AS INDUSTRIES become more knowledge-based and workforces more qualified, there is less necessity to appoint formal leaders to supervise the work of others.

In today’s organisations, many employees carrying job titles of “manager” or even “director” are, in fact, individual contributors with no formal people-management responsibilities.

Ironically, even as we require fewer formal leaders, we need more leadership.

Individuals are expected to develop expertise in their own areas of work and rely less on direction from their bosses. Everyone has to think, feel and act like a leader and exhibit self-leadership. 

There are five elements to self-leadership and they are characterised by the five Cs of credibility, collaboration, change, corporate thinking and commitment: 

1. Credibility

Establishing credibility is about developing the trust that others have in you. This comes from competency, commitment and character.

First of all, people need to know that you can (competency) and will (commitment) honour agreements.

But that is not enough.

When American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr commented that “we have guided missiles and misguided men” in reference to the actions of the US military during the Vietnam War, he was alluding to the importance of character.

To become trustworthy, your actions must be guided by moral and ethical values.

You have to demonstrate that you will always choose to do the right thing, even in situations where it may be personally difficult for you.

2. Collaboration

Inevitably, during the course of your work, you will need the support of people whom you may not have any direct authority over.

While it is possible to pressure others into supporting you through coercion or threats, the help that you receive in such a manner is less likely to come with real commitment.

True collaboration is built on the foundation of solid relationships based on reciprocity, or give and take.

Learn about the challenges that your colleagues are facing. Think about how you can add value to them.

Proactively take action to help people to achieve their goals.

By building goodwill with people, they are more likely to reciprocate and offer their support when you need it.

3. Change

Jim Collins’ best-selling book Good to Great, published in 2001, featured 11 “great” companies. Since its publication, half of the companies featured have underperformed and one has even gone bankrupt.

This demonstrates a fundamental truism in life — that no matter how good you are now, you are doomed to fail if you cannot effectively adapt to change.

Driving change means always seeking better ways of doing things. It is about constantly challenging how work is done and asking questions such as:

* Is this task still necessary?

* How can we do our work more effectively?

* What else do we need to do to bring ourselves to the next level?

Remember, what your organisation wants is not for you to mechanically do the same thing over and over again, no matter how good you are at doing it.

What every organisation wants is for its people to come up with faster, better and cheaper ways of doing things.

4. Corporate thinking

During a recent Formula One race, the Ferrari team deliberately committed a technical breach so that one of its drivers, Felipe Massa, would incur a penalty.

This was done to enable its other driver Fernando Alonso (who was still in contention to become the F1 champion) to win more championship points in the race. It was a completely legal manoeuvre and Massa “took one for the team” that day.

This dramatic incident demonstrates what corporate thinking is all about — helping the organisation advance its objectives, even if it means making some personal sacrifice.

Far too often, organisations are plagued by a silo mentality, where everyone focuses entirely on maximising his own achievements, even to the overall detriment of the organisation.

Taking the corporate view means putting your organisation’s goals above all else and aligning your own work objectives to them.

5. Commitment

It is not uncommon to hear of executives suffering from burn-out after being in a role for some time.

Burn-out leads to a loss of motivation, which results in poor performance.

What is worse is that burnt-out employees may behave in a way that causes demotivation in others as well.

Make it a point to review your career and professional goals regularly and appraise if you are on track to achieving them.

Commitment is sustained when you are in a role that is aligned with your interests and talents.

Be honest in assessing your own strengths. Determine what you really enjoy doing and what you are really good at.

Then influence your boss to help you grow your job into one that gives you more opportunity to play to your strengths.

Exercise self-leadership

As Mr Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, puts it, today’s businesses have to operate at the “speed of thought”. 

Organisations cannot afford to have their employees wait for instructions every time an opportunity or issue arises.

The exceptional organisation is one where its people exercise self-leadership and are able to respond independently to challenges.