It all starts with you

How self-leadership can help drive business success in 2021.

With the change and pace of restrictions across the majority of states, the impact of COVID-19 is still being felt by many Australian businesses. If self-development and wellbeing practices are made a priority, small-business owners are better equipped to lead through such uncertainty. Yet, with many businesses still in ‘survival mode’, this can too easily fall to the bottom of the list.

So, how can you, as a small-business owner, help lead your people, your purpose, and business performance in 2021? It all starts with investing in your biggest asset – you.

What is self-leadership?

Traditional leadership tends to focus on the external, the ‘outer game’ of leading by developing one’s competence through behaviour, to ultimately improve performance.

Self-leadership focuses on the internal, the ‘inner game’. This involves developing levels of consciousness through self-awareness, and the ability to either release or evolve the thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that influence the quality of the ‘outer game’.

Self-leadership as a strategy for success

Practicing self-leadership frees us from the egoic conditions of our personality that form as far back as childhood. These can include things like limiting beliefs, patterns for distraction, cognitive distortions, and biases, all of which can have a detrimental impact on how we view our business, and how we show up within our business. 

“Feedback helps us develop and build self-awareness so we’re not leading reactively, getting caught in our mental blind spots.”

When it comes to self-leadership, the ‘aim of the game’ is to get ourselves out of the way so we stop getting caught in the unhealthy wants and needs that drive our personality, such as validation, control, power, etc. This can not only stop us from reaching our full potential, but the potential of our people, culture, products, and systems.

Here’s a quick self-assessment to give you a sense if you’re ‘self-managing’ to get by (a) or self-leading (b) :

a) Do you get distracted in the details of the ‘day-to-day’? Or,

b) Are you able to step back, look at the bigger picture, perceive and problem solve through multiple perspectives?

a) Is stress or overwhelm your reactive ‘go-to’ state as conflict or challenges arise? Or,

b) Are you able to respond from a place of calmness, clarity, and objectivity?  

a) Do you prefer to match the ‘status quo’ by staying in the comfort zone of what you’ve always done? Or,

b) Do you mismatch the status quo by looking for new ways of doing and improving things like creativity, culture, systems, and processes?

a) Do you give authority to others to validate your ideas, decisions, desires? Or,

b) Do you listen to your own internal truth and wisdom?

a) Do you push yourself to keep going, often resulting in burnout? Or,

b) Do you listen to your body when it needs to rest or recharge?

What can SME owners start doing about it?

Start switching off ‘auto-pilot mode’

Neuroscience claims that we process thousands of thoughts each day, and on average spend 95% of this time in our subconscious mind, which basically means we are running most of the time on ‘auto-pilot mode’.

Can you observe the quality of thoughts you have about yourself, and how they may be negatively influencing how you perceive and perform within your business?

Start with a simple self-inquiry without judging what arises, how is thought/belief true? What is the positive intention of thinking this way? How is X (belief) serving me/the business? What am I ready to let go of?

Reframing your reality

Re-framing is a technique to help create a different way of looking at a belief, situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning from a ‘negative’ to a ‘positive’.

How can you re-frame beliefs about yourself and your business that may be creating challenges for you as a leader? For example, What is the ‘best case’ scenario (vs worst case) here? How could this be taken as learning (vs failure) or an opportunity for growth (vs set back)?

Notice how these shifts in your perception improve how you feel and behave day to day. 

Seek feedback

It’s important, even as the ‘boss’, to be consistently seeking feedback. Feedback helps us develop and build self-awareness so we’re not leading reactively, getting caught in our mental blind spots, and playing out unresolved and unresourceful habits.

When seeking feedback it’s important to ensure you are actually getting feedback – objective and evidence-based information, and not taking on someone’s subjective opinions or validations that are belief-based.

Less ‘doing’, more ‘being’

Wearing many hats as a small-business owner, it’s easy to become a ‘human-doing’ distracted by the endless to-do list.

Can you step back, switch off and slow down to create more headspace? This allows us to ease the pace of our racing mind, see and lead more clearly from new and greater perspectives.

You may implement a morning meditation practice, ‘mindfully eat’ lunch without any distractions such as social media or emails, or simply be in the present moment watching a sunrise, playing with your child, walking your dog.

Conscious breathing

Utilising breathing techniques and the awareness of breath can have a huge impact on our ‘inner and outer game’ such as reducing stress and anxiety, increasing relaxation, improving sleep, regulating emotions and increased energy levels.

When a crisis or situation occurs which triggers a reactive ‘fight or flight’ response, you can bring yourself back into balance in moments by connecting to your five senses and repeating a series of slow and deep diaphragmatic breaths.

This article first appeared in issue 32 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine