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Why self-leadership without context doesn't work

Leadership

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“As HR and organizational development professionals, what brings you to a lab about self-leadership?” Jesse Segers and Anne Lemaire asked the attendees at our leadership lab. “It’s been on my agenda for a while,” one of the participants said. “There are big changes coming our way, the company is looking for new forms of organization and cooperation and that demands more leadership from everyone.”

This company isn’t the only one with that experience. Many organizations feel a need for employees that want more ownership or initiative and can face the challenges of today’s complex and dynamic environment. This requires the development of self-leadership, finding out where an individual can self-manage, and not only rely on external leaders who determine the what, who and why of the job.

“Our employees get the space and time to reflect on their work every now and then. That way, everyone can grow in their job and as a person.”

Colruyt was the perfect place to work with the theme of self-leadership, exchange insights and connect. They highly value self-leadership: “Our employees get the space and time to reflect on their work every now and then. That way, everyone can grow in their job and as a person.”

Side notes

At the start of the session, Jesse makes two important side notes concerning the recent rise in self-leadership.

  1. “It has a lot of perks, including less stress, higher self-worth, greater involvement, more proactivity and innovation… but if your organization has no need for autonomy and creativity, encouraging self-leadership will only lead to frustrated employees.”
  2. “As an organization, you also need a binding mechanism, like a shared vision or a collective set of values, to ensure that self-leadership is always deployed for the benefit of the collective.”

These two side notes expose the first lacuna in the existing literature – today, self-leadership is far too decontextualized. However, research shows that context has the power to encourage or discourage it. Exemplary behavior at the top and empowering leadership seem to be two crucial factors. External leadership and self-leadership aren’t mutually exclusive. On the contrary, external leadership is a necessary catalyst for self-leadership.

"Organizations need a binding mechanism to ensure that self-leadership is always deployed for the benefit of the collective.”

A second lacuna is the largely one-sided focus on the level of behavior. Most of the time, training is focused on behavioral strategies, like setting targets, self-cueing, focusing on the positive, etc. These strategies help people turn themselves into competent leaders, but Jesse reveals how self-leadership can also be developed on deeper levels.

Under the surface

For example, there is the level of identity and motives, that doesn’t only deal with how a self-leader should behave, but also with when and how you can see yourself as someone who can be self-leading. On an even deeper level, self-leadership means evolving from a socialized mind, that meets the expectations of others, to a self-authoring mind, that departs from what you yourself find important and want. These two deepening levels give a deeper determination to the behavior strategies, but their development demands time, patience and attention.

After this, Jesse and Anne gave our lab participants a little taste of the self-leadership program that was developed centering on 4 dimensions: the physical, social, psychological and spiritual dimension. With two distinct exercises we switched between theory and immersion. For some, the uncoupling of spirit and body during the body dialogue was confronting, while for others it was rather soothing. But for everyone, it soon became clear that the goal of the exercises is to develop self-leadership on deeper levels.

"With the blended learning process, we specifically want to take the step that is needed to evolve from a socialized to a self-authoring mind.”

“With the blended learning process, we specifically want to take the step that is needed to evolve from a socialized to a self-authoring mind,” Anne imparted. After all, blended learning allows for learning materials to be adjusted to individual needs. Furthermore, participants noticed that Anne and Jesse conveyed the necessary features they addressed and, as such, fulfilled the (previously mentioned) exemplary function.

The exercises set a lot of things in motion. “It all came together in those 20 lines (writing the pantoum poem, ed.)”, and “The session really forced me to take myself into consideration”. At the end of the day, that’s what self-leadership is all about: having insight into your own patterns and consciously deciding what’s necessary. In the process of bringing it back into context, it will become important to consider (1) whether creativity and autonomy, and self-leadership, are in fact necessary, (2) how far you’re willing to take their development and (3) how the right context for stimulating self-leadership can be created. A balance exercise for HR and organizational development?

Do you want to do this balance exercise for yourself or your organization?

Discover Self-Leadership!

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