Self-Leadership: Realizing Your Dreams

Before you can lead others, you have to have control over your own life. Intelligently balancing your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors is the key to achieving your goals.
Self-Leadership: Realizing Your Dreams
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Self-leadership is the ability to intentionally influence your thoughts and emotions. It means that you direct all your resources, motivation, and internal energy towards what you want to achieve. This develops competency, a tool that allows you to feel good about yourself whatever the circumstances.

It’s probably safe to say that, when you hear the word leadership, you almost immediately visualize a specific person inspiring a group of people to achieve specific goals. Above all, leading means projecting influence.

The term self-leadership isn’t exactly new. It was first coined in the 1980s by Charles Manz,  a professor specializing in this particular area of human behavior at the University of Massachusetts. The idea of self-leadership stemmed there and began to be consolidated thanks to contemporary trends like emotional intelligence.

Although self-leadership is particularly useful in business and human resources, it’s more directly related to the field of psychological health. To lead is to be the captain of your own destiny, heading towards a state of happiness. It’s an area of personal growth that includes exceptional elements for your own well-being.

  “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”

-Lao Tzu-

A woman on her laptop.

What’s self-leadership?

The concept of self-leadership emerged more than four decades ago for a very specific reason. This was because, back then, when they trained a person for leadership, they forgot the most important aspect. That nobody can be a good leader unless they first know themselves. Furthermore, you need to master the art of good emotional management, and know exactly how to direct your own behavior towards your desired goals.

Neglecting these areas is synonymous with failure in the management of human groups. How can you possibly guide a group of people towards their goals if you don’t know how to manage yourself? Socrates pointed out that nobody can be a good teacher without knowing themselves first. Thus, nobody can influence others if they’re incapable of guiding their own inner self.

Nowadays, there’s increasingly more research on this type of self-influence. Studies conducted by the University of Arizona, for example, analyzed how it varies between cultures. In addition, books such as Self-Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out by Professors Andrew Bryant and Ana Kazan help people develop self-leadership.

Self-knowledge: knowing who you are

Benjamin Franklin pointed out that “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self”. Indeed, few things could be more complicated than delving into your own universe. It means recognizing your limitations and vulnerabilities. Furthermore, exploring your potential, navigating your own needs, and getting a glimpse of who you are and where you’re going.

This is what self-leadership is all about: getting to genuinely and seamlessly know one other.

Intention: what do you want?

What do you want from life? What are you asking of yourself? More than anything else, intention means projecting yourself towards a vital purpose and working on it. There’s no why without a what for. Indeed, if there’s no reason, all your efforts are meaningless. Remember that you need meanings to direct your energy and ideas towards your goals.

Self-leadership and self-awareness

Self-leadership hinges on self-awareness. Self-awareness lets you become aware of your relationship with the world and how your emotions affect your mood and, therefore, your decisions and behaviors. When you’re self-aware, you have the ability to look inside yourself, and you’re able to read, understand, and regulate each action.

A man working, perhaps showing self-leadership qualities.

Self-efficacy: knowing what you’re worth and what you can do

Self-efficacy is an extremely interesting and significant concept that was coined by psychologist Albert Bandura. It’s about your perception of your ability to do something correctly and effectively.

Self-leadership needs the dimension of self-efficacy. This way, you’ll be aware that you have the resources to deal with whatever happens. When you’re able to handle challenges, you feel safe, in control, and motivated.

Self-management: the disciplined mind

Self-management involves your ability to create habits and routines and manage your time properly so you can achieve your everyday goals. It also concerns your competence in solving problems creatively.

Self-management means you know how to react to each situation without relying on others. Therefore, you don’t expect others to save you from any difficult situations and circumstances you might encounter. All of the dimensions we mentioned above are mapped out in this self-management concept, which is an extremely important component of self-leadership.

Finally, we must mention that self-leadership is a very valuable tool, and you should certainly invest time and effort in using it. Having a developed sense of who you are, what you can do, and what you want allows you to harmonize your emotions and behaviors so you’re able to achieve your dreams. This kind of opportunity is hard to resist.

“I’m the master of my fate. I’m the captain of my soul.”

-William Ernest Henley-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Neck, C.P. and Houghton, J.D. (2006), “Two decades of self‐leadership theory and research: Past developments, present trends, and future possibilities”, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 270-295.
  • Stewart, Greg & Courtright, Stephen & Manz, Charles. (2011). Self-Leadership: A Multilevel Review. Journal of Management – J MANAGE. 37. 185-222. 10.1177/0149206310383911.
  • Kaza, Ana (2012) Self-Leadership: how to become a more successful, efficient, and effective leader from the inside out. McGraw-Hill Education

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.