7/31 – Self Led Leadership for Self and the Other

July 2020 / Emerging Scholars

Linda Lilian

Linda Lillian

Northhouse (2007:p3) said leadership was a process in which an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. In this definition emphasis is placed on the individuals ability to influence. In this paper it is argued that leadership is rooted in the individual (self), thus affecting the individual who in turn affect others, in such a way that an effect becomes visible.

The objective of this paper is to demonstrate ethical leadership in the self as a significant component in attaining good leadership results. The hypothesis is that individual leadership is in every body and if it is nurtured into an ethical resource and plugged into the collective, it may yet generate positive results in the public sphere. It is noted that one cannot lead others unless they have a leading in themselves. It gets even better if that leading has a value filled foundation.

Drawing from Plato’s metaphor of the cave, humans individually are always locked up in this vacuum or cave where the self is turned away from the reality. So that when the sun (truth) lights outside what is reflected for them to see and believe is a shadow springing from the reality. It is easy for humans to live as a shadow of themselves and below their true potential in a cave of ignorance. In Plato’s cave metaphor the fallacy is demystified, when one breaks free by coming out and with the aid of the sun is able to realise that whatever they saw was a reflection of the reality but not the ideal.

In individual leadership this is the point of truth. The point of becoming what one ought to be, free from the confines of ignorance and fallacious reflections. The substance that makes leadership when derived from Aristotle’ causes in this discussion, denotes the individual as the material cause from which leadership would be generated when the efficient cause of knowledge is impressed on the individual through values, experience, information and education. This then proceeds to become the formal cause of the process of influence, which culminates in the final cause of leading.

The knowledge serves the purpose of Plato’s metaphor sun, which empowers the individual to form opinions and strategies that entice others into their web of influence. It allows them to attain leadership over a given scenario or position. Thus, the leading starts at an individual level as a call to act on something and then as led by their convictions they are able to sell their opinions and strategies, beckoning others to join in their endeavor. The process employs persuasion and character that draws and directs the others to the goal their being led to by the leader. That leader is an individual that has applied knowledge to produce sufficient influence over the collective in order to lead.

Case Stories in Self Led Leadership

America’s sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln often referred to as ‘honest Abe’, had personal leading. According to Wikipedia Abraham Lincoln was self educated with some lessons got from his christian upbringing and irregular schooling. Given his poor background and his dislike for farm work, people close to him must have considered him a failure. But his greatest inspiration was drawn from his aspirations. Based on these he schooled himself in writing, reading and later it is said he got his knowledge of law from reading Blackstones commentaries. He was also said to be a fervent reader of the King James Bible as well as books such as the Life of Washington. These were a collective of his formation.

Eventually he was admitted to the bar in 1836. Thereafter in 1844, he started his own law practice and won a number of contentious cases. One of the cases, handled pro bono, entailed a witness called Charles Allen who testified against Duff Armstrong. Allen alleged Armstrong had murdered Metzker with a slungshot. Allen said he was at a distance of 150 feet when it happened but was aided by the moon light to see the act. It is said Lincoln used judicial notice using facts from the Farmers Almanac to determine that at that time the moon was at a low angle and the witness would not have possibly had a clear vision. All charges were dropped. It would only take someone who was self led to undertake that kind of task with such precision.

Lincoln’s quest for knowledge was limitless. This explains why he explored various fields from joining the military to working as a postmaster and a surveyor. It is noted he was the first ever American President to have a patent to his name. After having faced the challenge of obstruction while moving on a boat in water, he came up with the idea of a flotation device to prevent such obstruction.

Though lacking in formal education, powerful friends and money, Abraham Lincoln sought to be an intellectual and apply his knowledge to attain his lifetime aspirations which included promoting justice. Consistently, he spoke about institutional slavery being founded on injustice and bad policy and he never wavered in his intentions.

Renown for having failed a number of times in his bid to become President, it is noted that the fails never halted his will to lead. With each attempt, his political presence began being felt. By 1858 he was the popular media choice for leadership and it gave him the platform to be listened to and this he influenced American thought.

In 1861 his highest aspirations were met. He became President and went on to implement his vision and transfer it to the American public. The 13th amendment of the United States Constitution was undertaken, to abolish slavery. He also went on to embark on the expansion of the railway project and strengthening the union, among other things. The material cause was Abraham Lincoln and the values such as integrity as well as knowledge and experience which he cultivated into his persona. This gave him sufficient expertise to influence and lead others to particular goals that led to liberation and development. If Abraham had remained in the confines of his upbringing at the farm; it would be likened to Plato’s cave where his realities would be minimised to fallacious shadows.

