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How to build the superpower of self-leadership

"When life is demanding and unpredictable, those who lead themselves from the inside out excel," Michelle Bihary says.

michelle-bihary, self-leadership

Self-leadership is increasingly recognised as a superpower. Those employees who thrived through the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic often displayed exceptional self-leadership, says Michelle Bihary, a people leadership and workplace resilience expert.

“When life is demanding and unpredictable, those who lead themselves from the inside out excel. They have greater focus, direction and stability. Their capacity to navigate change ensures they are more responsive and less reactive to a constantly changing environment,” she says.

Bihary, the author of Leading Above the Line: Applying Neuroscience to Build Psychologically Safe and Thriving Teams, details 12 steps for building that superpower: self-leadership.

    1. Lead yourself well
      Modelling self-leadership skills is the most powerful way to build it in others. We model self-awareness and self-leadership through being reflective, taking responsibility for ourselves and through being open to learning and feedback. Self-leaders live out their values and optimise their strengths and skills.
    2. Strengthen your self-management skills
      Be consistent and reliable so your employees can relax their nervous systems and get on with their roles, rather than waste mental and emotional energy worrying about their next interaction with you.
    3. Trust your employees
      You hired them to do a job, and you need to give your employees as much autonomy as possible to do it effectively. If we show employees we trust them to get on with their roles, they are far more likely to take that initiative. There may be many reasons you don’t trust someone, but it’s worth reflecting on whether you are good at trusting yourself. Lack of self-trust is a common barrier to trusting others.
    4. Harness your ego
      Address your own ego issues so you don’t take your stuff out on others. It is not your employees’ role to navigate your ego as their number one focus before they can get on with their role. Strong self-leaders harness their ego, so they are not be driven by it.
    5. Create a healthy ecosystem, not a toxic ego-system
      A thriving, high-performing team culture where employees feel valued and safe ensures they can think, perform, relate and learn at their best. A positive environment is critical for humans to perform at their peak.
    6. Build psychological safety
      When employees feel psychologically safe, they don’t hesitate to ask questions, learn from mistakes and share new perspectives. Strong self-leaders are willing to take the interpersonal risks of learning; they are not afraid to ask for guidance from others.
    7. Appreciate your employees
      Expressing genuine appreciation for employees’ efforts is game-changing. We all have a core human need for appreciation, and when we experience this, we are more likely to be highly engaged in our work.
    8. Acknowledge their strengths and skills
      When employees are aware of their strengths and skills, evidence shows they’re empowered to use these more strategically. Of course, having this recognition from you, as their leader, turbocharges this process.
    9. Encourage a growth mindset
      When we see weaknesses or failures as opportunities for growth and learning, we expend less mental energy worrying about what happened and more attention on learning and moving forward. Leaders who encourage their employees to learn from mistakes, rather than criticising, encourage strong self-leadership.
    10. Encourage employees to identify their own strengths and skills
      Employees can fall prey to imposter syndrome when are unaware of their own strengths and skills. Asking our employees to reflect on their work and identify their strengths and skills helps them be more aware, strategic and empowered.
    11. Tailor feedback
      Ask your employees to give you insight into how they like receiving feedback so you can tailor feedback for them. When you do this, you feel more confident in navigating these conversations, and your employees are likely to be less defensive and reactive.
    12. Address below-the-line behaviour
      When employees feel psychologically unsafe because toxic interpersonal behaviours are allowed, they are unable to get on with their roles. Toxic interpersonal interactions reinforce reptile brain functioning, undermining all workplace aspirations, performances and values.

“The benefits of a self-leading workforce are immense to performance, teamwork, engagement and wellbeing,” Bihary says.

“Savvy leaders understand that a workforce of self-leaders is optimal for organisational success. They also understand that it starts with them, how they model leading themselves.”

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