How to cultivate Self-leadership

Managing themselves well is what made History’s great achievers. When it comes to living the life of your dreams or achieving your goals, it is important that you set the direction for your life and make your decisions rather than constantly being impacted by external influences. There are various opinions, voices and messages trying to influence and give you the direction on a daily basis. It is very easy to get so caught up in daily demands of life that we tend to get influenced by such external opinions and become reactive rather than leading and managing our own lives. Management of any sorts, be it your work, business, academia or personal life needs you to be internally focused. How well you can manage others and yourself mostly depends upon how well you are able to lead yourself in your personal or professional areas. So, when it comes to making all of those decisions or choices in life, it comes down to the leadership in your own life to handle all of those decisions and situations.

Self-leadership is the key in determining the direction you want to take and to become more of the person you are striving to become. Also when it comes to cultivating leadership skills, most of the times, we talk about from the standpoint of leading others or those working under us. But all true leadership does begin from within and manifests through your effectiveness in managing yourself, in building collaborative relationships, through interactions and daily decision-making process of your personal and professional life. It is always important to lead yourself first, before you can lead a team, organisation or group of people.

What is Self-leadership?

Self-leadership is an intentional process of influencing your thinking, feeling and behaviours to achieve your objectives thereby increasing the positive impact you can have in the world around you. Self-leadership is not self-absorption, but is the process of growing inwardly to contribute outwardly. The difference between leadership and self-leadership is that leadership focuses on how one influences others whereas self-leadership is about observing and managing oneself and most importantly, it is being aware of who you are, what you want to achieve along with your abilities to influence your communication, emotions and behaviours in achieving them.

What determines your self-leadership?

While there are many aspects of self-leadership that are needed to strengthen our lives as leaders, here are some important aspects that determine self-leadership.

Self-awareness: It is the ability to acknowledge, understand and be conscious of one’s own values, perspectives , strengths, weaknesses, and emotional needs. Your level of self-awareness determines your self-leadership potential.

Self-management: The ability to manage one’s talents, nurture and harness one’s own passion, abilities, emotions and leadership capacity in decision-making.

Self-regulation: The ability to regulate or control your emotions. To self-regulate is to take a pause between the feelings that arise in a situation and the action you choose to take

Others-awareness and management. The ability to acknowledge and recognise the passion, strengths, weaknesses, abilities and needs of others. The ability to motivate others in achieving their goals.

Integrity: It is the quality of adhering to moral and ethical principles. It comes with an inner sense of ‘wholeness’ and consistency of your actions, words, decisions, measures, expectations, methods and outcomes.

Accountability: Being responsible for your thoughts, decisions, emotions, behaviours and actions is a quality of self-leadership.

Self-discipline: To manage your mental and emotional state and a strong personal will.

Self-control: Ability to stay emotionally focused and to control feelings, thoughts and behaviours in challenging circumstances.

Self-motivation and focus in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Self-reflection: Ability to reflect on the thought patterns, feelings or perceptions that hold you back from achieving your full potential.

Why it is important to develop Self-leadership?

Many of us don’t realise that to lead others, we must be able to lead ourselves first. Not able to lead your own self makes you more vulnerable to all kinds of errors, often at your own hands and as a result you not only self-sabotage, but negatively impact those whom you lead. Good self-leadership not only creates the environment of clarity, purpose, responsibility, engagement and collaboration but also builds trust and confidence. It enables you to be more productive in your professional endeavours.

Being strongly opinionated or thinking that you are always right forces people to see your way and as a result, you miss out on other perspectives. Feelings of insecurity often hinder your others’ awareness and as you will be more self-absorbed about how you are perceived by others. Also, it becomes hard to appreciate others and give their due credit because you see it as a threat to your own possible influence. Developing self-leadership reduces your feelings of insecurity and reduces know-it-all thinking. Being rigid or close-minded leads to putting others down or dismiss other perspectives or alternatives. By cultivating effective self-leadership, you can be open to range of possibilities, you can avoid self-defeating beliefs, and build trust to collaborate with others in order to achieve your desired goals and can lead others more effectively. Without a strong sense of self-leadership, you can feel of out of control, overwhelmed and confused.

