Growing Self-Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Self Leadership

We’ve been talking all month about self-leadership. We have stressed the importance of leading ourselves. But how does one go about becoming a powerful self-leader. How do you get trained in self-leadership?

Traditional leadership training creates self-leaders only as a secondary result. Many times we train people to follow the steps to becoming a leader. If you have to follow the program, what are you leading? If you tell someone that they should be more responsible, when they become more responsible, did they do it because you told them? Are they following you or are they leading?

Here are my 5 steps to identify, encourage, fertilize and grow self-leaders in your organization:

  1. Identify the gap between what-is and what-ought-to-be. The tension between the two is critical.
  2. Encourage people who might be able to affect the problem to take responsibility.
  3. Provide resources and guidance as requested or needed while they begin to close the gap.
  4. Provide insight, coaching and support during and after the process so the self-leader learns for the next time.
  5. Publicly endorse the behavior of individuals who take steps 1-4.

You can teach people how to identify gaps. And you can train on problem-solving.  Beyond that, individuals need to take responsibility for the gap. Leading the horse to water and even talking to them about their thirst, doesn’t necessarily inspire them to drink. This is the very point at which some argue that leaders are born, rather than made. Learn to let the tension build so your growing leaders can emerge.  Real character-based leaders want to bring their best performance and personality to work.  If you always tell them what to do, you kill that creativity.  Give them the chance to apply their own creativity without direction.  Sure, it can be scary for us control-freak types, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if your team did things the best way without constantly being told what to do?  Take a chance and give your self-leaders a chance to shine.  The best ones will relish the opportunity.

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About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Sharon Eden  |  06 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Interesting post Mike. The way I also come at
it is to help people develop inner leadership
through personal development… the essence
of being able to take response-ability for
the ‘gap’.

Developing objective self-awareness and strong,
skilful and good use of will for themselves, enables
people to apply them in the workplace. With a
soupcon of purpose, passion and power for the

Mike Henry  |  06 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Sharon. In a way I’m trying to start the conversation. So often we tell people how to lead and they never actually develop an appreciation for their own ability to affect the gap. You’re right to talk about the self-awareness required. Thanks for the great comment. Mike…

David Weale  |  07 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike, it’s a nice post is this one, thank you for it.

I had a coffee this morning with a youth member I’m mentoring and something akin to this topic was brought up (training in self-leadership).

I see it very much to do with the strength of relationship between the one in development and the one doing the ‘training’, and the motives for the relationship.

In a nutshell, if as his trainer/mentor, my objective is his conformity to my performance expectations for him, his capacity to grow and make his own responsible decisions has been capped. If he grows at all, it will be my way and not his. Accountability also becomes a chore rather than a growth exercise, which puts a cap on the ability for the relationship to develop also.

On the other hand, if my motive is about him growing to be all he’s going to be, and to make responsible decisions out of who he is (and not who I am), then his capacity to grow is uncapped by me and only bound by his current perceptions of his ability. Accountability is borne out of relationship of mutual trust, respect and a desire for growth. And as a mentor, I am now an encourager and a sounding board. I challenge him to stretch himself and I inspire him to press onward.

I guess what I’m trying to say, Mike, is that I agree with you!

Mike Henry  |  07 Aug 2010  |  Reply

You actually said some parts of it better. I like how you suggest that his capacity has been capped by your objective. Hopefully, if he’s a soon-to-be great self-leader, he’ll hit a poor mentor’s cap (certainly not you!) and bust through it.


David Weale  |  09 Aug 2010  | 

Thanks Mike, you’re too kind!

Your post have provoked some more thoughts, which I’ve posted on my “Leadership Ignite” blog Naturally, you’re more than welcome to take a look.


Mike Henry  |  09 Aug 2010  | 

That’s a nice response. It points out the contrasts between the directed way and the guided way of building leaders. Mike…

Ericka Hines  |  08 Aug 2010  |  Reply


I think that you have hit on what I posit is the first step of leadership which is leadership of self. B/c it requires the work on oneself, I think that it is often looked over as being important. But I think that it is essential in the work of a leader to have figured out themselves as a leader–what type of leader they want to be, how they want to lead, what type of leadership is necessary. I also think that you describe the creative tension ( big peter senge fan) that exists for self leadership which is ” what type of leader am I now and what type could I be” with the right ( coaching, training, development). Clearly you have hit a sweet spot for my work as a leadership development practiioner. And one of the ways that I have been selling ” self leadership to my clients” is to say ” listen if you learn how to lead yourself, your leadership becomes portable and its not reliant on a title or a role. ” seems to resonate.

Ericka Hines

Mike Henry  |  09 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Ericka for expounding on the topic. I think you added considerable value. Many of us got our first “position” focusing on the people we were to lead. And only after some failure or being failed by other leaders do we start to see that the solution is in us. Thanks again. Mike…

William Powell  |  09 Aug 2010  |  Reply

I’m so happy you have opened this conversation, Mike. This is, in essence, part and parcel of what I do. A favorite mantra of mine is, “Out of who we are, we do”. We can’t do leadership well unless we are a person who leads ourselves well first. It’s pretty tough to lead someone to a place that one has not yet been themselves.

I’m a firm believer that understanding and developing a healthy and strong belief system is the foundation for quality self leadership. It’s this type of self awareness that allows us to move forward as leaders. Nice to see the conversation evolve around this important subject!

Mike Henry  |  09 Aug 2010  |  Reply

William, thanks for the great comment. I like that quote of yours too. Mike…

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