Self-Leadership and Success
Think of your life as a diversified organization. You are in the business of living. Your business consists of a career and managing the associated workloads, opportunities, and challenges. Your business also consists of managing a home and its maintenance. The people living within your home? Yes, your business includes managing their needs, from the school and recreational needs of children to the social and emotional needs of spouses.
When you think about it, you are the CEO of a rather diversified enterprise. Any such business requires capable leadership. Interestingly, however, we rarely think about self-leadership. We focus so intently on the tasks of each of our enterprises that we rarely stand back and survey how we're managing them--and ourselves. When it comes to our lives, we can be great workers and not such greater managers
Positive and Negative Leadership
Organizational psychology is filled with studies about effective leadership. Personality psychology has a growing literature on the positive dimensions of personal functioning. A look at the intersection of these two fields is instructive.
Positive Leadership summarizes a wealth of evidence suggesting that effective leaders attend to the mood of their employees; build their strengths; cultivate strong working relationships; and instil a sense of purpose and hope.
On a contrary, we also want to understand why an organization's best employees quit. Noting that employees quit their bosses, not their jobs, this points out that ineffective leaders’ overload employees with responsibilities, micro-manage, lose touch with employees, fail to care, communicate poorly, and fail to inspire.
The bottom line is that employees are more engaged in their work and more productive when their managers are more positively engaged with them. Incredibly, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores, according to Gallup Research.
So what does this mean for self-management? An important implication is that our engagement with our own lives--our most basic life satisfaction--may be a direct function of how we manage the business of life.
Self-Management Begins with Self-Talk
Think of the stream of conscious thought as a conversation: It is our way of talking to ourselves. Self-talk shapes our relationship to ourselves; it is also our way of managing ourselves.
This perspective leads to an interesting question: Would you want your boss to talk to you the way you speak to yourself?
All too often, our self-talk is filled with frustration ("How can I possibly get this done?"); disgust ("I can't wait to get through this!"); pessimism ("Nothing works out!"); and apathy ("Whatever!"). Think of the self-talk of the perfectionist: Nothing is ever good enough and any falling short of (lofty) goals is failure. Some of the most damaging self-talk I've heard is from perfectionists: "I'm such an idiot!" and "I can't do anything right!".
Of course, none of us would want to hear such things from a supervisor. Exposed to that verbal abuse and negativity daily, we would quickly disengage from the workplace and start to look for new employment. But what if we are our own bosses and that is how we talk to ourselves? The result is not so different: we disengage.
Would we really need so many motivational speakers if we didn't spend so much time demotivating ourselves? Research suggests that the most important ingredient in effective psychotherapy is the quality of the helping relationship. Maybe, just maybe, what we find in a good therapist is someone who will talk to us more constructively than we speak to ourselves. Internalizing a more positive, constructive voice enables us to more positively and constructively manage ourselves.
Self-Management and The Body
Let’s takes a look at how our bodies react when we observe others involved in positive activity. During such periods of "moral elevation", we activate both our fight-or-flight responses and our self-soothing responses. This occurs, according to the researchers interviewed, when we need to attend closely to prosocial activities, such as in parenting. We think of moral elevation as a sentiment, but it is quite grounded in our patterns of physiological response.
In our self-management, we create situations that are either prosocial or antisocial, and that result in moral elevation or deflation. We feel those outcomes in our bodies. When we talk to ourselves in ways that leave us disengaged, the loss of energy and optimism is palpable. Conversely, when we challenge ourselves constructively and immerse ourselves in meaningful activity, we become spiritually and emotionally charged.
Consider how moral elevation and deflation may manifest themselves in our daily experience: