Leadership starts with the self


What does “leadership begins with the self” mean? Leadership is primarily understood as leadership of employees or leadership of an organisation – using different techniques and methods. Sometimes the spot is on management, sometimes the ideas of leadership are focused. After all, these task are traditionally allocated to a manager. And when taking care of these tasks, he or she can fall back on countless ideas and approaches as to how these can be managed. Leadership begins with the employee or with the task or with governance. Why then focusing on the Self when it comes to leadership?

A completely different understanding of leadership

Let’s say leadership starts with the self. Then leadership would no longer be limited to the role of a leader. Actually, everybody would be a leader. Leadership would be embedded in the self. And if everybody leads him/herself, why do we need leaders after all? Then leadership in the best sense would be provided by everyone, driven by self-organisation. For this, a suitable culture with suitable principles and the most necessary norms is required. Besides that, a powerful purpose and a shining North Star is desirable. By the way, this has already been described by Charles Manz and Henry Sims in “Superleadership“.

Admittedly an ideal image, in the best case a target image. Until then there will still be leaders on the road and for them there are good reasons to start leading the self. Namely to be able to consciously shape certain parts of their own personality and thus their own effectiveness.

Self knowledge – a basic requirement for people in leadership

In fact, a precise knowledge of one’s self is not as common among managers as one might expect. In any case, in qualifications or management audits, it becomes apparent regularly that the image of others differs considerably from the self-image. It is therefore not easy for (prospective) managers to name or assess their motivation, competence or factual and emotional impact.

The perception named here corresponds with statements from employee satisfaction surveys or commitment studies, which make it clear that employees accuse their managers of not being authentic, too power-related or not close enough. When managers are confronted with these statements, it is often very surprising to see how they are perceived. Since this view does not correspond at all with their own assessment.

Now, however, a deeper self-knowledge can be seen as a basic requirement in working with other people. In order to avoid projections or to recognize counter-projections, to differentiate hypotheses from reality and in the sense of a safe assessment of situations and possible de-escalation of conflicts, a precise self-perception is essential.

Working on one’s own self-awareness is thus a first leadership task for managers. Feedback from colleagues/friends, reflection with a coach and participation in appropriate qualifications are suitable support in this respect. The topic is just getting hip. Currently, there are also a lot of offers on the market. Here for example an offer from TCJG.

Good leadership is a question of attitude

Self-management also means being aware of one’s own attitude in leadership and to maintain a reflected approach to it. This means knowing your personal values, beliefs and needs. And to understand these as the foundation for one’s own leadership actions.

In his book “Haltung entscheidet” Martin Permantier offers to differentiate between attitudes in six different clusters and follows as far as possible the Spiral Dynamics approach or Ken Wilber’s reflections on memes. An analysis of one’s own attitude by means of the classification presented in the book also helps to better understand and align one’s own actions. One’s individual attitude forges best – oneself and the team.

The examination of one’s own attitude should be a further matter of course for managers, just like self-knowledge. Only those who can clearly name their attitude are in a good position to check whether it fits in with the corporate culture or whether “forced adjustments” need to be made, which are then perceived by the environment as inauthentic or manipulative.

At the same time, the attitude shapes the role model demanded by the manager. Authenticity will only be perceived if attitude is repeatedly experienced in coherent action.

Then it is also reliable to follow traditional or always new leadership models. Whether they are called “Servant Leadership” or “Human Leadership”, “Connected Leadership” or “Agile Leadership”. If one’s own attitude represents the spirit of the organization in which the leader works and if one’s own heart sets the pace, there is no need for static guidelines from the model catalogue.

Updating knowledge about innovation is of course something else. It is indispensable. But not only for managers.

Self-management wants to be practised

When self-knowledge is acquired and one’s own attitude is reflected upon, then there is still the behavioural level. If you know what makes you “tick” and what impacts your own actions and if your own effect can be described and there is awareness of how your own behaviour shapes the culture in the team, then you can proactively shape your actions consciously.

This is at first a question of will, in the sense of what I want to contribute to, my own purpose, which describes why I stand up every day as a leader. Then there is the ability, that describes how I will act, how I express what I want to get my team to do, how I go about designing. And then there is action, that shows what I do exactly, when and how often, in order to put will and ability into action.

While the purpose is best identified and formulated in peace, stillness and with some distance, the development and expansion of skills and procedures and, above all, consistent action is a longer process that usually takes place in iterations. Thus, an intention is followed by a period of experimentation and then again and again by practice. Until doing becomes a habit. On the way, discipline is usually required, as it is known from sports. Practice again and again, do not give up. Somehow this is like training for a marathon.

Resilience can’t hurt. Setbacks are part of it, especially when disturbances come from outside. A conflict situation within the team, a new supervisor, pressure from sales numbers.

Tips to ensure that leadership starts with the self

With a powerful driver, your own purpose backing you up and a goal of where you and your team should go, it will be easier to stay on the learning path.

It is proven to be a good idea to visualize both. In other words, to create a picture of one’s own “what for” and the desired result (vision) in one’s head or even on paper.

Rituals can be used for the daily behavioural routine. Just as you go jogging every day, for example, each day can begin with 15-20 minutes of reflection and alignment. Or one day a month can be scheduled for the “self”. Very important on the learning journey to oneself/with oneself are feedback sessions to check if the intended effect is achieved. Regular lunches with colleagues or employees can be helpful to allow space for this.

Becoming a manager is certainly not always easy, being a manager is a challenge, especially a manager who fills his role with charisma. As surveys show us again and again, it is more or less easy to master this challenge.

Those who are more successful are either natural talents or they have set out on their own journey to become themselves. An exciting journey by the way. And a rewarding one. Because leadership starts with the self.


Would you like to shape that?

This is something we´re good at.