The concept of ‘self-leadership’ sounds, at first glance, to be self-defeating. Individuals want to be led to greater heights in their career and in the areas of job satisfaction, performance and motivation - but they need to do that by themselves in a vacuum where no one else can openly critique them. Our concept of ‘leadership’ in the traditional sense needs to be redefined in order to fully understand the notion of self-leadership, or as Manz and Neck see it, ‘self-influence’: Self‐leadership is a self‐influence process through which people achieve the self‐direction and self‐motivation necessary to perform (Manz, 1986; Manz and Neck, 2004). In a professional sense, this equates to a behavioural pattern change within ourselves that results in strategies designed to improve our sense of fulfilment, our ability to work smart and achieve more, and our ability to think constructively about things which will lead to the achievement of goal that we have set for ourselves.
This is a fairly new concept, first coined in the 1980’s (e.g. Manz, 1983, 1986) and over the past two decades has enjoyed considerable popularity, as evidenced by the large number of practitioner‐oriented self‐leadership books and articles on the subject (e.g. Blanchard, 1995; Cashman, 1995; Manz, 1991; Manz and Sims, 2001; Sims and Manz, 1996; Waitley, 1995). Not surprisingly, many executives have sought training programs design to improve their own self-leadership skills in order to gain promotion (Stewart et al., 1996). The three most common groups used to categorise the strategies espoused by ‘self-leadership’ writers include (1) behaviour-focused strategies, (2) natural reward strategies, and (3) constructive thought-pattern strategies (Manz and Neck, 2004; Manz and Sims, 2001; Prussia et al., 1998).
Behaviour-focused strategies, as the name suggests, relate entirely to looking inward for answers. Self-observation, self-goal setting, self-reward, self-punishment and self-cueing are all traits listed by prominent authors on the subject who list the ways that a person can eliminate ineffective and unproductive behaviours (Mahoney and Arnkoff, 1978, 1979; Manz and Sims, 1980; Manz and Neck, 2004). Neck and Houghton (2004) summarise many of the behaviour-focused strategies into two words: goal-setting. In their words, “A large body of research suggests that the process of setting challenging and specific goals can significantly increase individual performance levels (Locke and Latham, 1990). Self‐set rewards, coupled with self‐set goals, can aid significantly in energizing the effort necessary to accomplish the goals.” It seems fairly straightforward upon reflection, but the realities of goal-setting within a project environment can be more divisive than unifying in many cases (Neck and Houghton 2004)
Natural reward strategies allude to things outside of our own minds that can be used to motivate our performance, such as mentally congratulating ourselves after an important accomplishment or a more substantial reward such as special vacation at the completion of a difficult project. At the other end of the spectrum, self‐punishment or self‐correcting feedback should consist of a positively framed and introspective examination of failures and undesirable behaviours leading to the reshaping of such behaviours. The excessive use of self‐punishment involving self‐criticism and guilt can be detrimental to performance and should be avoided (Manz and Sims, 2001). Rewards are always a part of business, and all projects have a finite life and therefore the end of a project usually signifies some sort of reward : the promise of a new contract, a financial payout, and ground-breaking ceremony, etc. The concept of ‘natural rewards’ refers to inherent, perpetual rewards that may stimulate work attitudes and lead to increased output. (Manz and Neck, (2004) refer to these ‘concrete environmental cues’ as ‘an effective means of encouraging…