How to cultivate self-leadership?

To cultivate effective self-leadership, you must carve out your direction by aligning with your desired goals and know when to change course. You can achieve this by developing deep understanding of yourself. What are your most valuable strengths and weaknesses? How do you learn and work with others? What are your most deeply held values? And in what type of work environment can you make the greatest contribution?

To cultivate self-leadership, begin by asking yourself these questions:

What are my strengths?”

To accurately identify your strengths, use feedback analysis. Every time you make a key decision, write down the outcome you expect. Several months later, compare the actual results with your expected results. Look for patterns in what you’re seeing: What results are you skilled at generating? What abilities do you need to enhance in order to get the results you want? What unproductive habits are preventing you from creating the outcomes you desire? Which are your core strength areas? In identifying opportunities for improvement, don’t waste time cultivating skill areas where you have little competence. Instead, concentrate on—and build on—your strengths.

“What is my Purpose?”

To clarify your purpose, develop a deep and profound understanding of what you could focus on moving forward. We all know what we want. We all have goals, dreams, and aspirations. However, are these things what you really want? Or are they simply things that others want for you? Or is it rather because you have been conditioned by your peers and by society to pursue these things? Consider your strengths, preferred work style, and values. Based on these qualities, in what kind of work environment would you fit in best? What kind of life roles do you enjoy living? Given your passions, experiences and abilities, what’s your true life’s purpose? What do you feel are best suited to your core strengths? Set meaningful goals that serve your purpose.

“What are my values?”

Core values act like a compass that helps you stay on track and focused on the most important things in your life. As leaders, you can overcome honest mistakes or a wrong decision, but recovering from ethical compromise is near to impossible. Values lead you to greater degree of insight and understanding of your own self. Prioritise your core values by reflecting on these questions: What are your ethics? How empathetic are you towards others? What do you see as your most important responsibilities for living a worthy, ethical life? Does your organization’s ethics resonate with your own values? Are your decisions aligned with your personal values? Are you authentic or are you a people pleaser? Do you prioritise being honest with others ? Just as honesty is essential to develop effective self-leadership, so is integrity.

What is my self-awareness?”

Improve your awareness of how you are being received by others or how your work affects the team or organisation as a whole. How well do you know yourself? How deeply do you understand your strengths, motivations or flaws? What do you need to improve? What thoughts are holding you back? What is your narrative identify? You should be aware of how your work and actions that affect those around you. In what ways do you work best? Do you process information most effectively by reading it, or by hearing others discuss it? Do you accomplish the most by working with other people, or by working alone? Do you perform best while making decisions, or while advising others on key matters? Are you in top form when things get stressful, or do you function optimally in a highly predictable environment? Being aware allows you to make adjustments for tendencies that are self-defeating.

What is my self-talk?”

Self-talk shapes our relationship to ourselves. If you self-talk is filled with frustration, pessimism, apathy or if your self-talk of the perfectionist, it cause you to lose to your destructive self and leads to poor decisions and making choices that serve short-term goals. Your biggest challenge while in the pursuit of self-leadership, of course, comes in the form of negative self-talk. It’s natural for us to have these kinds of thoughts when facing an uncertain future. But you experience lapses where you begin doubting yourself. Quickly recognise those moments for what they are. What is your self-talk? Does it enhance ‘Can-do’ attitude? Is your self-talk helpful In correcting your faults and weaknesses? Shift your focus to positive self-talk by using words like ‘can’, ‘will’ and ‘yet’.

What is my decision-making framework?

Everyday offers the opportunity to make a decision. Effective self-leadership depends on your ability to make right decisions and to learn from wrong ones. No matter how big or small a decision is, it is important to have a clear intention for why you are choosing a specific course of action. For instance, one of the reasons for indecisiveness might be fear. Figure out the reasons behind those fears to recognise triggers that cloud your mind. Is it a fear of failure? Or fear of missing out? Or is it because of your insecurities? Are you basing your decisions on your assumptions or facts? Do not allow others’ agenda to sway you from making the choice that’s right for you. Identity alternatives to seek others’ view points. Listen to arguments and probe for understanding. There may be valid perspectives you hadn’t considered, which could pave way for right course of action. Looking for alternatives creates different points of view, new insights and new choices.

