Why better self-leaders make better team-leaders

If you’re managing a team, maybe you’ve already been inundated with some form of leadership training in your career - but are you a competent self-leader?


The term ‘self-leadership’ was first coined in the 1980s. Somewhat synonymous with self-mastery, it evolved from the field of professional development and organisational behaviour in the leadership literature. It emerged based on the insight that self-leadership is a prerequisite of team-leadership. But why?


Self-leadership is the practice of understanding who you are, identifying your desired experience and intentionally guiding yourself towards that. It offers a knowledge framework of optimal performance in line with objectives. This includes understanding aspects about yourself, such as your strengths, weaknesses and values. It includes a basic understanding of human performance, such as how to maximise motivation and willpower, how to build habits, how to maximise the chance to achieve milestones, how to navigate and harness the environment and culture in which we operate to support our goal attainment, how to be brave when trying something new or a different way of doing things, and how to embrace the lessons that come with failure.

Self-leadership skills equip individuals with the knowledge and tools to identify the next milestone in line with their ambitions and maximise their chance of achieving it. So why do they make better team leaders then?


Good team leaders understand their team members’ capabilities and motivations and based on that give them the opportunity to perform – would you agree? The way I see it, self-leadership competencies influence leadership qualities in two ways:


1) Indirectly: Competent self-leaders are better performers themselves

They are better team leaders, because they are typically better role models as they are usually more reliable and perform to their maximum. They also understand their own traits and consciously regulate their own emotions more efficiently. This understanding makes them more aware of the challenges and emotions others may be experiencing and thus more receptive to feedback and willing to listen.


2) Directly: Competent self-leaders understand how to lead their team members better

They understand the key elements of motivation and can therefore support their staff to ignite their drive. They know the importance of strength-based approaches and how to identify opportunities so their staff can play to their strengths and competencies. They know the right language to communicate targets and objectives in line with the values and beliefs that are commonly shared between their staff and organisation. And they can help their team articulate their own goals in order to maximise their chance of succeeding, which will also lead to enhanced team confidence.


I could go on listing reasons why better self-leaders make better team leaders. But I’m sure you can think plenty of reasons yourself; or of leaders or situations that speak for themselves. I don’t know about you, but I witnessed leaders who were so lost on their own career journey, who were struggling to keep their own head above water, who were unaware of their own weaknesses and limitations. Their mere presence was taxing for the team and its performance. It added confusion, frustration and unrest, rather than direction, drive, or safety. And I witnessed those that were so driven and organised, whose energy was so infectious and who couldn’t help but lift others and support others and projects with integrity. Their teams were confident and driven and never scared to think outside the box – and voice their creativity.


I remember plenty of times during my career when our team was asked to reach a statistic, without providing the resources some of us needed nor explaining why it mattered. Where team members were repeatedly asked to take on responsibilities and tasks that did not align with their strengths or values whatsoever. That team had the highest staff turnover I have ever witnessed, and the few members who did perform, had found shortcuts to reach the target in favour of short term wins and to the detriment of the company’s long-term reputation. And likewise, I remember a time where, for the first time, a team understood why it existed and worked together and the impact it had on their work ethic and log-term performance – no matter how hard the task or ambitious the goal.


I don’t believe that until today we simply assumed that people can make good quality leaders without understanding themselves and their ambitions. But I do believe that the importance for leaders to become competent self-leaders first has been a fundamental oversight so far and I'm excited every time I come across someone determined to change that.


Maike x


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