Within the academic discipline of leadership, there has been a variety of academic frameworks developed in the study of its different traits, styles, and forms. So, it is natural when we think of leadership, we tend to envision someone leading a larger group in pursuit of objectives. However, the concept of leadership can be construed from the self as the basis for leading others. In fact, the ancient Greeks thought of “know thyself” (self management or self leadership) as the very foundation of a successful life.
Therefore, leadership begins from within – self leadership. After all, have you ever met an effective leader of others who is unable to decide for themselves where they want to go and what they are doing? If you take a closer look at successful leaders, you are likely to find highly accomplished individuals who are foremost self-driven and have mastered the art of self management.
That is, they have the skills and motivation to do things their own way, and they tend to accomplish lots while they are on their own. This regardless of the circumstances and irrespective of whatever cards fate might have dealt them to create challenges.
Ron Williams points to a person’s inner drive to succeed through self-discovery that spurs individuals towards successful leadership.
Being a self-starter has always been an important skill, but with the recent global pandemic ever more so. The sudden shutdowns and lockdowns mean that you should be prepared to have ‘down-time’ with unexpected and sudden disruptions to your plans.
A short personal chronicle
Early 2019 was a turbulent time at JKIA and Kenya Airways with worker disruptions. As a traveller, I needed to leave Nairobi to get to Dubai for a 4-day weekend seminar. As it was to be a short trip I packed lightly as I thought it would be quick and I could get away with carrying on only leaving Kenya.
However, as a self management habit, I always have an emergency time management set of tools that I keep in a small bag. This includes a very small PC, several MP3 players, extra batteries, and notebooks. I’ve learned that the objectives and goals that I have can still be reworked, revised, and reordered when circumstances make original plans unreasonable or impossible.
When I left for the airport in the early morning, I was planning on meeting a friend for lunch in Dubai. However, it would be 36 hours before I got there – too late even for the following day’s dinner!
That meant a lot of time sitting in different parts of the airport, waiting for buses, and finally getting the flight. While some people might have found the experience a huge waste of time, I was determined to get finished a few things that had been on my goals list.
The way that I did that was that I was able to plug into my MP3 player and get busy with my computer and notes. This I was able to do as hours and hours…and hours of waiting went by. As batteries were depleted, I would switch things around and I kept working.
Even the notebook that I keep, as well as papers that I am reading, all were used extensively. By the time I got to the hotel at 3am, I was plugging in everything and ready for a shower with quite a few things checked off my list.
The next morning (still in Nairobi!) I continued working on things and by the time the actual flight left, I had accomplished more than I thought possible-all through tuning off the environment around me and focusing.
That meant that by the time I was finally getting a late-night catch-up drink with my friend in Dubai (a day and a half late) I was quite euphoric because I was able to come up with some new things and finish others that I had been working on.
What is self management?
Self management is our ability to manage our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in a conscious and productive way. Self-management means you understand your personal responsibility in different aspects of your life, and you do what you need to fulfill that responsibility. Below are tenets that can help you improve your self management skills:
Time is the one commodity that we all have in common with each other, but it is limited, and once spent gone forever. There are 1440 minute in a day, so ask yourself, “how are you spending your time?”
When you have different goals that you need to meet, then your time management tends to become better organized so that your time is used carefully. You should constantly be working on yourself to maximize your schedule. This is an important concept as wasted and idle time can be avoided with proper time management.
Create your own schedule deadlines through writing down the deadlines that you can reach. This can propel you to utilize resources while you are otherwise idle. Plan your work, then work your plan. A century ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote “A goal without a plan is just a wish”.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-constrained) goals help to focus energy and resources. Write yours down and then use the urgency to ensure that there is constant progress.
Keeping in motion your projects and goals are critical (as science tells us that a body in motion tends to stay in motion). By having these you will find that you tend to constantly move towards what you want to achieve.
This long-term goal setting is a very valuable exercise as we are self-motivated to accomplish more, but as others start to buy-into your goals, you will attract others to help you achieve them thereby becoming a leader of others. But that begins with self management; from your time through to creating objectives for yourself while maintaining the right attitude.
By writing down our goals and objectives we are subconsciously planning, and the results tend to dramatically better than if we don’t. This applies to all areas and stages of life, from students through entrepreneurs and CEOs.
The work that is achieved is far greater, and more than most people can imagine. Building a set of objectives or goals should be the base for all self management and self-leadership as self-starters know where they are going and figuring out how to get there are obstacles that then can be confidently met and naturally overcome.
Think of a ship that leaves the port of Mombasa for Tokyo. For almost its entire journey it cannot see the destination, but with the precise objective it always gets there.
Always be prepared
Always try to keep yourself busy moving towards your goals – particularly when external forces that are out of your control cause dramatic changes to your initial plans. While we cannot always control situations, we can control how we react, and that attitude can dramatically change things around.
When we decide how we react, and when we can have control over what we can do it can empower and lead to your self-leadership shaping things the way you want and need. Psychologists refer to oneself taking control as agency, when we make do and take change of what we can control, while the external environment has completely taken over in different ways.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, and while there, he was proactive and took agency over that from which he could. Always be prepared to make do with what you can to finish something.
The notorious traffic issues in and around the capital are a good case in point. Keep tapes, CD.s or other digital recordings that you can access while waiting. That makes the waiting time productive time that allows you to move towards your goals.
Remember what George Bernard Shaw stated, “Don’t wait for the right opportunity: create it.”
Keep that in mind the next time you are stuck in traffic, while driving make sure you can make calls or listen to seminars or other educational materials or dictate notes to yourself-if on a bus or matatu.
There are options for emails on your phone, writing and doing books on a computer, or just using a notebook and pencil. Never let outside circumstances derail your momentum and keep true to yourself.
Passmore Matupire wrote in “Integral Ubuntu Leadership” that a real tragedy is that some leaders neglect self-control, which leads to failure.
Authentic Leadership and Success
Self-management occurs every day, and it just takes a bit more effort, and self-awareness to have the successes that one is striving for. People tend to notice and follow as they see successful and authentic leaders who can have focus and determination within themselves-something that is easy for others to buy into.