“What is my Emotional-quotient?”

Your emotional-quotient is the direct measure of your leadership skill. People with high emotional intelligence make good leaders as they are able to understand what motivates others and relate to them in a positive manner. Assess your emotional quotient to know your emotional strengths and weaknesses. Examine how you react to stressful situations. How do you react when someone or a situation doesn’t measure up to your expectations? What specific people or circumstances trigger you on an emotional level? How do you respond to pressure situations? Do you interpret the situations based on facts? Or is it possible that your perspective of the situation has triggered your emotions? Learning what triggers your emotions and which emotions are driving your behaviour can help you achieve emotional stability. Attending to unhappy emotions by a way of communication and expressing fully what you feel, you can free yourself of unhappy emotions and improve your emotional quotient.

To conclude,

Self-leadership is life-long process of self-development and self-reflection. It is a never-ending work in progress that draws on continuous self-understanding. Apply the above strategies to overcome your insecurities, self-defeating habits, and limiting beliefs to maintain healthy and successful working relationships and to manage your workloads, opportunities and challenges.

• Practice regular reflection on the above questions to gain better awareness of your emotions, your motivations, and your challenges. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.

• Take time to gain awareness of who you are, your purpose, and your priorities. Create a clear direction for future and keep yourself inspired and motivated.

• Become solution-oriented. Seek multiple perspectives and develop understanding of alternative views.

• Be clear about your values and practice them with integrity despite social, emotional and peer pressure.

• Shift your focus to positive self-talk and purposeful goals.

• Accept responsibility for your actions and decisions.

“Self-leadership is about awareness, tolerance, and not letting your own tendencies limit your potential.”- Scott Belsky

How to deal with insecurities

“What I am is good enough if I could only be it openly.”- Carl rogers

There are many things that shape our self-image and influence our behaviour from negative attitudes directed towards us to attitudes and opinions that come from the environment you live in- parents, teachers, peers and the attitudes they had towards themselves. As we get older, we internalise these points of views as our own and shape our inner critic that constantly scrutinises and criticises our every action based on our so formed beliefs. We all experience and encounter these self-critical thoughts making us insecure either in our personal or professional lives while we pursue our goals.

Insecurity is one of the root cause that impedes our ability to achieve success. We experience it in many forms like self-doubt, fear, distrust, uncertainty, skepticism, cynicism, indecisiveness, avoidance, ambiguity, or complacency. This inner-critic that accompanies our feelings of insecurity makes us compare, evaluate, and judge ourselves. This behaviour also results in over dependence, constant anger, jealously and vulnerability. To be insecure for a short period of time is natural. But when insecurity persists, it takes into a pattern of self-sabotage and/or underachieving or persistent indecisiveness. When you are insecure, you miss out on many opportunities and it can be quite damaging to your self-esteem and self-image. It not only holds you back from achieving your goals but also causes feelings of not being and doing good enough.

So, what it means to be insecure?

Insecurity is a tendency to lack confidence or certainty in oneself causing feelings of helplessness or inadequacy due to false self-perception. It is having negative thoughts about one’s ability to fit in with peers, reach goals, or find acceptance and support. These insecure thought patterns can exaggerate feelings of jealousy or possessiveness or might leave you feeling rejected and unworthy.

Our fears, inhibitions, and low self-confidence thrive when we don’t have clarity. It not only affects the confidence you need to be successful negatively, but also results in over dependence, social anxiety, and creates a self perception of inadequacy. Looking into your insecurity and its causes and what has shaped your feelings of insecurity can help you to deal with them constructively.

How it affects your productivity

We tend to express our deepest self-feelings in an inner voice that is at times heavily influenced with self-critical messages. For many, these pose a major hindrance to their productivity. Some self-critical thoughts can turn into workplace insecurities that can make you think as you are not quite as smart, informed or competent as you ought to be and create a constant concern about being judged. This might leave you dissatisfied, less creative and efficient. Our irrational interpretations about ourselves or our ability to get something done, makes us feel insecure about being judged, rejected or criticised.

