Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thought Self Leadership and Creativity

Self Leadership is defined as:

“a process through which individuals control their own behaviour, influencing and leading themselves through the use of specific sets of behavioural and cognitive strategies”
(Neck & Houghton, 2006, p. 270)

As organisations strive for increasing operating efficiency, delayering of middle management has occurred. As organisations grow in scope and scale, it becomes impossible for a limited number of people to possess sufficient insight to orchestrate each of the systems in place. Instead, significant role restructuring has occurred, primarily involving additional responsibilities being afforded to followers. As followers frequently have a far greater knowledge of issues arising from day to day operations, restructuring enhances the likelihood that deficiencies are identified and addressed. The provision of greater autonomy over how one undertakes a task is identified as Self Leadership.

Self leadership involves influencing oneself to establish the self direction and self motivation required to perform a particular task. Further, self leadership encourages an individual to engage in self evaluation, replacing ineffective behaviour with more effective activities. Clearly, limitations of leader’s time, energy, knowledge, and scope make constant subordinate direction impossible. Yun et al therefore suggest that self leadership involves leaders “enlist(ing) the aid of many to cope with uncertainty beyond their own limits” (2006, p. 375). Empowering the employee thus has become an organisational imperative within the competitive environment.

It is generally agreed that self leadership comprises three elements; Beliefs and Assumptions; Self Dialogue; and Mental Imagery. These elements combine to create Thought Patterns, also known as Habitual Thoughts. Beliefs and assumptions represent individual beliefs. These beliefs are frequently identified as dysfunctional, and are often activated by surprising or challenging events. Self dialogue concerns internal dialogue. These covert statements correspond to emotional states. As such, the external environment may well influence an employee’s internal dialogue. Finally, mental imagery involves the imagining of successful task completion. Combined, these components comprise thought patterns, thus it is imperative that any dysfunctional thoughts are uprooted. This is particularly pertinent as such flows are likely to represent consistent approaches to action.

Failure to internally identify and replace dysfunctional thoughts will invariably cause negative thought patterns to become set. This is referred to as Obstacle Thinking. Such employees are likely to become discouraged because of an overt focus on the negative. Instead, employees should learn to embrace Opportunity Thinking. Employees which engage in opportunity thinking are significantly more likely to see opportunities, and embrace creative solutions. Employees should address any discrepancies by confronting negative thoughts and replacing them with more rational ones. Employees which envisage a positive outcome are far more likely to achieve success than those that fail to do so. Before increasing the level of autonomy placed upon the workforce, it is important to ensure that the need for autonomy is present before making any rash empowering decisions.

The successful implementation of self leadership is likely to depend upon the degree of autonomy acceptance amongst the workforce. However, as jobs are increasingly viewed as a means of personal fulfilment, a larger proportion of the workforce is demanding greater influence over job roles and the related decisions. Where demand allows, employees must be encouraged to lead themselves. By making employees more accountable for the projects with which they are involved, they simultaneously achieve greater involvement in organisational decision making. As the number of viewpoints considered increases, new frames of reference will be developed and acknowledged. The greater the number of accounts, the higher the probability that system improvements will be recognised and introduced.

All that's left to see is Merry Christmas to all my readers. I wish you all the very best this festive season.


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  1. Good post - just wondering about the expression 'implementation of self leadership'; since self leadership is by definition something one has to oneself.

    I have been involved for many years teaching, training and facilitating self leadership withing organisations and I agree that a supporting culture is important - however some people will choose self leadership and others refuse to take response-ability.

  2. Andrew,
    Thank you for your thoughts. Invariably organisations will comprise both pro and anti thought self leadership (TSL) employees; it’s down to the organisation to appropriately place these individuals. You are absolutely right; the phrase ‘implementation of TSL’ is probably inappropriate for the purpose, particularly when the decision to engage therein is very much down to the specific individual.

    It is my belief that the proportion of each employee type is dependent upon the organisational structure; the more organic the organisation, the more likely the employees will actively embrace TSL. Conversely, the more mechanistic the organisation, the less likely the employees will embrace TSL. Whilst mechanistic organisations are more likely to comprise a hierarchical structure, more organic organisations will embrace a flat organisational structure. As you correctly highlight, the impact of the organisational culture will invariably influence employee adoption of TSL practices. I would suggest that it is precisely these forces that will influence the eventual outcome of the workforce’s tendency towards TSL.

    In my opinion, mechanistic hierarchical organisations severely restrict the likelihood of TSL adoption within the workforce. Organic organisation will on the contrary increase the responsibilities placed upon the employee, thus enhancing the likelihood that creative solutions will be sought and incorporated. Whilst it would be naive for me to suggest that the creation of an organically structured organisation would be sufficient to guarantee TSL amongst the workforce, the apportioning of responsibilities amongst the workforce will ensure that creative outcomes are encouraged and facilitated.

    I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the subject. Thanks again for sharing, Andrew.