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The roots of self-leadership

The beginning of self-leadership theory dates back to the early 1980s with the concept of self-management addressed by Manz and Sims. First attempts at substituting traditional leadership with self-management were undertaken as researchers found work-related outcomes to be mainly predicted by substitutes for leadership as opposed to any other action (Kerr & Jermier, 1978). It took another three years before the term self-leadership appeared in a publication directed at practitioners (Manz, 1983). Interpretations of self-management describe it as “a set of strategies that aides employees in structuring their work environment, in establishing selfmotivation [...] that facilitate appropriate behaviors for achieving minimal deviations from primarily lower-level behavioral standards” (Manz, 1986, p. 590). Manz and Sims (1980) argue that everyone demonstrates self-management to some extent. Particularly, organizational leaders are expected to become aware of their own internal image before they may be able to direct others (Davis, 2004).

Deeply investigating the theory of self-management, academics discovered that encouraging self-management of individuals carries unknown potential for organizations. Undertaking a first empirical endeavor to identify self-management characteristics of team leaders, Manz and Sims (1987) noted that self-management differed from traditional leadership paradigms with respect to locus of control and direction, as those were found to lie within the teams. At that time, self-management and self-control were still considered to be closely related or even interchangeable (Thoresen & Mahoney, 1974, p. 12). Manz and Sims (1987) believed that selfmanagement would contribute to leader-effectiveness in many ways as leaders en?courage self-reinforcement, self-observation, and evaluation in subordinates (Manz & Sims, 1987, p. 124).

Self-management was handled earlier by Mahoney and Arnkoff (1979). The researchers found self-management procedures to include: (1) self-observation, which is demonstrated by the systematic approach of collecting information on oneself in order to self-evaluate one’s behavior and reinforce desired behavior; (2) specifying goals, demonstrating that goals which are stated officially are more effective; (3) cueing strategies, by stimulating a desirable behavior; and (4) rehearsal, the continuous practice of desired or imagined performance (Mahoney & Arn- koff, 1979). Evaluating how leaders may encourage subordinates to engage in selfmanagement, role-modeling could certainly be one important element. Leaders’ self-management behavior could serve as an idealistic example to others. As soon as followers finally engage in self-management, the leadership behavior must change in order to provide subordinates with more self-responsibility. Leaders should therefore sooner take actions to encourage followers rather than reinforce a specific behavior actively (Manz & Sims, 1980).

Self-management is explained to be an activity helping to complete difficult but necessary tasks, whereas self-leadership is intrinsically motivated (Stewart, Courtright & Manz, 2011), going beyond self-management by leading the system of self-influence (Manz, 1986, p. 590). Self-management directs the focus onto behaviors and cognitive strategies, whereas self-leadership takes the deeper intrinsic value behind a specific behavior or task into account. Self-leadership is furthermore affected by a higher degree of self-guidance compared to self-management. Manz (1986) depicts self-leadership as a perspective of leading the self toward personal standards and intrinsic motivation. He conceives self-leadership as “a comprehensive self-influence perspective that concerns leading oneself toward performance of naturally motivating tasks as well as managing oneself to do work that must be done but is not naturally motivating” (Manz, 1986, p. 589). Furthermore, he identifies three key factors of self-leadership: (1) standards for self-influence, (2) intrinsic work motivation, and (3) strategies for employee self-control. Self-influence encompasses the dynamic augmentation of intrinsic motivation through development of competence and self-control towards a process, whereas self-leadership focuses on the need to do a job rather than feeling a task should be done (Manz, 1986).

In contrast to self-management, self-leadership appreciates rewards due to the performance of the activity itself. This may be achieved by redesigning tasks in order to establish motivating processes that naturally provide a feeling of purpose. Manz

(1986) identifies several self-leadership strategies that can assist in stimulating intrinsic motivation. Work context strategies include choosing a work environment that (by physical nature) enhances performance. This pattern includes generating shared values, and establishing high quality leader-member exchange relationships. Task performance process strategies focus on how tasks are performed, purposefully placing natural rewards in the process. Followers aware of the things they enjoy doing may assess upcoming duties reasonably and may establish processes to maintain this performance level by increasing their self-leadership. The third practical strategy identified is self-leadership of thought patterns. The researcher describes the definite purpose of self-leadership to enhance the performance of employees by managing their thought patterns. Since every task holds pleasant and unpleasant responsibilities, mental energy is the essential differentiator. If an individual places mental energy on unpleasant duties, one might experience the project as unfavorable. If mental energy however is placed on the pleasant parts of the job, it might result in a positive project experience. In that case, mental energy has the power to stimulate intrinsic motivation and make unpleasant tasks seem pleasant. The ultimate aim must be to cultivate thought patterns that enhance employee motivation and performance (Manz, 1986).

