Selena Hernandez
September 11, 2023
min read
Management & Governance

The 4 Paradoxes of Self-Leadership

In their article, Self-Leadership: a Paradoxical Core of Organizational Behavior, Greg Stewart, Stephen Courtright, and Charles Manz review previous scientific literature about self-leadership.

In addition to presenting the previous work, the authors expose what they consider the 4 paradoxes of this concept.

Self-Leadership: a Definition

First, self-leadership is defined as:

"a comprehensive self-influence process capturing how individuals moti- vate themselves to complete work that is naturally motivating or work that must be done but is not naturally motivating"

The concept is an apparent oxymoron because “leadership” traditionally implies influences between two people and “self” implies only one individual.

Self-leadership challenges this traditional assumption and can be defined as “the process of influencing oneself” (Manz, 1983).

The Paradox of Self-Leadership Depletion and Strengthening

On the one hand, self-regulated activities usually involve depletion, as the ability to influence one-self is very limited and it takes a great effort to maintain (see, for instance, diets, controlling impulse purchasing or alcoholism).

On the other hand, engaging in self-regulated activities would work as a muscle that is stronger the more it is used.

The Paradox of Self-Leadership Through Collaboration

Self-leadership implies individual solitary.

Paradoxically, the exercise of self-leadership leads to taking the best decisions to solve challenges in the best way, and many times this implies collaborating with others due to the individual’s own limitations.

The Paradox of Me-But-Not-You Self-Leadership

Needs like freedom, self-direction and autonomy have been identified as major players for the individuals well-being and are present in self-leadership. Following this reasoning, humans would have a desire to exercise self-leadership to meet those needs.

Even if there is a general tendency towards self-leadership, not all employees actually exercise it. Managers have an influence towards employees’ self-leadership behaviors as they have an active role empowering employees.

The Paradox of Needing Self-Leadership to Improve Self-Leadership

In order to develop self-leadership, the individuals need to have an active engagement long term. Paradoxically, there is a need for an individual to have self-leadership in order to improve and develop self-leadership.

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