Self-Image and Effective Leadership

Although no two leaders are identical in personality or approach to management, all effective leaders share one characteristic: a positive self-image. Effective leaders see themselves as capable individuals, worthy of self-respect and deserving of the respect of others. Individuals with a positive self-image possess the inner strength and courage required for self-respect and self-confidence.

Your self-image, or the mental picture you have of yourself, determines to a large extent the level of success you achieve as a leader. The level of success you achieve as a leader, of course, helps determine the level of success your organization will achieve. The more positive your self-image, the more opportunities you have to pursue success for yourself and your team.

Success means something different to every person. For some, success means advancement to even higher positions within the organization. Others count the contributions they are able to make to the lives of other people. Still others measure success by the size of their bank accounts. The success you seek likely consists of bits and pieces of these elements. But here is a definition of success that works for everyone: Success is the progressive realization of worthwhile, predetermined personal goals.

This definition implies that success is the result of your own choice- the choice of the specific goals you pursue. The most important factor in making satisfying choices is a positive self-image. A positive self-image enables you to set goals that reflect your values and provide meaning and fulfillment through their achievement.

Your self-image determines the measure of confidence you bring to the challenge of using your potential and working toward the goals you have set. Psychologists estimate that, on average, people use less than a third of their actual potential. This means that by using only a small additional portion of your potential, you can make a sizable increase in your effectiveness. If, for example, you are now using 30 percent of your potential, you could choose to increase that amount by another 10 percent—a total of 33 percent of your potential. With relatively little effort you can be 10 percent more effective than you are now.

The factor controlling how much of your real potential you can use—or will use—is your self-image. You begin to acquire your self-image almost immediately after birth. As people in your environment reacted to you with approval or disapproval, you began to form a mental picture of who you were based on that feedback. If many of the messages you received implied that you lacked ability, that you were too young, too inexperienced, or limited in some other way, you may have internalized that message and believed it. Even now, you may be limiting your success based on these old messages, and ignoring the fact that you are now more experienced and more capable than you were in the past.

In contrast, if the people in your early environment were strongly supportive, praised you for your achievements, and expressed belief in your ability to succeed, you may be following that estimate of yourself and using a larger percentage of your potential. But regardless of your background, what you are now is what counts. What you are now depends to a great extent upon what you are willing to believe and become, and what you are willing to do about your self-image. You can change your self-image if you wish. You can enhance the relationship between your self-image and success. The more positive your self-image, the more successful you become as an effective motivational leader!

Choosing to develop your self-image sets the stage for significant contributions to your team and organization. A positive self-image enables you to view organizational opportunities and challenges in new and exciting ways. Then you are ready to develop clear plans for the achievement of organizational goals. Armed with a strong belief in your potential for success, you and your team members are positioned to achieve the objectives which may now seem remote and out of reach.

Choosing Courage

You increase your personal and professional self-image by consciously choosing an attitude of courage. Courage is the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face threatening situations with self-assurance and self-reliance. Courage is bravery and valor; it is the quality that athletes sometimes call “heart.” Courage is inner strength, moral stamina, and the inherent capacity for rising to a challenge with steadfastness of purpose. Courage is faith in oneself. Courage is self-confidence!

Great thinkers from all areas of life and all eras have recognized the power of attitudes. Karl Menninger, the celebrated psychiatrist, said, “Attitudes are more important than facts.” William James, the noted psychologist, said, “The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change all the outer aspects of their lives.” Lord Byron, the great English poet, said, “We can choose our attitude in any set of circumstances.”

The process of improving your self-image, like the process of setting and achieving any other goal, is quite simple to understand yet extremely effective. Once you make a commitment to adopt the winning attitudes of self-confidence and courage, you see appreciable improvements almost immediately.

The biggest surge of courage necessary for remarkable outcomes is simply the courage to overcome inertia and to get started. A law of physics states that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. More energy and more power are required to start a car or a plane than to keep it going. More force and power are required to change directions than to keep moving in a straight line. Courage is the fuel that supplies the extra surge of energy needed to initiate change. It takes courage to change—to change your attitudes, to change the way you organize your time, to change relationships, to change who and what you are.

Once you begin, momentum keeps you moving. That is the other side of that law of physics: A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Once started, you enjoy even greater self-confidence and courage, for nothing breeds success like success. You find that when you claim for yourself the self-confidence and courage you were intended to have, these attitudes compound just as interest on a savings account.

Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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