Sometimes to compensate for all our inadequacies, we tend to indulge in defensive, selfish, excessively competitive or overly critical behaviours when around others. We might react to our critical inner voice by holding back from personal or professional relationships or project them onto the people around us. Insecurity not only limits your ability to form healthy relationships, but also makes it difficult to share your emotions. This perceived lack of ability creates unhelpful and limited perspectives in work and life. Chronic insecure thought patterns hold you back from living your life in an optimal way or from tapping your full potential.

Why are we insecure?

As human beings we must feel safe for who we are in order to feel secure. But our critical inner voice consciously adopts to and integrates the negative past experiences which we witnessed or experienced towards ourselves and others. And we keep these attitudes alive by believing in our insecurities as we go along in life. These insecurities can stem from childhood experiences, past failures,or genetic predisposition of worrying or fearing. Rejection and failure sometimes leads to seeing others and yourself more negatively at least for some time.

Also the other main reason of many people’s insecurity is because of social anxiety. Fear of being evaluated by others and found to be lacking can make you feel anxious and self-conscious. Past experiences can feed your sense of not belonging, not feeling important or just not being good enough. Growing up with critical people around can also make you sensitive to how others perceive you and create distorted beliefs about your self-worth. Some of us have high standards for everything we do. Such perfectionist attitude sometimes results in disappointment and self-blame for being anything less than perfect thereby making you feel insecure and unworthy. Other common causes include fear of disappointment or being discounted, broken trusts, conflict aversion, or dependency.

How to deal with fear of insecurity?

By understanding where your insecurity stems from and how this view point affects you, you can start to unpack your insecurities and work towards overcoming them. Here are some strategies that will help you to progressively deal with your insecurities.

Identify your insecurities

Evaluate and identify the origins and roots of your insecurities. How do you currently reinforce your negative self-image? Find ways to overcome a fear and be self-aware of how you have come to develop these insecurities. Often the root cause of our insecurities comes from irrational beliefs and unhelpful thoughts or behaviours we had held onto for many years. They may be the result of your interpretation of your past experiences. How effectively you can overcome them will depend on your ability and willingness to grow out of such limiting beliefs, habits and attitudes you had subscribed to. It’s perfectly natural to be afraid of failure or of not being perfect. Everybody has these fears from time to time. It’s unnatural, however, to be plagued with worry that holds you back from achieving your goals.

Identify the unhelpful beliefs, worries and fears that are behind your insecure thought patterns. Write down all of the things that you are insecure about. Ask yourself how many of them are rational, and how many are just a product of negative thinking. Take the time to really think of what’s at the root of your insecurities and what uncertainty exists that makes you feel insecure. whether it’s making a fool of yourself, disappointing someone dear to you, or not having the life you want. Once you have a better sense of where your insecurity comes from, and what your fears are, you can see how many of your fears you can tackle, and can come up with positive solutions.

Overcome failure or rejection based insecurity

Past failure or rejection creates distorted beliefs about your self-worth and can lead to wrong perceptions of how others are evaluating you by making your inner-critic much louder. Instead of focusing on all the times you failed at something, take a long hard look at all the times that you’ve done really well. Think of the success you’ve had in the past. Take into account the strengths that served you and the process you underwent to move through the uncertain moments that otherwise have held you back. Give yourself time to adopt to the new norm and engage more with your values, interests and curiosity.

Insecure thought patterns from past failures can make you conscious and resentful to social events or situations making you socially anxious. It become a driver for chronic efforts to prove yourself or to fit in as it’s linked with your work, ambition or perfectionism. Instead of avoiding social situations, try and engage with others to know more about them like their work, hobbies or skills. Try to evaluate yourself based on how much effort you put in, rather than on the outcome, which is dependent on external factors. Do not resort to all-or nothing thinking, instead look at a more compassionate and understanding way to view a situation. Take your circumstances into account when you evaluate yourself. There is always something to learn from even if the result wasn’t perfect.

