Is ‘Self-Leadership’ Really a Thing?

A Personal Pathway to Prosperity that includes Self-Leadership


When the CEO of TNYOU, short for The New YOU, a leading health and wellness movement asked me to speak to a group of their Queens (members) on ‘self leadership’ it felt odd on three levels.  I still showed up anyway, grateful for the invite, because Sena told me there was going to be a lot of women there so how could I turn down the invitation? I am very heterosexual!

Firstly, it felt odd because not everyone believes in the concept of ‘self leadership.’ During my graduate studies in leadership I came across leadership authorities in academia like Northouse who believe ‘self leadership’ is an oxymoron because leadership by definition per se is about other people, not one’s person.

The second reason it felt odd was that it seemed to me I was preaching to the choir. These were all women who had taken charge of their lives, self-leadership, to get their health and happiness on track. What more was there to tell them?


Self-leadership begins with Self-awareness, at the core


My third and final reason was personal: I suspect Sena Yeboah had asked me to speak on self-leadership because not only am I a leadership authority (I’m actually even undergoing doctoral studies in global leadership at the moment) but I’ve also been big on self leadership in my personal life for years and very successful in most areas (discipline of staying in medical school or to author and publish 20 books or choosing to abstain from sex before and outside of marriage or family planning for seven children etc.). The irony is that the one area I have failed miserably at in exhibiting strong self-leadership has been my personal health, particularly since the pandemic. I was very active before Covid-19 hit, sometimes doing nearly 70 flights per year and all but now both the pandemic viral curve and the curve of my abdomen had risen in tandem. What an embarrassment to stand before women who had exhibited self-leadership to look trim and prim!

I’m glad that in the spirit of authentic leadership I confessed my sin and shared my repentance story that over the previous four weeks I had now taken self-leadership regarding my health and had been working with a physical trainer/coach actually recommended to me by Sena since there’s no TNYOUMen, yet.



As far as I know, Charles Manz was the first to use the term ‘Self-leadership’ way back in 1983 and defined it as “a comprehensive self-influence perspective that concerns leading oneself.” The father of modern management, Peter Drucker, wades in (2010) to say that being a self-leader is to serve as chief, captain, or CEO of one’s own life. Brian Tracy talks about setting goals and taking full responsibility for that goal. The concept of self-leadership, also known as personal mastery, can be found in the writings of philosophers and poets, both Eastern and Western:

“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu (born 571 BC)

“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” – William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)



How differently would you live your life if you saw yourself as a company and run your life that way—Me Inc.? What are some of the things your company/organizational leaders do to make it successful? A leader is a response-able PERSON who serves and influences PEOPLE to achieve a shared, noble PURPOSE. Person-People-Purpose. Because of middle P, there is a school of thought that there is nothing like self-leadership, an oxymoron, but I beg to differ:  If leadership is about responsibility, serving and influencing PEOPLE, then how about starting with the FIRST PERSON, which is yourself/myself?


Three things that define leadership: responsibility, service and influence.


You should know by now that the hardest person to lead is yourself/myself! Self-leadership then is being response-able, serving and influencing oneself (one’s PERSON) to achieve a noble purpose. This purpose could be an overall life purpose or in a specific area of your life: professional, financial, health/wellness, intellectual/academic, social/relationships, spiritual. Self-leadership is to:

*Be response-able for your life. Take charge/you are in-charge. I cannot keep letting my body do whatever it wants—from my mouth to the rod in between my legs.

*Influence yourself. Influence your thinking by what you choose to read or watch, including on social media. Recently I decided to influence myself towards finishing up a book and sending it off to the publishers by promising myself my favourite Chinese food at my favourite Chinese restaurant in Accra on the day I meet that goal!

*Service yourself. Everyone needs a daily growth time; everyone, everyday. Serving yourself may sound selfish but do not confuse self-care with selfish. Even to obey the great commandant to “love your neighbor as yourself,” you can only love a neighbour to the extent that you love yourself. A classic illustration of this truism might be how on an airline the safety instruction is that in the event of a loss in cabin pressure, when the oxygen masks drop down put one on your own face first before attempting to help any others. It might seem very noble to try and save that little child next to you or the old lady already collapsing across the aisle but without taking care of you first, we might end up with two casualties instead of one: you the attempted helper and the one you were attempting to save.


Be a self-leader, totally



Take a good look at every responsibility of company leadership and find an application or parallel with your own life. One of your first acts of leadership is to recruit your leadership team. Gather the right community of people around you. Even better still have TEAMS—Together Everyone Achieves Most Success. You need mentors above (coaches, teachers, counsellors, spiritual directors etc.), mates at par and mentees who look up to you to form a stable tripod. One of my friends who works with a huge European bank has actually set up a personal board of directors he meets with quarterly–and it’s working wonders for him as we meet with him quarterly (I’m on this board). At least have an accountability partner of Me Inc.

As an executive coach, I still haven’t gotten over the shock every time I meet with a top leader of a company with a compelling mission statement yet this leader hasn’t clearly spelt out and written down their own vision, mission and values! Come on! Take self-leadership now–spend some quality time (even go on a retreat) to determine your life’s vision, mission, values and some goals and strategies towards that end. That is leadership!

Determining DNA is a work of leadership, personal and corporate



Leadership and management aren’t one and the same. It stands to reason then that self-leadership should be distinguished from self-management (as seen in the Perbi Pathway from Self-Awareness to Self-Actualization above). While all the differences isn’t the focus of this article, suffice it to say that self-management is doing the right things for your flourishing while self-leadership is determining what the right things are in the first place. The difference between leadership and management is starkest when once needs to make a major life change. Self-leadership is able to chart and change course; self-management is able to stay the course (consistency).

Self-leadership is most important about the core of these concentric circles (the why)


Self-management would be the planning, budgeting, organizing and staffing, monitoring results, coordination… everything systems and processes to create a stable, productive environment with consistent life results. Self-leadership, on the other hand, would be building a strong personal foundation, defining DNA (vision, mission, values), mapping strategy, inspiring commitment, equipping others for the journey, leading the way… everything that creates constructive change for definitive and (often) different results.



Self-leadership is a thing and we had better get on with it. Be response-able for you, influence and serve yourself towards personal success and societal significance. There is a company called Me Inc. [replace ‘me’ with your name, if you like]. How’s your company doing? How is your brand? For me, at the moment, it’s taking charge of my weight and wellness that will do it. What is it for you?



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