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Self-Leadership and Self-Management

Sid Kemp is a business consultant and author of 10 books on project management and business success.

Old Questions, Bad Answers

Think of all the buzzwords around personal management: time management, anger management, money management, and managing our relationships. Then there's self-control, mind control, self-motivation, self-direction.

And what about self-leadership: self-discovery, self-definition, personal inspiration, vision quests, dream journals, and so much more.

And this stuff is not new. The Buddha talked about self-inquiry 2,500 years ago. And Jesus talked about having a single mind and being perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. But Aristotle said that the toughest problem of all was the problem of will: We know the good, but we do not do the good.

So these questions and problems have been around a long time all over the world. And there have been some spectacular failures in the answers. Dr. Denis Waitley, author of The Psychology of Winning, first published in 1979, opens with a stellar example of self-improvement: O. J. Simpson. O. J. left behind a childhood of rickets, a crippling disease; poverty growing up in housing projects; and being a gang member to become an inspiring college football star and famous pro football player, ultimately making it into the Football Hall of Fame.

Then he went on to be charged in civil court with assault and wrongful death, then, in a downward spiral of drugs and violent crime, ended up with a 33-year Federal prison sentence.

Conclusion: There is something not working with our American ideas of success and the popular psychology of success.

Question: What is our current best understanding of self-leadership and self-management that actually supports a great life and a deep and valuable contribution to society?

Self-Awareness: What lens would allow us to see ourselves clearly?

Self-Awareness: What lens would allow us to see ourselves clearly?

Inner Leadership

It seems to make sense to take the idea of leadership from the social context of family, business, and social organizations and explore inner leadership. Just as a great peacemaker, like former US President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jimmy Carter, could bring together Egypt and Israel to end 30 years of war, we can open up to ourselves, and discover and heal inner conflict. Just as a great leader like Mahatma Gandhi created an independent India or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a peaceful movement for American civil rights, so we can listen to, and unite, our inner qualities to become more powerful, peaceful people. Then we are able to make our dreams real and bring our great inner gifts to the world.

You'll note that the leaders I chose as examples are all peacemakers. They are, in fact, dedicated to using only peaceful means to create beneficial results. There is a reason for this: Those who push, manipulate, repress, suppress, or deny on inner levels may appear to gain self-control. They may achieve tremendous outer results for a time. But, down the road, like O. J. Simpson or Michael Vick, the inner repression leads to destructive and self-destructive violence.

Successful inner leadership is peaceful. What are the qualities of peace and empowering inner leadership?

  • Openness. We are relaxed and inquiring, we are open to discovery, we are not here to judge, criticize, or punish.
  • Awareness. We seek to find the truth of ourselves, even its unpleasant parts, even the parts that run contrary to niceness or social convention. Gandhi once said, "I practice non-violence because I am such an angry person." Truly aware of our anger, we can free ourselves from acting out of anger, frustration, or inner conflict.
  • Respect. Let us listen to ourselves with an open mind, and not jump into judgment. Julia Cameron, the author of The Artists Way, a wonderful book on using self-leadership and self-management to have powerful, steadily creative lives, says that our anger is our friend. Not an easy or comfortable friend, but a friend worth listening to, because, inside our anger, there is a message about what we really want to be doing.
  • Curiosity. Inner exploration can be a wonderful journey, full of as many surprises as Alice's adventures in Wonderland.
  • Thoroughness. Over time, it is good if we overlook nothing. Sometimes, a very small feeling or a fleeting thought is a doorway into a whole new realm of self-discovery. Perhaps we thought we never liked art, and then we saw one painting and became interested, and then saw, in a flash, "I have something to paint." Next thing, we take a class, set up a studio, and open up a whole new passion, hobby, or career.
Managing Time, or Managing Ourselves: We have all kinds of tools for managing our time. But how do we manage ourselves?

Managing Time, or Managing Ourselves: We have all kinds of tools for managing our time. But how do we manage ourselves?

What Are We Managing?

What do we really mean when we say we are managing time, or anger, or "ourselves"?

The answer is, ultimately, our own behavior at all levels. This means that we are becoming aware of, and gaining greater ability to guide: our thoughts; our feelings; our words; our tone of voice, stance, posture, and physical expressions; and our deeds (that is, our physical and practical actions.)

Under Management, or Out of Control?

We talk about managing anger, fear, and addiction, but what do we really mean?

It's helpful to remember that the opposite of "under management" is "out of control."

Angry outbursts, retreats from creativity in our daily life arising from anxiety, and unhealthy habits or addictions are all examples of being out of control. If we can become aware of the difficult inner emotion or impulse - the anger, the fear, the desire to shut down, the craving - and not act on it, then we are managing ourselves, and gaining the benefits of inner discipline.


Self-leadership and self-management begin with self-awareness. If we attempt to change ourselves without self-awareness, that is repression. In the business world, we see that workers resent being manipulated without being listened to. Then they tune out, or quit, or fight against management. But effective corporate leaders and managers - there are a few out there - listen to workers, include their concerns, and create healthy, win-win work environments.

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In the same way, our inner feelings cannot be manipulated if we are not aware of them. That is what leads to destructive self-suppression.