The second story is of Akan Nanani, a woman said to have been one of the slave escapees who settled in Jamaica, popularly know as Nanani. Nanani was a woman who would thrive amidst the turmoil of slavery and patriarchy to outdo men in the art of strategy and guerrilla warfare. Self led she embraced her Africanness in a foreign land and shared what was left of her culture, which included African spiritualism and use of war communication tools like the Beng.

Nanani had to dig deep inside her to bring out hope that other African slaves would build on in resisting the British. It paid off, for the resistance was felt by the slavers and to her name there was a record of 1000 freed slaves, whom she resettled at the Blue Mountain in Jamaica. The following she got, streamed from her display of courage, tact and ability to mobilize as a person. The spiritual attributes seen in her as a foreseer, also gave African slaves confidence that they could count on her. Therefore, in the midst of the terror of slavers, in a foreign land, Nanani was still able to inspire fellow African slaves and even free them from slavery. All this was drawn from the experiences she had been exposed to and her inner most desire to see justice.

What is Self Leading for Leadership?

Self Leading is ones ability to guide oneself into attaining personal goals in order to be able to meet the public’s need. These leaders are self reliant, have integrity, they are open to self improvement and are practical when acting upon their aspirations, ideas and visions. In most cases the self led persons aspirations, ideas and visions, are embedded in what surrounds and founds them. Unfortunately, it is mostly cave like and they often have a reflection of the reality that they would want to see rather than the ideal. This leads them to the quest for self discovery, positioning and promotion, which drives them into self guidance and perseverance.

How is Self Led Leadership Attained?

Nothing can be birthed in nothingness. Therefore, every individual has a beginning in something that is a location, value system, environment and social setting. These form the basis of one’s aspirations, ideas and visions. They also determine what a persons efficient cause will be or what will tailor a person to become. For Lincoln and Nanani it was the injustice of their times, and their beliefs plus values that had surrounded them in their early years of life. The efficient cause then focuses on what a person goes through to attain these aspirations, ideas and vision in order to obtain their ideal. This includes gaining values, knowledge, skill and experiences that enable the individual’s stand as an authority when they express themselves regarding their aspirations, ideas and vision. This level is further catalysed by the individual going beyond; getting out of the cave and gaining exposure, and practicing to become the change they would love to see. In doing this an individual is able to become a sphere of influence and to lead others, not because they are made leaders, but because they ably led themselves to that point that leads others to trust them, to get them to the ideal.

Getting into self leading as aforementioned comes with the following:

+ Values: Character forms the person and what they are to do and offer. One saying indicates, personal character to be a business card for it creates reference to a person. Character brings the best out of the self. Values such as honesty, integrity, justice, self control, patience, courage, diligence, promptness and cordiality among others, give precedence to someone’s personal leading and ability to reach out to others. Family, faith-based institutions and schools, form the elementary stages of building a person’s value system. The secondary stage is for one to own the values and customise them as guides in one’s routine actions. The phrase ‘honest Abe’ comes to mind again. That people would look upon Abraham Lincoln, with such reference speaks volumes in terms of how his self leading was.

+ Self discovery: One has to understand who they are, even before they introduce themselves to the world. This eliminates vulnerabilities brought by the numerous opinions in the public sphere, about an individual. Self comprehension and identification, brings out the gifts and qualities one employs in self leading. Utilizing a SWOT gauge, where one gets to know one’s strengths, weakness’s, opportunities and threats. This yields to self acceptance which is crucial, because an individual has to accept themselves if they are to be self led and lead others. This way they can be able to accept other people’s critism without spite and also accept others as they are. Nanani must have known who she was and accepted it despite the times she was situated in. Despite being a black woman amidst slavery, she still would be able to amplify her strengths and generate opportunities where there was threat.

+ Self improvement: An individual attains self leading by striving to compete with themselves to become better than they were before. This entails boosting their value system, knowledge and skills base, as well as, growing their experience. This way, external competition does not shake them. Instead, a self led person becomes competent enough to lead others. This is noted in Abraham Lincoln who turned from a farm boy to a renown lawyer and later a revered President. He was always competing with himself, training himself and practicing to be the best.

+ Purpose: When one finds out the reason for their being. Then they unlock the secret to their purpose and this serves well in self leading, as well as, leading others. A number of women during the affirmative action campaign found themselves and still find themselves leading; moreover as women representatives, without understanding the purpose for it. In the doctoral research on Ethics and Women Participating in Legislative Political Leadership, some women parliamentarians in Uganda when interviewed, noted they joined politics because people saw them as suitable candidates. Others were not sure whom they represented because they were voted by both male and female constituents. Thus, they had to represent everyone including their parties interest.

