The importance of the self in leadership in the new era of work.

Updated: Sep 13

Leaders and organizations today are operating in an unprecedented environment of uncertainty and instability. What may have worked in the past may be irrelevant in modern society. Remote working is increasingly becoming the norm compared to being in the office. Leaders are also being increasingly rated based on their ability to manage their people instead of rigidly focusing on the financials. For the most part, science and scholars of organizational psychology and behaviour are still figuring out what the best solutions are to these practical problems in the new era of work. However, one thing that has remained true and consistent across time is the leader's ability to manage the self.


Does the self really matter?


Self-leadership refers to the leader's ability of self-knowledge, management and discipline. It is associated with honesty, having a firm understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, values, motivations and the effect that they have on others (Daud, 2020). The sense of clarity and stability found in oneself could instil confidence and direction in the rest of the organization. In the modern era of change, uncertainty and instability the importance of leadership self-awareness cannot be ignored.


It has been found that leaders who are self-aware are less likely to derail their careers and also lead their team and organization to better performance. For example, Korn Ferry International found that in an analysis of 486 publicly traded companies those with strong financial performance tend to have employees who were higher in self-awareness than weaker performing companies. While the support for self-awareness in organizations seems to be strong across studies, a study reported that only 10-15% of leaders are actually self-aware (Magnus & Kennedy, 2018).


The lack of self-awareness in leadership is documented to lead to many maladaptive and counter-productive work behaviours. Including harassment/bullying (Francioli, et al., 2018), an increase in employee stress/anxiety levels, and overall lower teams and organizational performance (Harms et al, 2016). Leaders can guide their organization to better wellbeing and performance by becoming proactive at managing the self through increased awareness.


I see, so what can I do?


The below strategies are a good starting point that you can begin exploring or implementing immediately.


Explore your identity


Your identity is your inner structure of stability. It includes but goes far beyond your values and general personality. It is the underlying and mostly unconscious factors that drive your behaviours. However, an easier place to begin would be to write down 5 things that matter the most to you without consulting anyone for advice. Secondly, proceed to rate each of these 5 things on a scale from 1-10 on how satisfied you currently feel about them. Take notes on the low scores, what can you do in the near future to improve these scores?


Collect data


This is an objective measure of self-discovery and realization which has the benefit of boosting your confidence if done correctly. Collect data on how you respond to yourself and others during crucial moments. Take notes of the moments and situations where you feel the most and least satisfied. Collect data for long enough to establish some sort of pattern. To what extent does the pattern correlates with the high and low scores of the top 5 things that you have written down?


Practise what you preach


The ultimate goal of becoming more self-aware is to practice what you preach. As a leader, you model the behaviour that others follow. Authenticity is associated with creativity and trust. Being inauthentic to yourself means betraying your team and creating an environment of mistrust between members. To know whether you are actually practising what you preach, gather feedback on yourself from those around you. In what way does the feedback on your behaviour relates to what you preach and what can you do to bridge the gap?

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