If we become aware of our inner thoughts and feelings, though, we can listen to them without acting on them. We can write them in a journal, or yell them at the ocean, or have a good cry. We can see a movie or read a novel and use the ancient Greek technique of catharsis, where we link our feelings to the feelings of others and, so, release the pain.

And then we can more forward from a place of greater clarity and strength.

Inner Discipline and Freedom

Most people associate discipline with external control and repression. We think that discipline is something to be avoided so that we can be free.

We associate discipline with tyranny.

But there is a different kind of discipline. Inner discipline is linked to our own deepest motivation, joined with self-awareness. Some people gain this naturally in childhood, especially if they play a sport or a musical instrument, and do it because they love it. Then they put in the hours of work doing what they love to do, and don't think about the time. That is inner discipline.

Jimi Hendrix was one of the most freely creative guitarists of rock and roll. When he was a child, his father couldn't afford to get him a guitar. So Jimi played air-guitar with a broom. His father found him asleep on his bed with a broom in his hand at two in the morning. All the corn was worn off the broom. Later, Jimi imitated every rock guitarist he could listen to on his old 45-rpm vinyl records. He built his unique style by listening, practicing, and making their music his own. That's inner discipline.

Carl Jung, the great psychologist, said, "Discipline is obedience to awareness." Pay attention to that. Discipline isn't telling ourselves what to do or obeying anyone else. Discipline is obedience to our own awareness. The Buddha said that wisdom is the ability to do difficult things if we know they will be beneficial, and not to do enjoyable things if we know that, in the long run, they will be harmful.

Let me tie all this together for you with a story from my own experience.

At times, I crave sugar, even though - for specific health reasons - sugar is not healthy for me. A teacher of healing meditation showed me how to stand quietly and feel my own energy deeply. I learned how to get into that powerful, quiet, free inner space in less than five minutes. He then directed me, any time I felt the craving, to do this meditation, and then bring the craving into it.

The best way to describe the feeling was to say that, even though the craving was just as powerful, I was much more powerful when I connected my awareness to my inner energy. Being much more powerful, I could be aware of the craving, and not act on it. I could wait peacefully until it passed.

On a practical level, the last of my sugar addiction ended that day. I haven't had more than a little sugar candy at a time since then, and that, not very often.

The Two Sides of Freedom

There are two sides to freedom. One I've already talked about - freedom from; that is, freedom from unhealthy or ineffective impulses: freedom not to act on impulses such as anxiety, anger, cravings, and addictions. Note: Having these feelings is part of being human; Freedom does not mean that we don't have cravings and desires. It just means that the desires, passions, and cravings don't have us; that we are not controlled by them. Then, over time, the feelings become less strong.

The other side of freedom is the freedom to. The freedom to live our truth, be it:

  • the spiritual and intellectual freedom that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America called the pursuit of happiness
  • the freedom of creativity in voice, writing, singing, dance, and all forms of self-expression
  • the artistic freedom to create
  • the practical freedom to build material things, or organizations, or anything else
  • the freedom to apply our intelligence and effort to solve problems, whether intellectual problems, mysteries, or the social problems of our day

When we actualize - make real and live - self-leadership and self-management every day, we enact both of these types of freedom, and we become great agents of healing, change, creativity, and service.

Living Our Dream

When we are free from anxieties, fears, confusion, cravings and addictions, and we are free to do what we choose to do, we can live our dream with deep integrity and effectiveness.

I'm not saying you have to work for perfect enlightenment first, and then start to live your dream. It works the other way around. Connect with, and live, your dream today. Make it real. And, through self-awareness, self-leadership, and self-management, become able to do it with more power, less confusion, less distraction, less hassle, less self-criticism every day.

Having worked on this for almost 40 years, and having coached and helped many others, I deeply believe that each one of us is here for a reason. You have a creative gift. You have a gift of service. And you have certain people, animals, plants, or ecosystems that you are meant to be with. Living your gifts of creativity and service with those you are called to serve, you are living free, and true to yourself.

And you are a gift to the world.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Andrew Peters on June 28, 2020:

Thanks, Simone. Nobody can deny that our grandparents were A LOT more self-sufficient than we are.

Today, millions of Americans are living on food stamps and Uncle Sam’s charity.

At the same time the skills that made our forefathers self-reliant are about to be irreversibly lost to history.

Without them, this country will continue to turn more socialist with each passing year… No matter who is running the White House.

Check out three old teachings that helped our forefathers thrive during dark times:

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on June 29, 2012:

Thanks, Simone. I probably need to read it a few more times, myself!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on June 28, 2012:

I'll need to come back to this Hub again and give it another read. You've offered so much for readers to contemplate!

Sid Kemp (author) from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on June 27, 2012:

Humility is, indeed essential. As is humor. I like to say, Laughing is healthy. And if you haven't laughed recently, take a good look at how serious you are!

Self-awareness and humility go hand-in-hand. When we look honestly at ourselves, and see our shortcomings, humility follows. Or, if we enter humility, it is easier to accept our shortcomings.

Kevin J Timothy from Tampa, FL on June 26, 2012:

Very good read. And you're an excellent writer. It takes a very humble spirit to get the self awareness down packed. I think humility is where it all begins.

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