Manage Better by Developing Self-Leaders 1


Why Focusing on Self-Leadership Will Make Everything Else Easier or Unnecessary


Finding Self Leaders

Recently we asked the president of a manufacturing company if we could interview a worker who ran one of the machines “out on the floor.” We were looking for someone enthused and engaged in their work. “Brittany,” was his immediate response. “She’s here before she needs to be, works hard, and has that kind of lightheartedness which rubs off on others. But most of all, she understands her job, and, really, the entire area she works in. She always has ideas and suggestions.”

Brittany embodies self-leadership. We define a self-leader as someone who knows what they should do and does it. The matrix below shows how the two parts of this definition work together.

Manage Better by Developing Self-Leaders 2

As you run your mind over your team, you likely know people who fit into each of the four categories above. Your self-leaders are like gold. They need training and support from management, but they do not need constant supervision and they answer a lot of their own questions. How can top-leaders find more self leaders? The good news is that those in the Knows but Doesn’t Do and the Doesn’t Know but Does categories can be developed into self-leaders. The bad news is that the most common answer to dealing with underperformers in those two categories is bureaucracy.


Self-Leadership Dies in Bureaucracy

The surest way to drive your self-leaders to other companies is by putting excessive bureaucracy in place. Rules and policies have their place, everyone needs to know the basics of “this is how we work around here.” But never assume this motivates people toward being self leaders. If a manager threatens employees with the negative consequences of not following the bureaucratic rules, even if the consequence is simply the manager’s anger and displeasure, all four groups will respond in unproductive ways.

  • Doesn’t Know and Doesn’t Do will become more vocal and complain to anyone listening about evils of management.
  • Knows but Doesn’t Do will be even more anxious about making mistakes, hesitating to execute anything with efficiency.
  • Doesn’t Know but Does will assume that if managers are willing to bark out every little thing workers shouldn’t do, then they are likely willing to detail out every little thing they should do.
  • And true Self Leaders will jump through all the hoops while they also look for another job with fewer rules and less whining about the rules.

Four Practices to Develop Self-Leaders

What can management do differently? Here are four suggestions to help keep and develop self leaders:

  1. Don’t tolerate problems. The alternative to bureaucracy is not hands-off management. Issues that go unaddressed will be repeated. And repeat offenses are the basis of bureaucratic solutions. Instead, front-line managers should expect self-leadership. So assume people want to know their job and want to get it done. Managers who are quick to be open and honest about problems often uncover hidden root issues.
  2. Define responsibilities. This suggestion is specifically tailored for the worker who Doesn’t Know but Does. Every employee should know what it means to “win” at their job. Managers should work with new employees to develop their own Individual Plan that defines their ongoing responsibilities and their projects for the next quarter. Then, every quarter, review that plan and update it for the next.
  3. Give specific, consistent feedback. This suggestion is geared toward the employee who Knows but Doesn’t Do. They avoid situations where they could possibly receive negative criticism. Managers need a systematic approach to push both positive and negative feedback. And as workers experience constant, open feedback, they hesitate less and do their work the best they can knowing feedback is simply part of working together.
  4. Follow-up on what employees say. Self-leaders view themselves as an important part of the organization they work for. For example, if they have a suggestion, they expect some kind of response. And if they say they deliver a task by a certain date, they expect someone to ask about it. So one of the best ways to take a worker seriously is to pay close attention to anything they say and simply follow up. “You said you would have task x finished by today; is it ready?” “You mentioned changing protocol y, I brought it up in the management meeting and it is being reviewed.”

Six Disciplines Can Help

Six Disciplines can help you develop self-leadership in your organization. Click here to learn more about Six Disciplines’ Workgroup Alignment Kit.  Click here to learn more about the Six Disciplines Methodology.



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