I write this post on the final day of my MBA! As I submit my final piece of work, I have been reflecting on how much I learnt from this MBA and what I will take into my ongoing practice. Clearly there could be a long list which I won’t bore you with, but there is a principle that I thought might be worth sharing – self-leadership.

Self-leadership is the practice of leading and managing yourself. It builds on your skills of resilience, self-efficacy (believing you are successful) and self-direction. As a leadership practice it moves from just managing how you do something to deciding what and why. This involves taking responsibility for your own development, to decide on your goals and make plans to ensure you get there. There is evidence that self-leadership improves performance as it allows you to achieve your goals.

On a personal level, practicing self-leadership requires you to think about what enables you to make and follow through on plans (which is a skill that comes more easily to some of us than others). There are many others more qualified than I am to give advice on this topic, including contributors to this leadership pack, so I will limit myself to the general idea of knowing yourself – what is important to you, where do you want to get to, when do you work best and what motivates you? Knowing this and then building the plans to support you, will enable you to lead yourself consciously and authentically.

What about self-leadership in others? How can you support self-leadership in colleagues, teams and across your organisation? There is growing evidence that self-leadership at the team level (i.e. the team managing itself) can also benefit team outcomes as they are able to take responsibility for what they deliver and use their ‘on the ground’ knowledge to make the changes they need quickly.

Valuing leadership by everyone in the team is not a new concept, and is something long promoted by this pack’s editor. The research on self-leadership with teams shows us that there are some factors that can support its success:

  • Team training on self-leadership
  • Clear roles, responsibilities and scope of authority
  • Supportive organisational culture
  • External leadership

The last point is an interesting one, as at first glance it seems counter intuitive. Why would a team practicing self-leadership need external leadership to achieve this? However, in fact an external leader can provide valuable support in the following ways:

  • Creating a safe space for the team to operate within – ‘protecting’ them from intervention by more senior management
  • Providing a link to the wider organisation and environment
  • Facilitating information sharing and ensuring the team has the resources it needs
  • Providing coaching and mentoring
  • Providing additional direction for new team members or teams that have yet to build their self-leadership skills
  • Monitoring and intervening when needed to help manage difficult relations and team dynamics

Clearly there is a balance to be found, as intervening too quickly will undermine the team’s self-leadership and leave you back as a traditional manager setting tasks and running operations, but leave things to drift too long and difficult relations or a lack of support could leave the team ineffective and demotivated.

As ever, leadership is a balancing act and requires judgement, emotional intelligence and flexibility in order to adapt to changing circumstances and the needs of the team. A crucial point however for self-leadership is the need for the leader to change their perspective and goals from just achieving the best result for the task at hand (which may be easier in the short-term if you dictate how it is done), and building a team that is effective, empowered and self-supporting in the long-term.

So, self-leadership can be a valuable practice both individually and more widely and hopefully gives you some food for thought about the longer-term goals for you and your team and how you can best support them to be achieved.

Best wishes

Meike Beckford

With thanks to Lancaster University Management School, and the whole Executive MBA team and cohort.
You can follow me on twitter @MeikeB88 and my organisation @DoshTweets and www.dosh.org.