What is Agile Self-Leadership?

Self-Leadership is a term that to my knowledge was first coined by Charles Manz  in a article published in 1986. Manz defined self-leadership as:

  “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” [1]



Agile Self-LeadershipMost of the articles and books I have read on the topic describe self-leadership in terms of taking personal responsibility and being a role model for others. As I see it, self-leadership is a whole other way to think about how we get things done, and how we grow (vs. improve) ourselves.

The umbrella of Agile Self-Leadership provides a more unbiased and flexible framework for unconventional and neurodiverse people to:

  1. See ourselves as whole, worthy beings who are “works in progress” with a need to
  2. Learn skills that will help us have a better relationship with ourselves, and
  3. Empower ourselves to cope with and thrive while
  4. Making the most of our strengths and
  5. Working around our challenges with creatively designed solutions.

The “Agile” in Agile Self-Leadership is about learning to lead yourself when things are constantly changing, unpredictable and seem inconsistent. Agile is about

  • becoming comfortable with imperfection, and
  • trusting in the natural cycles of processes like learning or changing habits rather than trying to control them
  • becoming more flexible in what we expect of ourselves as we are constantly learning new things
  • being willing to oppose what we think we know and believe to consider whether it’s time to update our beliefs and make room for new ways of seeing things
  • realizing that our traits are not inherently good or bad, rather they may be helpful in some situations and can make life quite painful in others.
  • understanding that acceptance is not the same thing as “approval”
  • accepting ourselves as we are does NOT mean we are giving up on growing or ourselves

When people who are different are “diagnosed” and labeled with terms that have pejorative connotations and implication, it causes us to become biased against ourselves without even realizing it. When you think you are “inconsistent” for example it can keep you from seeing the bigger patterns and ways in which you ARE consistent.

Labels that imply something is “unwanted or not good”  make it harder to value your strengths.   It’s much harder to perceive ourselves as equally worthy human beings who have a right to be different when we feel like we are defective or “sick” in some way. When we are labeled, or label ourselves, as disordered people with deficits and bad habits that have to be fixed, it’s too easy to have our self-image become defined by that label.  There is often a sense that the “goal of treatment” is to fix us and make us more “normal” and essentially become more like other people — implying we are not good enough just as we are today.

The issue with the paradigm of seeing differences as disorders is that it is fundamentally biased against the individual and does little to recognize any inherent strengths. It reflects a value system that may or not be valid.

Isn’t it interesting that often people with low self-control who have a label of ADHD often have a high aptitude for leadership, initiative, creative design, invention, and standing up for what they see as wrong in society?

Yet we don’t often see people with high self-control being diagnosed as have a creative thinking disorder or with a “too easily just does what they are told” disorder.    What we call disordered is most definitely a reflection of our biases and values.

Today people talk a lot about living from your strengths, but unfortunately, most people don’t get what that really means for neurodiverse people.

For example, most people don’t see how “lack of self-control” can also be described as potentially having a high aptitude for and a strong need to cultivate self-leadership skills. And furthermore, because we don’t have natural strong self-control, we actually need to learn the art and skills of self-leadership in a fundamentally different way than neurotypical people do.  For example, a few of the super critical skills most of us need to learn note by note that neurotypicals often don’t need special training for include:

  • How to teach ourselves to like, or be interested in things that don’t naturally appeal to us
  • How to use our natural high energy, restlessness, need for change and novelty to cultivate personal agility habits
  • How to resolve inner conflict and make smarter choices and decisions (generating options is often easy for us, narrowing them down is often excruciating for us until we learn these skills.)
  • How to clarify, articulate and manage expectations of ourselves and others
  • How to recognize the impact of our emotional, cognitive and behavioral “intensities” on our relationship with ourselves and with others and what to do about it
  • How to process the feedback we get from ourselves and others that feels extremely invalidating, critical, bewildering, and often painful.
  • How to identify and articulate our unusual needs and use design skills to develop ways to fulfill them and can easily change with us

The curriculum I’m designing for AgiliZen is intended to teach the foundational and advanced skills that are required to exercise Agile Self-Leadership growth-change-painand thrive in a society that still doesn’t quite understand what to do with people like us. It’s up to us to take responsibility for learning the skills we need because people who are not neurodiverse usually can’t even begin to understand what we need.  Besides, when have you ever heard of the people in power actually being eager to share or give away their power?  Calling people disordered Is easier for the people giving the label than having to stretch themselves or have to take the time to figure our how to accommodate us.  That means we’ve got to learn how to figure it our for ourselves.  It’s not “easy” to become an agile self-leader. I won’t lie to you.  Changing the way you see yourself and being kind to yourself means having to challenge a lot of what you think you know.

What I can promise you though, is that the benefits and rewards that you also experience throughout the journey are priceless.  And once you have these skills, NO ONE can take them away from you.  AND, everything I teach will help you do better at work, improve your relationships and help you become a better parent, too.

The ability to exercise agile self-leadership is incredibly healing, fulfilling, and empowering. Why wouldn’t you want to get started?  What have you got to lose?



[1] Manz, C. C. (1986). Self-leadership: Toward an expanded theory of self-influence processes in organizations. Academy of Management Review,11(3), 585-600.