When the sense of purpose is lost in the self, it cannot be reflected in the people one serves and the work one does. It is significant that one knows their purpose for leading and it begins with ones true calling; growing from self to meeting others needs.

+ Self reliance: Getting started is a shortfall in people fulfilling their purpose and leading others. This is also because of one’s failure to discover and accept themselves. So the individual spends a lot of time listening to what others say, and often falls to peer and social pressures. With self discovery, acceptance and purpose, a self led person becomes self reliant which prevents them from wearing themselves out with public opinion. Having self reliance gives one the ability to sift out what is relevant from public opinion and apply it alongside personal ideas, rationalizing before acting. Imagine a leader who goes with whatever others say and cannot have their own personal position for others to value and look to.

+Self determination: Only an individual can increase their capacity to achieve and make choices that best suit them. Foundation is important when one is young; family, school, as well as, value systems play a crucial role. However, as one grows into their becoming ( career, adulthood, Parenthood and more) personal choices that affect that individual innately have to be made by that individual. And it is that individual who transforms those choices into actions that meet their vision, in order to serve others well in their respective roles. Personal choices lead to decisions and judgments being made by the individual, to act or not act. When a choice is made, it increases the individuals determination to fulfil their aspirations. And in so doing an individual is able to grow their vision and share it with others.

+ Self confidence: With leadership comes the need for self esteem. This allows an individual to share one’s aspirations, ideas and visions. Confidence is built internally to influence externally. A person with low esteem usually lacks in the ability to lead oneself and cannot lead others easily. Inferiority complexes make up for many mistakes people make when leading. Folklore in Uganda tells of a leader who was illiterate yet he selected a highly literate cabinet. Each time he made a mistake and they tried to correct to him, his inferiority got the better of him and he thought; ” I am being undermined” and he then would execute the officials. Furthermore, only a low esteemed person will be induced into a sex bait, in a work space. Self confidence tells an individual they can get ahead without accepting a superiors sexual advances. Low esteem gives in and sees a person of high value devalued.

+ Self endorsement: Before anyone endorses a person, they ought to be able to endorse themselves. It takes the ability to lead oneself to do this. It is by self endorsement that one exposes their capacity to lead others. Due to low levels of self leading; it is common to see people fail to endorse themselves for responsibilities that would have led to an opportunity. When asked who will ensure hygiene in a neighborhood, no one shows up. Then an entrepreneur from another neighborhood comes and starts charging an exorbitant amount and people are willing to pay. That was an employment opportunity for someone in that neighborhood, but they failed to lead themselves into self endorsement. By not doing so, they lost both the opportunity to earn a living, as well as, serve the community and contribute meaningfully.

+ Self positioning: This is about how one places themselves with regards to their aspirations, ideas and vision. Abraham Lincoln went for political debates and participated in political speeches. He positioned himself for his aspiration to become a president. A woman representative in parliament ought to position herself round concerns regarding gender and vouch for her constituents during Parliamentary debates. Despite the rigorous path of party allegiances, as well as, limited financial resources, self-positioning is essential.

+ Self promoting: The first opportunity one has to be known is themselves. Having an identity and ideas to share, is important if one has to lead themselves to some outcome. A person who is leading is always noticed, because they lead others to themselves. It goes deeper than appearance to expression and character. The ability to promote oneself, tells others you can promote them too. A leader in the making, aspiring for instance to represent the disabled, promotes him or herself in a manner that the disabled feel they will be heard. The aspirant walks the talk through a self led strategy to do so, who is able to clearly articulate views on disability, and the public associates him or her with concerns regarding the disabled.

+ Self Management: In order to be self led one has to be in control of their character, mental state, health, associations, environment, expression and purpose. Losing control means losing out the potential lead, to external chaos. In this discussion, the external applied is a chaotic sphere with many idealogies and competitive opinions, which can mislead an individual. This causes the individual to lose their leading and sometimes can be their downfall. A legislator, under political patronage or a business with nepotism ingrained in it, can cause an individuals’ lead to die out. In this situation that person surrenders to their ‘ political or business godfather’. This affects performance both at a personal level and in service delivery, for a persons’ will is subjected to another’s will and the affected person cannot operate rationally nor adequately.

