Self-leadership and the Future of Work

After decades of investment in emotional intelligence, communications and conflict training, unconscious bias training, performance incentives and people perks in the name of leadership development and culture building we haven’t had the breakthroughs we’d hoped for.

The retention, engagement and burnout data shows that something is eroding the happiness, health and high potential of your people and along with it your investments. But what, exactly? And what to do about it?

Deeper still, ideological division and conflict is more pervasive now. The many public uprisings over the last four years reflect our struggle with and in some cases complete inability to integrate, live and work effectively with those whose perspectives we don’t understand, share or care about.

So where and how to invest in the development of your people, leadership and culture? How can you generate the greatest impact and see the greatest return on your investment?

Many of the methods we’ve tried and the investments we’ve made, worthy as they were, have been like applying deluxe paint over those outdated, bright blue walls without using any primer. Or spending 80% of our home reno budget on fancy fixtures and furniture when our foundation is cracked and leaking.

Generating Greater Impact and Returns

In this article I share some of my assumptions and opinions about what it takes to create the greatest impact and return on investment in people and leadership development.

Assumption #1: Our leadership notions and approaches of the past have been insufficient for adapting to and thriving in the diversity, complexity and uncertainty of the world today. Without a hard pivot and change in how we develop leaders and leadership, they’ll be even less effective tomorrow.

Assumption #2: In the future of work, leadership is an essential skill for everyone. (Actually it always was). You may not be leading others, but knowing how to lead yourself in every aspect of your life, education and work is the foundation for everything else.

Assumption #3: Survival of the fittest will be replaced with “thrival of the fittest” — where “thrival” equals work that generates vitality and fittest defines those who have the ability and capacity to adapt, grow and lead with agility, vulnerability, vitality, empathy, and clarity (i.e. continually updating your map to match the territory).

Assumption #4: We are born with the capacity and ability for self-leadership. Although we’re not given much guidance on how to harness that ability throughout our formative years and education, it’s never too late.

Assumption #5: Self-leadership is the primer before the paint. Or the foundation before the fixtures and furniture. When we apply leadership strategies and tactics without first knowing ourselves as leaders, and how our way of being impacts everything we do, our efforts can be ineffective and even harmful.

Conversely, what we do as self-leaders has a knock on impact on others and the planet. When we step up as the author, director and lead actor of our own lives and co-creators with others, small shifts that we make in our way of being and relating have significant impact on the health, well-being and thrivability of our companies, our families, our communities and our planet.

In a future article and podcast series, I’ll share more on the three pillars of self-leadership. But for now I’ll offer this brief introduction:

Self-leadership Pillar #1 — Power: Operating with a sense of agency. Integrating our drive as individuals to self-realize with full responsibility for creating and leading, despite setbacks and circumstances.

Self-leadership Pillar #2 — Purpose: Having an appreciation for and connection to something greater than ourselves. Operating with a sense of gratitude for what is, empathy for what others experience, and full accountability for what we create and the impact we have.

Self-leadership Pillar #3 — Presence: The ability and capacity to suspend our fixed and often limiting scripts and show up fully present and practiced, ready to co-create with a range of diverse people, perspectives and possibilities.

These three pillars when developed together help us become adaptable and integrative leaders who create teams and cultures where people thrive. And they can exponentially increase your return on investment in leadership development.

What impact would it have on your culture, your business, your customer relationships and your bottom line, if everyone in your organization was operating from a foundation of self-leadership and thriving at work?

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elan Bailey is a transformational leadership coach and organization development consultant. And the founder of UpLevel Leadership Academy an experiential leadership development community offering coach-designed and led programs, resources and support to help individuals and organizations adapt, integrate and thrive at work.

Founder of UpLevel Leadership Academy helping individuals and organizations develop the competency, capacity and community to adapt, grow and thrive.

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