In 1992, Neck and Manz proposed a cognitive self-leadership model and tested whether relationships between cognitive strategies and performance of employees existed. The authors suspected individuals to be able to influence their performance by controlling their own thoughts. The authors describe cognitive strategies that may be applied to change one’s behavior: (1) beliefs, (2) internal dialogues, (3) mental imagery, and (4) thought patterns. The suggested theory of Thought SelfLeadership (TSL) carries the underlying assumption that thought is a medium that can be self-controlled and applied through cognitive strategies (Neck & Manz, 1996). Leaders are able to encourage thinking by asking questions and by helping others to clarify their thought processes (Manz & Neck, 1991). The researchers define thought self-leadership as the action of leading oneself by applying control over one’s own thoughts. Especially in organizations with less centralized structures, self-leadership might be an effective tool to influence performance (Tata & Prasad, 2004).

According to a publication by Manz and Neck (2004), three primary categories exist into which self-leadership strategies may be arranged:

  • (1) Behavior-focused strategies,
  • (2) Natural reward strategies, and

(3) Constructive thought pattern strategies

Behavior-focused strategies include elements of self-observation, self-goal setting, self-reward, self-punishment, and self-cueing. Setting ambitious goals and subsequently rewarding oneself can lead to a significantly higher level of performance (Locke & Latham, 1990; Manz & Neck, 2004; Manz & Sims, 1980). Selfrewarding processes do not necessarily imply materialistic rewards. Here, an imaginary handshake of a supervisor can sometimes be just as satisfying (Neck & Houghton, 2006). Unlike self-reward, self-punishment requires careful handling. Self-punishment could better be compared to the denial of a reward instead of fulfilling an actual punishment which may be unfavorable to performance in some situations. In addition, the simple appearance of positively associated or encouraging visualizations such as motivational images, posters, and cues can help to achieve a desired result (Manz & Sims, 2001; Manz & Neck, 2004).

Natural reward strategies focus on the intrinsic joy someone would experience when solving a task or working on a project. Two strategies may be distinguished: The first approach involves the addition of pleasant elements to the actual, unpleasant activity in order to make a task itself more rewarding. The second strategy contains the shift away from unpleasant features of tasks by concentrating on enjoyable aspects of the activity. According to the authors, natural reward strategies create a sense of self-competence leading to improved performance (Manz & Neck, 2004; Neck & Houghton, 2006).

Constructive thought pattern strategies are the third facet associated with selfleadership in literature. Characteristics of the dimension encourage individuals to become aware of, identify, and replace disruptive thought patterns using mental imagery or positive self-talk to enhance performance (Manz & Neck, 2004). Mental imagery is the cognitive creation of an imaginary scene happening before it actually happens (Driskell, Copper & Moran, 1994). The authors found significant empirical support for the positive relation of mental imagery on individual performance. People building a positive imaginary scene of what will happen are likely to achieve better results (Manz & Neck, 2004).

In the late 1980s, the focus of leadership shifted from leaders to followers when Manz and Sims (1987) found that leaders used different methods to stimulate employee engagement. For instance, leaders began asking questions instead of dictating what needed to be done. Instead of performing direct control, leaders encouraged team members to test through trial and error. At that time, leaders began to execute what the pioneers of self-leadership referred to as “lead[ing] others to lead themselves” (Manz & Sims, 1987, p. 115). The researchers postulate that the exter?nal function of leaders who are leading others to lead themselves is significantly important, however, differs from the traditional role of leadership. Manz and Sims (1991, p. 18) were the first to suggest that leaders should learn to lead themselves in the first place before they would actually be able to serve as role models to followers.

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