Why Self-leadership is a Vital Skill for Entrepreneurs

Michelle Hunter by Michelle Hunter

If you want to become a leader in your market, you must first successfully lead yourself.

Woman working at a computer on the sofa

We are a driven group, aren’t we? Dreamers, innovators, and high-achievers… as business owners, we generate ideas and go after them energetically. Risk-taking comes pretty naturally, and so do the emotional highs and lows as the consequences of those risks hit home.

What is self-leadership?

Leadership is the ability to inspire, motivate, and guide others toward a common goal. Inherent in leadership is the ability to navigate through challenges and keep the team moving forward even when things get a bit rough (or terrifying or boring… or whatever).

Self-leadership is actually just like it sounds – the ability to lead yourself. Can you keep yourself motivated when things get terrifying? Can you inspire yourself with your mission even when you’re in the boring middle parts of a big project? Can you keep yourself moving forward during those times when forward motion isn’t comfortable or simple to maintain? These skills are what we call self-leadership.

I’m pretty confident you have some level of self-leadership. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be interested in reading articles about this entrepreneurial life. You wouldn’t spend time thinking about how you might improve your skills or increase your performance. However, I’m also pretty confident you struggle in this area.

We all get tired.

We all get discouraged.

We all struggle to maintain forward momentum.

It’s human nature, honestly.

Successful entrepreneurs are familiar with the struggle, and they are dedicated to conquering challenges so they can achieve their goals. This is self-leadership.

So, why should you work on your internal leadership skills?

Resilience grows out of self-leadership.

Sometimes conditions aren’t ideal. Clients can be challenging… or few and far between. The marketing emails you send out might fall flat. Your latest post on social media might be overlooked, ignored, or even ridiculed. The bills might exceed your revenue by a significant amount and that loan you were counting on to tide you over might get declined.

There are days as an entrepreneur when you consider quitting. Heck, there are sometimes whole months when working for someone else (instead of yourself) might feel like the safest thing you can possibly do for your mental (or physical) health. Sometimes things just stink.

That’s when you need to be resilient.

Other times, things are so good they almost feel too good to believe. You might find yourself overloaded with lucrative work you simply love. Your clients might fill your email with praise and share your name with lots of their friends and colleagues, creating a waiting list for your services.

A big project might require you to expand your skills, challenge your abilities, or add members to your team. That opportunity you’ve been dreaming about for years might suddenly present itself, giving you joy and panic in equal parts.

You need resilience in these moments too.

Resilience is the ability to stay the course, to keep moving forward, to believe in your own mission and ability enough to stay calm when things get crazy. To pick yourself up, keep yourself motivated, and draw on the best you have inside you.

Resilience is created by regularly evaluating your performance, cultivating self-awareness, and looking objectively at the situation at hand before you react. These practices I just mentioned? They are self-leadership, my friend.

Humility and self-leadership go hand in hand.

Leading myself requires a lot of objectivity. I have to correctly evaluate my strengths – knowing what I do well, what I do pretty well, and what I do really, really well. In other words, I need to understand my own abilities and be able to correctly place them inside the context of my competition and my peer group.

As if that weren’t enough, I also have to correctly evaluate my weaknesses. I need to become an expert on my own areas of struggle and incompetence so I can (a) improve and build skills or (b) delegate and compensate by adding to my team. I can’t lie to myself and pretend I’m better than I am if I truly want to succeed.

This level of objectivity comes out of self-leadership… and it’s pretty darn humbling.

My grandmother told me that humility is actually the ability to see yourself the way others see you- not better, and not worse. Each of us is good at a lot of things, and really good at only a few. We are also pretty average in a lot of ways… and hopelessly deficient in others. Humility means correctly evaluating all of that so we know where we stand.

Humility also means accepting criticism with grace and dignity. It means making amends when we hurt others and asking for grace when we fail. It means thanking those who help us win and congratulating those who outperform us.

Humility means not taking yourself too seriously. Humility and self-leadership go hand in hand because when you are dedicated to evaluating yourself honestly and objectively, you can’t help but respond with humility.

Self-leadership means better decisions.

It might seem obvious, but when you are intentional about practicing self-leadership, you make better decisions. Why? Because you are seeking objectivity and evaluating your own performance, the situation around you, and the achievements of others within that context. You are much less likely to respond emotionally or allow yourself to be persuaded by a pitch without the facts to back it up.

Of course, you will still make some flawed decisions. That’s a part of life… and we’re not perfect. However, careful evaluation (something you do as a part of self-leadership) will help you identify the factors you missed initially so you can learn from each mistake. You’ll use reflection to make course corrections mid-journey rather than blindly moving in some direction you’ll later find was ill-advised or just silly.

Leading yourself helps you better lead your team.

Think of someone you respect… someone who had a positive impact on your life through leadership of one kind or another. What sets this person apart? My guess is they didn’t just tell you what to do… they lived it in front of you.

That grandmother I mentioned earlier? She lived a life of discipline and self-leadership. She controlled her tongue (something I struggle with often) and modeled for me how to (a) keep her thoughts to herself and (b) apologize when she failed to close her mouth and instead spoke sharply or out of turn. She wasn’t perfect – but she demonstrated how to reflect on one’s performance, evaluate it objectively, and make a course correction. I’m a better person today because of her influence.

My intentional focus on leading myself allows me to better lead my team. My efforts to inspire and motivate myself make me better able to inspire and motivate team members. My habits of reflection, self-analysis, and continuous improvement model objectivity for them. Most importantly, I’m able to recognize their struggles and support them because I’m aware of similar struggles of my own.

Struggling with self-leadership? Practice the art of the pause.

Pause before you speak. Pause before you react. Pause before you commit.

Facing a challenging problem? Struggling with a situation you didn’t anticipate? Get quiet with yourself and reflect a moment before taking action. Excited about a new opportunity, innovative idea, or revolutionary tool? Stop for a few moments and evaluate objectively. Practice the art of the pause… and let reflection and analysis be a part of every step you take.

Wondering how you can become a better leader?

Wishing you were able to objectively evaluate your team, your business model, or yourself? Let’s talk.

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