20 Tips to Mastering the Art of Self-Leadership

Self-leadership is the essence of leadership. It is based on the notion: Knowing yourself to lead yourself. Many great thinkers, including Thales (“Know thyself”), William Shakespeare (“To thine own self be true”) to Gandhi (“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”), have exhorted us to look within ourselves to elicit our leadership potential. Richard Leider, the best-selling author of Repacking Your Bags: The Power of Purpose, shares twenty powerful tips on self-leadership from The Leader of the Future.


1. The quality and depth of our leadership reflects itself in our relationship with our colleagues and followers; we must be clear about our values because they reveal who we really are as leaders. 

Tip: Recognize your stress level. Watch for the signs of stress – forgetfulness; chronic fatigue; sleeplessness; changes in appetite; increased colds, headaches; withdrawal from relationships or increased mood swings. If you aren’t sure you have a problem, ask your family or friends whether they’ve noticed changes in you.

2. We are not powerless in choosing our living and working conditions; we do have choices and the secret of our power; the willingness to exercise our choices is the source of leadership energy. 

Tip: Gain control where you can. A leader’s job includes stressful forces beyond your control. Look for personal areas in which you can take charge. Schedule time to accommodate your need for exercise or to attend family events.

3. We must recognize our addictions to discover if we are being true to our essence or living in a self-imposed prison, driven by others’ or our organization’s expectations. 

Tip: Balance your life-style. Leaders who feel like victims are often perfectionists, idealists, or workaholics who can never truly please themselves. Think of one other area in your life you would like to develop besides your work – your mind? body? spirit?

4. Real changes come from changing our mental maps; high energy comes from a clear and passionate personal vision. 

Tip: Take a daily solo. An absolute essential for clear pictures is to allow at least fifteen minutes a day to reflect on the big picture and to set or revise priorities according to it.

5. Leadership assessment is best done on the basis of our own complete records of what we do rather than anybody else’s partial, incomplete records. 

Tip: Do what you love, or get career counselling. We may burn up doing what we love, but we do not burn out or rust out. If you’re burning out, you may not really love what you do and may need to reinvent your job.

RELATED: Three Ways To Lead Yourself Before Leading Others

6. We must take inventory of our leadership talents if we are to profit in the future from the lessons of the past. 

Tip: Examine your job. Keep a notebook for a week in which you jot down everything you naturally love to do and everything you intensely dislike doing at work. Ask yourself honestly, “How much time do I spend doing what I naturally love to do?” Then focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses.

7. We must decide personally by which criteria we want our leadership legacy measured. 

Tip: Renew a relationship with a mentor or coach. A good coach can help by providing insights into obstacles in your work or personal life and by offering a new perspective on your values and criteria for success. Ask yourself, “Who are my teachers today?” “Who is the first person I’d call for leadership advice?”

8. Reinventing ourselves is a lifelong and continuous learning process; we must become comfortable with the reality that satisfaction always leads to dissatisfaction. 

Tip: Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Pursue a non-leadership position in a professional or community organization. Or undertake a new learning experience outside of your element. Risk and challenge can recharge your batteries.

9. We must establish solid support systems – a personal board of directors – that can carry us through the vagaries of change. 

Tip: Pick a personal board of directors. Who are the people whose wisdom and personal counsel you value?Who would you select to sit on the advisory team for your personal life, work and leadership?

10. We must take risks to initiate courageous conversations that will keep us in honest and creative face-to-face dialogue with our colleagues and followers. 

Tip: Quit doing something. Busy leaders tend to over-commit themselves. Saying no and meaning it will reduce your stress and give you back your sense of control. Look over your schedule and choose to stop participating in one committee or assignment.

11. We must be developing a personal Plan B even before we have successfully achieved Plan A. 

Tip: Design a written Plan B. What would you do if you were fired tomorrow and had to look for customers, not a job? What exactly do you do that people would pay for money?

12. We must not play “victim” to external forces; we need to take control of our calendars. 

Tip: Picture your ideal week. Recently, The Wall Street Journal wrote about a survey of American attitudes toward time. One of the more interesting questions was this: “Would you sacrifice a day’s pay for an extra day off each week?” The results showed that many people would. How about you? What does an ideal week look like for you? Sketch it out on a piece of paper.

13. We must first make the important life decisions that are the raw materials of career decisions. 

Tip: Schedule a “heart checkup.” When did you last have a real “life priorities” conversation? Or a heart-to-heart visit with someone close to you? Think about your friendships. When was the last time you asked someone how he or she was and stopped long enough to hear the answer?

14. We must blend our priorities and trade-offs in our personal life and work or we risk wasting our most valuable currency – time. 

Tip: Envision yourself in the year 2020. Where will you be when the clock rings midnight on December 31, 2019. Discuss your ideal career and life scenario with someone close to you?

15. Working from a clear sense of personal purpose creates success with fulfillment; a written personal purpose statement reduces anxiety in times of change. 

Tip: Ask the big question. The fact is that many of us are put off by purpose. If we’re asked to describe our life purpose, we assume that it has to be something that can go on a wall plaque, something inspiring, like dedicating ourselves to world peace. Although some leaders do have an overwhelming sense of purpose, many don’t. Nevertheless it is important to continually ask the big question, “Why do I get up in the morning?”

16. We must live with clear intention and make consistent contact with God greater than ourselves. 

Tip: Find a listening point. We spend a great deal of time running around trying to figure out what to do but we need to figure out what God wants us to be first. Make it a point to take regular spiritual breaks. Imagine yourself in a favorite peaceful place – a listening point.

RELATED: Andy Stanley On Six Questions Every Leader Should Ask

17. Leading from a clear, personal sense of purpose creates courage; real courage attracts real followers. 

Tip: Review this week’s schedule. We’re only as good as the commitments on our calendars. How we spend our time defines how we live and lead. Are you spending time with the courageous “change champions” in your organization? Do your meeting agendas allow time for “courageous conversations?”

18. The key to high performance is integrity – doing little things consistently. Leadership integrity is built or destroyed by small day-to-day things that become a pattern. 

Tip: Actually practice the stress management techniques you know. You probably know many. One simple technique is to leave fifteen minutes early for appointments so you won’t have to rush. What’s a stress management technique you know and need to get back to?

19. Overstress comes mainly from reactive living; stress can break us down or it can energize us; the difference is in how we perceive it. 

Tip: Self-leadership is self-care. The way to start self-leadership is to be honest with yourself. How healthy are you? Do you have the energy and vitality you need to last through the race? Schedule a physical checkup soon.

20. People are attracted to what is celebrated; celebrate the many faces of celebration. 

Tip: Lighten up. Celebration is a building-block process; notice the “baby steps” toward change by phoning, writing notes, and affirming your progress all year long. And refind your simile if you’ve lost it.