“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” Lao Tzu
Leadership is a much-debated concept that is surrounded by many myths and clichés. Are you born a leader or can you become one? How much experience and which competences do you need to be one? These are only a few of the questions that have been the starting point for many articles, books and discussions over the past few decades. What is certain is that traditionally, when trying to define the concept of leadership, there has been a tendency to overemphasise its ‘external’ component, linked to someone’s experience and ability to lead others, often overlooking the ‘internal’ component related to the fact that being a leader starts from knowing and leading yourself first.
As a result, those at the beginning of their careers often consider leadership something to aspire to in the long term and don’t actively commit to developing and honing the skills and competences necessary until later on in their career. The truth is that, effective leadership starts with self-leadership. Whether we consciously realise it or not, we all lead ourselves in both our personal and professional life, the only difference is how deliberately we do it. In the words of Doyle and Smith (2009), leaders are “people who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and why”. The direct implication of this definition is that, although leading can be complicated, anyone can, in principle, become a leader, regardless of their role and level of seniority. The sooner in our career we realise this, the better, because it empowers us to take responsibility for our decisions and increases our awareness of ourselves and the environment that surrounds us.
What is self-leadership and how does it translate into our day-to-day practice?
The first definition of self-leadership (a.k.a. personal mastery) was firstly introduced by Charles Manz in 1983 and has then evolved to become a key skill to develop in order to thrive in a VUCA environment. One of the most recent and comprehensive definitions is the one provided by Bryant and Kazan (2012) in their book on this topic which states that "Self-leadership is the practice of intentionally influencing your thinking, feeling and actions towards your objective/s".
In practical terms, the concept encompasses a variety of aspects that can be summarised as follows:
How can this help you develop your career in management consulting?
Research shows that the main reasons why professionals fail in their role are usually related to either a lack of a growth mindset based on continuous learning or the inability to create solid relationships with clients and/or peers. On the other hand, it is also proven that individuals who are more independent and can self-lead themselves are more productive, motivated and engaged, irrespective of what they do and at what stage of their career they are.
As management consultants, our ability to build relationships and adapt to change quickly play a particularly important role in our career progression and in the successful development of our practice. Therefore, one of the most useful pieces of advice that next-gen management consultants could be given is that it is never too early to start developing their self-leadership skills. This will bring a multiplicity of short- and long-term benefits including, for example:
3 ways to develop your self-leadership skills
In conclusion, if there is one key thought that I would like you to take away from this article, it is that we can – and should – all develop our leadership skills and it is never too early to start the learning process. We do not need power, authority or a team of people around us to do it, we only need to have the awareness that it starts with leading ourselves and the willingness to actively work on developing the right mindset and attitudes. There are three key behaviours that can help you achieve this:
In my next article, I will explore the theory of multiple intelligences and how it can help us build a successful career. In the meantime, we would like to hear from you! What do you actively do to develop your leadership mindset? Get in touch to let us know.