as well as the commitment to make that goal a reality. Self-leadership is about intentionally influencing the self and others. 

  • Resilience. When the cards are down, effective leaders demonstrate resilience on a personal and communal level. They must be adaptable in order to tackle new challenges and adjust their strategies as external circumstances change.

We’ve all been in the presence of leaders who exemplify these qualities. Whether it’s a manager who takes accountability for a mistake or a CEO who sets realistic goals for their company, it goes a long way in fostering innovation and passion. It can also encourage greatness in others. One study published by Frontiers in Psychology found that an employee’s ability to develop self-leadership improves their chances of being promoted to a leadership position later on.

self-leadership in the workplace

Why is self-leadership important?

Self-leadership gives you a leg up in terms of your professional focus, discipline, and overall outlook. It teaches you to lead others by first focusing on your relationship with yourself. As Viktor Frankl put it, “The first and best victory is to conquer self.”

Self-leadership skills give you the tools to not just talk the talk while on the clock, but also walk the walk. On a personal level, it teaches you how to centre yourself, set realistic goals, and productively work towards them. On an interpersonal level, self-leadership demonstrates that you’re someone worth following, inspiring loyalty and confidence in those around you.

How to develop self-leadership: the SOAR model

Modern self-leadership experts Tony Gambill and Scott Carbonara penned a landmark book in 2021, titled ‘Getting it Right When it Matters Most: Self Leadership for Work and Life’. The book introduced a highly effective model, known as SOAR, for developing self-leadership.

Ready to change your approach to leadership? There are a variety of resources designed to help leaders develop self-leadership skills. If you’re new to the subject and don’t know where to start, then SOAR is for you. This popular method can be used to evaluate your level of self-leadership.

Think of SOAR as a framework that can help you uncover your weakest self-leadership skills and improve them in four straightforward steps. These steps are:

  • Self. To excel, you must know yourself inside and out. The best leaders have looked honestly at their own predilections, habits, beliefs, strengths, and, most importantly, their weaknesses.

  • Outlook. It’s important to understand how our internal world informs our outlook on the rest of life. In other words, how does your innermost self influence what you believe is possible for yourself? And what about your business?

  • Actions. Self-leadership experts like Tony Gambill describe the Actions portion of SOAR as having difficult conversations. In other words, you need to dig deeper and engage with others to improve your understanding of a problem. Can you handle defensiveness in others? Do you open the conversation with clear intentions?

  • Reflection. Now, it’s time to evaluate your efforts by taking a closer look at which behaviours and beliefs have changed. Have you gained any new insights into your own predilections? What’s working for you and against you?

what is self-leadership

Examples of leaders who exemplify positive self-leadership

When you imagine self-leadership, who comes to mind? The core tenets of self-leadership aren’t specific to any industry. Whether related to education, distribution management, or art curation, self-leadership skills let you tackle new challenges from an empowered position.

Unfortunately, many businesses report that leadership qualities are difficult to find. For example, one study from Gallup found that only 10% of managers in the US lead efficiently. Unlike 90% of their counterparts, these effective managers are better able to engage team members and clients, keep top performers happy, and maintain high efficiency.

Let’s take a closer look at three icons who exemplify self-leadership:

  • Elon Musk. One study on Musk found that his self-leadership skills are focused largely on goal-setting, authenticity, and responsibility. He has incredibly high standards for his projects, which he achieves by meeting daily goals as part of longer-term plans.

  • Malala Yousafzai. Resilient and motivated to meet her goals, Malala Yousafzai embodies some of the most personal components of self-leadership. Thanks to her balance of self-knowledge and motivation, she’s become one of the most impactful thought leaders of her generation. 

  • Richard Branson. Richard Branson has weathered many ups and downs using positive self-leadership qualities. In 2017, Virgin Airlines was bought out by Alaska Airlines, pulling the rug out from thousands of employees. Branson’s response? To pen a heartfelt letter to his employees in which he gave them full credit for building an innovative and beloved airline. Talk about accountability and emotional intelligence. 

No matter where you’re at in your self-leadership journey or what industry you work in, there’s always room for improvement. The SOAR model makes it easy for you to foster positive change immediately.

Do you want to take concrete steps toward improving your self-leadership skills to access better job opportunities? Discover Santander Open Academy, the training space you need to keep growing.

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