Which factors influence the effectiveness of self-leadership?

Published on: Jun 7, 2021

In addition to startups and young companies, large, globally active corporations are also increasingly relying on flat hierarchies as well as organizational structures. In this context, the importance of smaller teams within organizations is increasing, as these are seen as a suitable means of remaining competitive and responsive in a dynamic environment. In order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of such teams, it is important that they can act autonomously to the greatest extent possible. Since in such constructs the leadership task does not lie with a single person but is shared by all participants, good self-leadership is required by all team members. This raises the question of what factors influence the effectiveness of self-leadership and why it is becoming increasingly relevant. This post will look at how internal and external influences affect self-leadership, what cultural differences should be taken into account, and why effective self-leadership can lead to increased performance.


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Self-leadership describes the targeted and performance-oriented adjustment of one’s own behavior, taking into account a variety of influencing factors. Although self-leadership is often considered in relation to individuals, the concept can also be applied at the team level. However, the forces that influence the management process differ depending on which level is considered. With the help of appropriate strategies, individuals can create a situation that improves their own self-direction. For example, tasks whose execution is intrinsically motivated can be actively sought and placed in the foreground of one’s actions. Regulation of one’s emotions and conscious control of one’s thoughts, can also lead to greater control of action at the individual level. The driving internal force that affects the effectiveness of self-leadership in teams is first of all the composition of the respective teams or groups, but also the nature of the tasks that the team is to solve. In addition to internal forces, external forces also impact the effectiveness of self-leadership. That appropriate training promotes the use of self-leadership strategies seems obvious. More surprising is the fact that self-leadership is also promoted by external leadership in particular. However, it is important that leaders create an environment by promoting individual responsibility and autonomous decision-making power. This applies to both individuals and teams. Just as surprising as the fact that external leadership can have a positive impact on self-leadership is the finding that external incentive or reward structures can also improve self-leadership. The key challenge faced by organizations seeking to increase the effectiveness of self-leadership among stakeholders is that self-leadership at the individual level and at the team level may interfere with each other. Thus, appropriate strategies and concepts are needed to implement a structure that works.¹

Another challenge that arises when considering self-leadership is cultural differences that must be taken into account. Leadership is perceived differently depending on culture and region, so there is no globally accepted understanding. The same problem applies to self-leadership. Depending on the cultural environment in which one operates, this results in different implications for self-leadership. Thus, it cannot be considered independently of culture. Findings that are valid for application in the USA, for example, may therefore not be applicable in Asian cultures. Cultural differences may be present, for example, in the way economic uncertainty is dealt with and thus affect individual risk-taking. But other factors, such as power distances between different hierarchical levels or time orientation, must also be taken into account.²

Although developing strategies to promote self-leadership among individuals or teams is fraught with strong challenges, it is nevertheless worthwhile to continue pursuing the approach. Organizations typically strive for higher performance output, and higher-performing employees can be a key success factor for long-term competitiveness. Increasing self-control and goal orientation through appropriate self-leadership strategies can have a positive impact on performance. Prussia, Anderson & Manz (1998) have shown that self-leadership strategies positively impact performance by increasing participants’ self-efficacy. Thus, individual self-efficacy beliefs act as a mediator between self-leadership and performance. Individuals can control their own behavior through the control and guidance function of self-leadership, thereby motivating themselves to realize desired actions and action outcomes. By means of appropriate strategies, individuals can observe their own behavior and evaluate it against desired standards so that they can subsequently adjust their behavior and exhibit the self-discipline required to meet the standards they have chosen for themselves.³

Organizations’ aspirations for higher performance output are already sufficient to justify investments in self-leadership of employees involved, as they could increase employee performance. However, it seems that it is not enough to invest only in the training activities of individuals. Rather, leaders must also be properly trained so that they are able to create an environment that supports the self-leadership strategies of those being led. The scope of leaders’ responsibilities is continuously changing due to the dynamic environment and this also affects how leaders interact with their subordinates. The focus seems to be more and more on flat hierarchies and employees need to be able to act responsibly and independently. Leaders should thus create a situation in which even individual participants can take responsibility and act innovatively and flexibly. Organizations should thus invest both in training employees and in building new core competencies among their own managers if they want to adapt their organizational structure to the new challenges.

It can be assumed, however, that the restructuring of organizations into small, responsive teams will only be effective if such teams also have the necessary framework conditions to be able to act successfully. Independent small groups have the advantage that they can often go through a process of change more quickly and thus have a higher adaptability. However, in order for these advantages to be exploited in practice, it seems necessary for such teams not to be subjected to the lengthy decision-making processes of large organizations, but to be able to act autonomously to the greatest possible extent. Individuals in teams that are self-managing and committed to high performance standards that they consider within the context of their own goals may be able to solve problems more creatively and effectively. Members of such groups can motivate and control each other to improve group performance. If appropriate incentive structures and reward systems are provided that take into account and reward the performance of the whole team, this may lead to the best use of existing competencies and/or skills. In such an environment, the success of the team is likely to take precedence over the selfish goals of the individual.

Appropriate self-leadership strategies can increase the performance output of individuals and entire organizations by maintaining high performance standards and fostering individual self-efficacy beliefs. However, self-leadership is subject to a variety of influencing factors as well as internal and external forces that affect effectiveness. In addition to individual self-leadership, the self-leadership of small teams within large, globally operating organizations is increasingly relevant. However, since cultural differences also lead to significant limitations in the scope of application, the development of suitable strategies poses new challenges, especially for global corporations. Only if both employees and managers of an organization are appropriately trained and developed can responsive and autonomous individuals and teams, realize their highest possible performance potential. Incentives and rewards should always be aimed at the success of the collective and not at rewarding the individual successes of the individual employees.

¹ Stewart, G. L., Courtright, S. H., & Manz, C. C. (2011). Self-leadership: A multilevel review. Journal of Management, 37(1), 185-222.

² Alves, J. C., Lovelace, K. J., Manz, C. C., Matsypura, D., Toyasaki, F., & Ke, K. G. (2006). A cross‐cultural perspective of self‐leadership. Journal of Managerial Psychology. 22(4), 338-359.

³ Prussia, G. E., Anderson, J. S., & Manz, C. C. (1998). Self‐leadership and performance outcomes: the mediating influence of self‐efficacy. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 19(5), 523-538.

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