Self-Leadership to Enhance Performance & Reduce Burnout

Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC, Reviving Veterinary Medicine, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

ArticleLast Updated February 20243 min read
Print/View PDF

In the Literature

Elwood C. Putting yourself first: awareness, regulation, care and development. In Pract. 2023;45(8):502-507. doi:10.1002/inpr.364

The Research …

The concept of self-leadership was introduced in the late 1980s in response to the idea that effective leadership includes leading oneself in addition to leading others. Self-leadership involves taking responsibility for one’s actions using behavioral and cognitive strategies to enhance personal performance and has been shown to increase job satisfaction and reduce job stress in human medical professionals. These strategies include self-observation/self-awareness (capacity to understand one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions), self-goal setting (establishing clear and achievable objectives), self-motivation (finding methods to stay focused and energized), self-expectation (setting high standards), self-reinforcement (rewarding positive behaviors and achievements), and self-correcting feedback (constructive feedback for continuous improvement).1,2

In this article, it is acknowledged that although humans naturally mirror and respond to others in their environment, individuals can control their own behavior. The author emphasizes the importance of self-leadership and how this concept can boost self-regulation, prioritize self-care, and foster self-development, which may help veterinary professionals sustain energy, maintain enthusiasm, nurture self-compassion, and prevent burnout.

Self-awareness is crucial for modifying and adapting behavior. Mindful awareness meditation, mind–body practices, and exploring habits, scripts, biases, and motivations are recommended to enhance self-awareness and break unhelpful behavior cycles. Self-regulation (ie, ability to regulate expressive behaviors based on social appropriateness and cues) is enhanced by developing emotional stability, resilience, and perseverance, which can be achieved through mindfulness and time management. Self-care is crucial for long-term well-being and should be incorporated into daily life. It is important to differentiate health-promoting self-care strategies from unhealthy coping strategies (eg, avoidance, ignoring, overworking, self-numbing, ruminating). Self-development, including trying new experiences, embracing discomfort, reflecting on experiences with the help of a friend or coach, and learning new skills, can help identify areas for improvement and growth.

… The Takeaways

Key pearls to put into practice:

  • Self-awareness can be increased by engaging in mind–body activities (eg, yoga, Pilates, martial arts, dance therapy). Using a personality profile tool (eg, DISC, Myers-Briggs) and/or connecting with a mentor, coach, or mental health professional to identify areas where self-awareness is lacking can be helpful.

  • Self-regulation can be enhanced through mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and stress-management strategies (eg, physical activity, positive self-talk, social support systems). Working with a mental health professional to identify and challenge negative thought patterns can help regulate emotions.

  • Regular and holistic self-care can be practiced by setting goals within the 8 dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, financial, intellectual, occupational, and environmental. Self-care is often uncomfortable or challenging on a short-term basis but can foster long-term well-being and resilience.

  • Self-development can be cultivated through continuing education, specializations or certifications, mentorship, networking with peers, and soft skills (eg, leadership, communication) training.