The Leader within Us – Developing Our Self-Leader

Guest post from Stanley Ross:

The paucity of effective leaders is only because in general organizations aren’t good at developing leaders. The expectation is that individuals can jump from being a non-manager to become a leader type manager. This expectation is an illusion with everyone suffering the consequences. A non-manager needs to develop their ability to learn how to successfully lead themselves first. Subordinates are hesitant to follow someone who is challenged to lead themselves.

An individual with self-leadership potential demonstrates specific behaviors associated with values commonly in a self-leader. Values such as self-respect, positive attitude, achievement oriented, social relations oriented, focused, strong work ethic and other leader values support the conclusion that this person demonstrates self-leadership attributes and these same attributes, with more development, are attributes of successful leaders.

How can we differentiate between self-leaders and non-leader types? Attitude is the thermostat for assessing an individual’s measure of self-worth which is key to identifying a prospective self-leader for their potential to eventually become a leader. A self-leader represents the stage between non-managers and leader type managers (different from non-leader managers who are maintainers of order). Leadership development programs need to focus on developing the self-leader first to provide the foundation for the subsequent stage of actual leader development.

Screening is an important first step to identify individuals with the potential to become a self-leader. An effective screening process is multi-faceted. The first step is to develop a set of screening criteria. Three essential categories of criteria include values, behaviors exhibited and social relations. Each category is easy to define and the leadership literature provides the specifics to use. Behavior and social relations are proxy measures for values and represent additional ways to learn the individual’s values indirectly. Social relations reflect a group of related values. Specific criteria and weighting/scoring system to accompany the criteria need identifying for each of the categories. Using several persons to screen provides several pair of eyes to objectify the screening process. Co-workers, supervisors and other significant contacts involved directly or indirectly with the candidates represent the best set of eyes.

The training program designer needs to consider three goals in designing a self-leadership development training program. First, training needs to either develop or build on values associated with successful self-leaders and successful leaders. Often the difference between these values is to image each value on a continuum and that a leader is closer to the end point than the self-leader. Second, the designer needs to focus on teaching the trainee to become a successful change agent. Learning how to transform the self is an important step in learning how to transform an organization or sub-unit of an organization. Finally, the training program needs to focus on activities that teach the trainee to become a successful change agent. Leadership is all about disrupting norms to develop new norms in the never ending process called achieving and which I often refer to as comfort zone busting. Individuals need to benefit from the experiences of comfort zone busting and the strategies used to successfully disrupt their personal comfort zone norms to gain the knowledge and skills that come from personal experiences. Existing values benefit and new values result from the training process.

A well-designed self-leadership development training program needs to encompass a variety of experiential exercises that involve pushing the trainees outside of their comfort zone. An exercise with a planned process that includes a goal helps to provide a routine for the change process and that the trainee to assess progress and make adjustments to the process dictated by the circumstances. Learning to adapt is both an important value to enhance and a skill trainees need to develop during the change process. 

A SMART goal is the recommended type of goal because SMART goals are measurable, realistic and create a sense of urgency because of the time constraint. Another important feature of an ideal training program is to incorporate the role of a mentor or coach. Mentors advise and coaches are task focused. Each role can provide a personal touch to help to successfully guide trainees through the various learning experiences within the training program.

A successful training program is one that develops trainee’s values and feelings of self-worth to the extent that the trainee moves forward to become a self-leader and eventually an effective leader.


Dr Stanley Ross is an Associate Professor of Management
at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, MA.  Dr. Ross was in the active military and three
tours in a combat zone.  Dr. Ross earned
a Bachelor’s degree; Master’s and Doctorate post the military.  Dr. Ross recently published a book entitled “The
Road to Self-Leadership Development: Busting Out of Your Comfort Zone
 (Publisher: Emerald, 2015).  The book’s semi-autographical focus offers
readers a model for understanding the self-leadership development process and
how organizations and individuals can apply the model as a first step in the
development of leaders.  Successful
leaders need to become successful self-leaders first.  Successful leaders have a high rating on
self-worth.  The book offers readers
guidelines to follow on building self-worth. Contact: or