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Why Everyone Should Learn the Art of Self-Leadership

And why it's never too late to start today.

Entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, famously said, “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” The concept of self-leadership is certainly not new. Here is why you should learn to master it.

Danielle MacInnes @dsmacinnes/ Unsplash
Source: Danielle MacInnes @dsmacinnes/ Unsplash

The term self-leadership was first coined by Charles C. Manz in 1983. 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 knowing how to motivate yourself for tasks you don't like to do is an essential skill to master in any workplace or team.

With that, self-leadership also became a prerequisite of team leadership: You should learn the skill to manage and lead yourself before leading others. While that is certainly true and important for any working professional, self-leadership is a skill that can be applied by anyone and to life more broadly.

Anyone with the ambition to live their life intentionally and pursue their dreams can acquire the skills of self-leadership. In fact, psychological research has been providing insights into the elements of self-leadership for many decades. But what are these elements?

I’m sure you can instantly name a few. Willpower, determination, motivation, and resilience are often the first buzzwords that come to mind when thinking of striving for success. And sure, they play an important role in self-leadership. But there’s a lot more to it, which may not be as obvious.

Self-leadership is the practice of understanding who you are, identifying your desired experiences, and intentionally guiding yourself towards them.

Self-leadership not only starts with an understanding of oneself but also involves knowing how to orchestrate the many skills and competencies necessary for self-leadership. These include identifying your values and strengths, setting goals and establishing plans, optimising your motivation and willpower, maximising resilience, practising mindfulness and self-monitoring, understanding your own cognitive bias, and cultivating a willingness to fail — just to name a few.

You can imagine an accomplished self-leader as conductor of a big orchestra, where each musician represents one of the elements of self-leadership mentioned above. Whenever they have a goal, the likelihood of them achieving it depends on how well they manage to conduct all the musicians of the orchestra in order for them to know when and how to play in harmony.

Think about a goal you have pursued before and the skills you put to work in order to achieve it.

You may have renovated your house or a piece of furniture, dropped those five pounds, got that job or promotion, spent less time on social media, or decreased your carbon footprint. No matter what you’ve set out to achieve before, you would have applied some level of self-leadership. How do you go about achieving your goal? How did you choose it in the first place? Did you succeed? And if so, how did you feel afterward — satisfied and happy or disappointed and indifferent? The answers to these questions are found in the way you applied self-leadership skills — knowingly or not.

Mastering self-leadership is important for the same reason that we have goals in the first place: Because we want to have a say in what our life is about.

Sure, we can’t control every detail, but that’s not the point. It’s about taking our life in a direction we feel drawn towards. It’s about pursuing our ambitions and expressing our potential as best as we can. It’s about living as the best possible version of ourselves.

Because as humans, we like to believe that we can exercise free will. That we can reach our goals and make our dreams come true. That we can be happy. Understanding and practising self-leadership gives you the choice to live your life with intention and purpose as much as you can. That is what self-leadership is about.

The great news is that science has already figured out many aspects of how to efficiently lead yourself and I cannot wait to share them with you through my blog posts on this site.


Manz, C. C. (1983). Improving performance through self‐leadership. National productivity review, 2(3), 288-297. doi:10.1002/npr.4040020308

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