+ Self directing: The essence of self leading is the ability to direct oneself towards attaining a given result. Most employers look for this in employee aand then it turns out to be rare. An enlightened, ethical and purpose filled individual can direct oneself to conserve the environment for oneself and it has a spill over effect when others benefit from this act. That individual can direct him or herself to maintain good health practices, good work ethics and be effective in meeting both his or her aspirations and the public’s goals.

Why is Self Led Leadership Important

In this paper four scenarios are discussed that show the importance of self leading. These also address the Sustainable Development Goals and include Pandemic control, Health Management, Governance and Environmental conservation.

Pandemic control

When a virus such as the Coronavirus breaks out, self leading plays an important role. First in regard to human egoistic nature it is apparent that most people in such a situation will look out for their own selfish needs, however, ethically a self guided individual knows well that humans affect each other. Therefore, it is within self interest that one adheres to the regulations for keeping oneself safe in order to keep others safe. In this case it is seen that an enlightened ethical self guided person unconsciously takes on the decision ingrained in their foundation to do what is right without much cohesion. As a material cause a person exists and perceives, but does not have clarity of what their ideal would be, even if they envisage it. They are locked up in that cave of ignorance or fallacious thought. This poses a danger, since ignorance for some is bliss. Yet when it comes to reality where humans are egoistic; in the midst of a pandemic the individual acting out of selfishness can be regarded as a loose cannon. Therefore, having a self led individual in times of a crisis, alleviates the catastrophe, and may resolve the dilemma.

Health Managment

The cliche taking a horse to the stream does not imply it will drink is key here. Health messages and even medical and public health directives are often given. Yet egoistic hedonism tends to cloud an individual. Thus, a diabetic will still indulge in a high range of sugar consumption and a well informed person will still engage in highly risky sensual activities. However, when one is an ethically self led person, these messages and health directives reinforce the persons already existing capacity to sustain health and influence others to do the same.


A doctoral research conducted on ethics and women’s participation in legislative leadership shows women enroll in leadership but are not reaching their potential as leaders. They are visible in numbers and absent in representation. Moral enrollment of women into leadership is achieved but ethical participation that would amount to quality performance is lacking. In this paper it is argued that one has to be led by self in order to lead others. Cliche would have it as ‘lead by example’. It takes an individuals’ will to make a difference. In this will are choices, clarifications, observations that translate to discussions and opinions that eventually are likely to be processed into facts. Therefore, it is not a matter of just being voted into office and being a leader in attendance. Leading oneself to act, not only gives a leader presence that attracts the much needed public discourse, but also creates the required effect towards attaining the goals of both the leader and those being led.

Environmental Conservation

Knowing the importance of afforestation and value of wetlands has not changed the mindset of people. The State of the World on Forest Report produced by FAO in 2018, notes that while three-quarters of the globe’s accessible freshwater comes from forested watersheds, research shows that 40 percent of the world’s 230 major watersheds have lost more than half of their original tree cover. In Uganda by observation and on record, forests and wetlands are under threat of extinction, yet policies are in place to protect them. The missing links are law enforcement and integrity by individual leaders and people in the public. Having policies and laws without individuals who care enough to be led to adhere by them or enforce them is a gamble. Being self led in this case would form the root of every citizen having a conviction in protecting the Environment. Ranging from forest and wetland conservation to water and waste management. A set of self led individuals would think fast in terms of forest preservation so that each time a person cuts a tree they plant one without being coerced. Because it is in their self interest to plant a tree which should contribute to good climate, fresh air as well as fuel, that benefits both them and their communities.


Self led leadership as a concept is developed in this paper, as a means to transform every individual into a leadership resource, with potential to channel their abilities into meeting their personal aspirations, fulfill their ideas and obtain their visions, with a spill over effect to other others who would find their efforts appealing and would in turn lead to individuals strategic goals. This paper emphasis the application of self leading with ethical precaution through the application of values. It also points to guided self leading so that an individual is able to achieve their goal and also enable other’s to achieve their goals. The importance of self led leadership is discussed, as well as, how this ought to be achieved and where it can be applied.


Brook Jonathan (accessed 2020) From Freedom to Bondage 1655-1770, University of New Carolina Wilmington.

FAO (2018) The State of the World Forests: Forest Pathways to Sustainable Development
Linda Lilian (2019) Ethics and Women Participating Political Leadership: The Case of the

Parliament of Uganda, PhD Thesis, Makerere University, Kampala.
Northhouse (2007) Leadership Theory and Practice, Sage Publication Inc, Thousand Oak

Wikipedia (accessed 2020) Wikipedia (accessed 2020)

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