How to become an effective self-leader

“First you will have to understand yourself, because the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself. Second, to be an effective leader, you must take responsibility for your own development.” – Bill George, True North.


Leadership training and development covers a gamut of topics. And there is a difference between developing individual leaders, and training someone to lead a team.

What makes an effective self-leader?

We spoke with our Learning to Lead course facilitator, and Business Psychology specialist, Peter Ferreira, about self-leadership and the key elements to developing a leader.

“Self-leadership does not come from title, social stature, or the size of one’s pay cheque, but rather from how you live and the image you make around you,” he says.

“It’s about developing a sense of who you are, coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions, and behaviour.”

Peter draws on the work of Harvard Business School professor, former Medtronic CEO, and author Bill George, who popularised the concept of ‘authentic leadership’ in his book Authentic Leadership.

“Self-leaders are authentic. They are genuine in their actions, decisions, and behaviours.”

“Truly authentic leaders lead with their heart and mind, along with fearless passion and courage, and they possess relentless mental discipline.

“It is this characteristic that allows us to be ‘human’, not just a role stereotype or job title, which is the building block for building trust and respect with others,” he says.


How do you become a successful self-leader?

Peter says participants in the Learning to Lead course he facilitates  typically view a key set of characteristics as the basis for strong and effective leadership.

“Consistently, participants in my leadership course cite characteristics such as humility, approachability, care and consideration, inspiration, and people skills as critical leadership competencies,” he says.

“It is worth noting that cognitive abilities such as experience, knowledge, and technical ability are noted at a very distant second place.”

He cites Manuel London, in his book Leadership Development, who suggests that there are three required psychological factors to self-leadership development, which are akin to emotional intelligence: self-insight, self-regulation, and self-identity,



To understand the needs and perspectives of your clients, staff or team, and stakeholders, you must first understand yourself.

“Seek feedback from direct reports, superiors, and trust colleagues, and use it to gain insight into your leadership style,” Peter says.

“Then use that knowledge to identify your strengths, and the areas you want to target for improvement.”



Self-regulation is about controlling impulses and learning how to analyse situations in order to see the big picture and long-term results.

“Leaders land in hot water when they engage in ‘knee-jerk’ responses or habitual use of the same strategy across different scenarios,” Peter says.

“There are a number of tools and tactics we can use to develop our self-regulation, such as Bruce Avolio’s ‘After Action Review’, which involves analysing what happened and why, after making a key move or decision.”



Drawing back to the concept of authentic leadership, this should be the heart of anyone’s leadership development journey. To build trust and respect as a leader, you must adhere to a set of ethical values to guide your behaviour – values that are consistent with you want to be as a leader.

“The development of self-identity is a continuous learning process,” Peter says.

“I ask my participants to consider who they are, and who they want to be, what image they want to convey, and to compare themselves to their ‘ideal self’.

“Striving to be that ideal leader will motivate further development.”

Becoming a successful self-leader happens both in the classroom and on-the-job. It is an ongoing behavioural process of whole self-development, which can be assisted by a personal guide or mentor to help you grow and evolve your perceptions.

To continue your self-leadership development journey and enhance your leadership capabilities, click here.

“It’s about developing a sense of who you are, coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions, and behaviour.”
Peter Ferreira, New Leader course facilitator