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From self-management to self-leadership

In this article, A/Prof Marcus O'Donnell discuss the difference between self-management and self-leadership, and what this distinction means.
Businesswoman Looking up at Camera and Standing Outdoors Surrounded by a Large Group of Business People
© Deakin University
Self-management involves motivating, coaching and leading ourselves to become the best we can be in our personal and professional lives.
Some writers have suggested we take the ‘management’ out of self-management and replace it with ‘leadership’. But what does this mean and what difference could it make?

Why self-leadership?

Talking about self-leadership rather than self-management is not just a bait-and-switch word game. It challenges us to think differently about what we might do.
Leaders are strategic. They develop strategies that work, often by trial and error. They also work to inspire, gathering a motivated team to make things happen.
Self-leadership takes us from a command-and-control perspective that focuses on stubbornly directing through willpower to a model of inspiring and influencing our better selves.
Leading researchers in this field, like Chris Neck and Charles Manz, suggest that there are a number of ways we can effectively lead ourselves, which are outlined below.

1. Develop behavioural strategies

We need to develop a set of behavioural strategies that start with self-observation and self-awareness to identify our strengths and weakness, and then set realistic goals and rewards. For example, according to Neck and Houghton:
A large body of research suggests that the process of setting challenging and specific goals can significantly increase individual performance levels (Locke and Latham, 1990). Self-set rewards, coupled with self-set goals, can aid significantly in energising the effort necessary to accomplish the goals (Mahoney and Arnkoff, 1978, 1979; Manz and Sims,1980; Manz and Neck, 2004). (2006, p. 271)

2. Reward yourself

We need to tune into natural rewards that make us more motivated to engage in difficult tasks. We can do this in one of two ways:
  • We can design a task to be particularly rewarding, linking it with what we are good at or enjoy.
  • We can strategically move our focus to the part of a task that is rewarding and away from the aspects which are more mundane.
Neck and Houghton suggest that both of these strategies:
… are likely to create feelings of competence and self-determination, two primary mechanisms of intrinsic motivation (Deci and Ryan, 1985) … natural reward strategies are designed to help create feelings of competence and self-determination, which in turn energize performance-enhancing task-related behaviours. (2006, p. 272)

3. Develop constructive thought patterns

We also need to develop constructive thought patterns. This involves listening to what we tell ourselves, ie our ‘self-talk’.
Too often there is a voice in our head saying: ‘I can’t do this’; ‘This is too hard’; or ‘This will take too long’. If we become aware of this negative self-talk and consciously replace it with a positive inner dialogue, this can change the way we feel about the things we need to do.
Mental imagery is also important. Studies have shown that if we imagine ourselves successfully completing a task (such as walking through the task in our mind), then we are more likely to be successful at the task when we actually do it.

Your task

Is the idea of self-leadership – rather than self-management – a helpful one for you?
If so, what are some of the practical ways you might start to think differently if you thought about leading – rather than managing – yourself through change?
If this idea resonates with you, use the comments to share with other learners one thing that you might do differently if you thought about yourself as a self-leader rather than a self-manager.
If you prefer the term self-management, share with other learners why this resonates with you more than self-leadership.
Remember, you can extend the conversation by using reply to respond to other learners’ comments or liking any comments you find interesting.
© Deakin University
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