Make realistic assessment of your circumstances

Most of our insecurities stem from wanting things in a certain way and we convince that some things are going to be the way we want them be. This makes you incapable of taking proactive action in worst-case scenarios. If you do new things and a few people don’t like it, then it’s unlikely that it is the end of the world. Similarly, if you are a perfectionist, often you have conditional self-esteem that makes you dislike yourself when things don’t go your way. Don’t let these worries stop you from trying something different. Once you realize that the worst isn’t really that bad, you’ll be more likely to be dynamic and to take risks.

Therefore a realistic assessment of your circumstances can help you prepare for a little uncertainty. What is the worst-case that could possibly happen if you take action despite your insecurities? What is the possible outcomes once you move beyond your insecurities? Falling back on your personal attributes and values can make you confident of working through uncertain circumstances if any in optimal ways. Having a realistic assessment of your circumstances can help you deal with your insecurities progressively.

Vocalise your inner-critical voice.

Our subjective experiences and interpretations makes our inner-critic get louder on convincing us in our limited beliefs thereby creating insecurities. In spite of these being just opinions and perspectives on the surface, we forget to look at them more objectively and let our inner-critic takeover. It is especially hard to notice negative self-talk if you have been doing it for a long time. If you’re always telling yourself that you’re a failure, or that you can’t do anything right, then you’re bound to feel victim to your insecurities forever. Instead, work on telling yourself positive things about yourself so you’re more likely to attack new tasks with a positive mindset and a desire to do well.

Voice your thoughts based on insecurity and answer back to your voice attacks expressing your real point of view. You can write down rational and realistic statements to expose the irrational nature of these beliefs. Does you inner-critical voice remind you of anyone or anything from your past? This process can help you uncover the relationship between these voice attacks and early life experiences that helped shape them. This will allow you to reject these insecurities as accurate reflections of who you are.

Shift to an objective perspective

Another effective way to deal with your insecurities is to bring back your objective awareness to the present moment. Paying attention to your present moment can get you out of your excessive unhelpful and limited beliefs and can ease you out of the internal noise so created. Bringing all your attention to your senses can calm your mind and grounds you in the present moment. In this way, little to no room is left in your attention for all that unwanted and unhelpful thoughts that are causing your insecurities. Being mindful of the present moment brings you back from mind wandering when you get lost in your old habits, beliefs, and negative reaction patterns. Through mindfulness, you build your capacity to change the contents of your thoughts to ‘present’ rather than about insecurities from a remembered past or anticipated future.

To conclude,

Do you find yourself feeling filled with insecurities and self-doubt despite your accomplishments?

What do you feel more insecure about?

What worries or fears are behind your insecurities?

Are there any unhelpful beliefs behind your insecurities?

How do they affect your work and personal goals?

What events triggers the insecurity?

In what areas is this insecurity most influential?

Are they based on your negative interpretations?

What is the evidence for and against for your insecurities?

How could things be different to the way you are perceiving?

How else can you interpret the areas you are insecure about?

Are you filtering out the positive and dwelling in more negative?

Are you being shaped by your inability to measure up to unreasonable expectations from outside yourself? 

Answering the above questions can give you a right perspective of changing the insecure thought patterns. When you begin to think objectively, you can question the validity of your experiences and become more positive and realistic in your own abilities.

It is absolutely normal to experience insecurities from time time because as human beings, we have an inherent negativity bias, where our mind is skewed more towards the negative rather than positive. So, despite all the efforts, certain insecurities can continue to rise to the surface. They aren’t likely to vanish overnight. But instead of allowing them to make you anxious and hold you back from achieving your full potential- by practicing the above mentioned strategies, you can be perseverant in your efforts to take the required action-steps to stand up and deal with them constructively. With practice, you can achieve this worthy transition from being controlled to overcoming your fears.

“Don’t let fear or insecurity stop you from trying new things. Believe in yourself. Do what you love. And most importantly, be kind to others, even if you don’t like them.”– Stacy London