Understanding Self-Leadership Helps Build Winning Strategies for Fulfilling Jobs and Lives

zoran pavlovic

Zoran M. Pavlovic, MD, Life Science Executive Coach, Heruka Health Innovations

Modern concepts of self-leadership were initially proposed in 1986 by Charles Manz, the Nirenberg Chaired Professor of Business Leadership at the University of Massachusetts. According to his viewpoint, the self-leadership process begins when a person compares the present condition of a perceived circumstance to a self-set standard. Assessment is then made regarding the normal and current state gap, and behavior is applied to reduce the gap. After examining the behavior’s impact, the new state of the situation is perceived, and the cycle begins again.

As explained by Zoran M. Pavlovic, MD, a life science executive coach with Heruka Health Innovations and contributor to ACRP’s Clinical Researcher journal, when it comes to self-leadership, “the process of control is ultimately self-imposed rather than externally mandated.” He adds, “When employees join companies with hierarchies and formal leaders, they are inevitably susceptible to job requirements, restrictions, and managerial and leader influence. Nonetheless, individuals can choose how to respond to and incorporate these influences, boundaries, and demands into their thinking and conduct.”

Dr. Pavlovic explains that self-leadership consists of specific behavioral and cognitive strategies to positively influence personal effectiveness. These are often divided into three categories—behavior-focused methods, natural reward strategies, and constructive thinking pattern strategies—as described below:

  • Behavior-focused techniques aim to raise an individual’s self-awareness to enhance behavioral management, particularly behavioral management of important but unpleasant tasks.
  • Natural reward techniques aim to create conditions in which a person is driven or rewarded by intrinsically delightful qualities of a task or activity.
  • Constructive thought pattern methods are intended to aid in establishing habitual ways of thinking that can improve performance. Identifying and replacing problematic ideas and assumptions, mental imagery, and positive self-talk are all examples of constructive thought pattern tactics.

Dr. Pavlovic notes that self-leadership is grounded both in the late Charles S. Carver’s (University of Miami) self-control (self-regulation) and self-management theory, but also includes the elements of positive psychology, such as attention to the “conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions” described by Shelly L. Gable (UCLA)  and Jonathan Haidt (University of Virginia) in Review of General Psychology in 2005.

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“The attractiveness of self-leadership stems from its emphasis on the person taking ownership of their subjective experience related to their jobs,” adds Dr. Pavlovic, who will go into greater detail on these concepts in an ACRP Webinar on September 28. “While an individual may feel less in control of how their company or supervisor treats them, they may still enhance their job happiness and performance by taking ownership of the process by which they make the decisions that are within their power.”

Thus, Dr. Pavlovic explains, independent of the organization’s or management’s quality, “a person’s subjective experience of their work may be self-enhanced.”

Further, self-leadership emphasizes cognition, intrinsic rewards, and other internal factors beyond a primary focus on behavior typically present in self-influence processes. In essence, Dr. Pavlovic says, the more progress one makes along the self-influence continuum toward self-leadership, the more they influence how and why to do it, thus making them less dependent on extrinsic incentives.

Dr. Pavlovic also points out that numerous studies have shown benefits of self-leadership in the following domains of personal and working lives:

  • Working performance and productivity
  • Decision-making
  • Proactivity
  • Creativity
  • Self-management during organizational change
  • Entrepreneurial skills development
  • Diversity management
  • Job satisfaction
  • Goal setting/goal performance
  • Team performance and sustainability
  • Ethics
  • Self-efficacy
  • Job satisfaction
  • Workplace engagement and commitment
  • Reduced turnover and absenteeism
  • Stress/anxiety management
  • Career success
  • Emotion regulation
  • Conflict management

Contributed by Zoran M. Pavlovic, MD, and edited by Gary Cramer