Self-Leadership and Purpose


AMA LLULLA, AMA QILLA, AMA SUWAone of the authors met this sentence engraved in stone at the entrance of a country house in La Paz, Bolivia. This is an old Quechua saying, which means, “Don’t lie, don’t be lazy, and don’t steal.” It defined the basic principles to be successful in the ancestral societies of South America. In a sense, this phrase is a good example of the unwritten rules to succeed in any society, market, sector. In military terms, we can call them: rules of engagement. Personal success in career and life depends largely on how wisely we live according to these rules while we stay authentic to ourselves. This is called practical wisdom. It is the capacity to apply daily the universal, accepted, written/unwritten laws of a specific society at a specific time.

Practical wisdom is the most important skill for succeeding in career and life. The wise person identifies the right principles for acting while he or she does not build rigid structures of behavior. The world out there is full of winds, and we cannot foresee where they will push us to; however, we should have clarity of mind and will to be firm in the middle of turbulence.

During school and college times, teachers and instructors are largely committed to assisting the students in their task of acquiring technical knowledge and practical skills. In the end, graduates become specialists, who know the basics of being a manager, of participating in a decisionmaking process. However, these capacities hardly guarantee their ability to lead organizations, other people and, what is even more important, to lead themselves and their families. As said before, practical wisdom is the most important skill; unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence that it is not the most frequent among graduates.

This first chapter will explain the relevance of this book and its topics. We will outline the main characteristics of the current context, which impact substantially career choices and which are the differences with the reality of previous generations.

What Is Self-Leadership

Each one of us faces at a moment our moment of truth when we evaluate all our most important and long-standing decisions. Nobody can really predict when this milestone comes, as it depends on many subjective and circumstantial factors. The role of personal development courses and books like this one is to somehow artificially trigger this moment.

You have probably seen the advertisement that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer 1984 won’t be like “1984.” Apple introduced itself as the game-changer, the rebel, the one who comes to reinstate the rules. Our aforementioned moments of truth are somehow a reaction to our usual long-term compliance with the rules of the game. We move fast in our careers, and the tendency is to go with the flow. The question is: am I true to myself? And that is exactly the question we are posting in this first part of the book.

Self-leadership starts with the clear articulation of who we are. There are three concepts or pillars that constitute the blocks to define our authentic self: self-awareness, the scale of values, and vision (see figure 1.1). We will work around them during this and the next chapters of Part I.

We finish this subsection of self-leadership with a definition. According to Dr. Rivera, “leadership is the art of achieving outstanding results through others, serving others and becoming the best of you.” Drawing from this definition, we could elaborate that self-leadership is the art of achieving outstanding results in ourselves with the following nuances:

1. Leadership is an art, and it means that we need to exercise both knowledge and practical capacity.

2. A leader gets outstanding results, that is, even more than what people could on average achieve.

3. Leaders work through others: lone leaders simply do not exist; also, regarding self-leadership—we need others to develop ourselves.


Figure 1.1 The three main pillars of self-leadership

Source: The authors

4. The way of leading is serving because an egoistic or selfish leader is a caricature, and not a real leader. Servant leadership is a vision of leadership proposed by (Greenleaf 1970), which has been gaining increasing support during the last decades.

5. The aim is to become the best of you, because remarkable leaders are so not, for what they have, but for what they become. Everything we do has an impact on our values, emotional intelligence, and temperament.

Particularly Practical Advice and Principles for Making Good Use of This Book

There are a few things you must keep in mind. We suggest at this point to take a notebook for the first time and write these tips in a visible place.

(a) You are in charge of learning! In this book, you are not just a receptor, but also the main crafter of the learning.

(b) You will benefit from sharing their reflections. It could be enough if you keep entries in the notebook and share them with people close to who you trust.

(c) If it is true that poetry makes people happy, money pays for that. Intently we have tried to keep this book as dry and concise as possible. We want you to be reflective beyond emotions when making such important decisions.

(d) There is enough evidence that leadership could be developed, and we endorse it. Otherwise, what is the meaning of leadership training? Your conviction toward your capacity to improve leadership skills is fundamental for feeding the effort that this takes.

(e) Leadership development topics are generally considered soft. There is enough evidence that the personal and corporate leadership level impacts the personal and corporate bottom line.

(f) Leadership is not about fighting weaknesses but fostering strengths. The underlying methodology of this workbook endorses the principles of positive psychology. A great writer would say that “the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts” (Lewis 2017).

Reflecting on Success—The Philosopher’s Stone—An Exercise

Throughout this workbook, we have inserted exercises that will introduce you to leadership concepts and assist you with developing leadership skills. In all tasks, we encourage you to think deeply, be honest with yourself, and go beyond the first impressions. Now, we get into the first exercise.

Reflecting on success is an exercise to help you get the awareness of your understanding of leadership and success in real life.

While completing this task, people understand the difficulty to be a leader and to be perceived as a successful leader.

First, choose a role model of success; it should be someone you know personally (relative, friend, colleague, etc.). Describe him or her briefly.






Next, answer the following questions:

- By what criteria he or she been deemed successful.






- How has he or she used his or her success, personally and publicly?






- What problem/s, if any, do you perceive with his or her success?






- What are your takeaways for your own self-development?






Challenges for Becoming Successful in the 21st Century

Probably, success as a question is a new phenomenon, at least as a shared question by a large portion of the population. For centuries, the range of life choices was very limited for most individuals. Technology, globalization, wealth, social progress, and other key drivers have boosted the alternatives for most of us. For our contemporaries, success as an outcome now became less of a fate and more of a consequence of personal decisions. In our understanding, this is the largest shift in the new context—personal choices now matter—we can impact our life and career success.

Following Professor Nuria Chinchilla from IESE (2013), we see other new challenges our generation needs to deal with:

1. An era of quick changes: The speed of changes has substantially increased, which makes it more difficult the possibility to settle and the capacity to decide what is relevant in the long run for our own development.

2. Inflation of information: The amount of information we receive each day is enormous and leads to the scarcity of time for reflection. It hinders, therefore, leaders’ capacity to understand the big picture.

3. Career success impact on satisfaction with life: There is no convincing evidence that the current rhythm of our careers and their price in terms of personal sacrifice make sense regarding our level of satisfaction with life. In our work with hundreds of managers, we have found out that there is no linear correlation between the level of career success and level of general satisfaction with life. “There is a paradox at the heart of our civilization. Individuals want more income. Yet as society has got richer, people have not become happier. Over the past 50 years, we have better homes, more clothes, and longer holidays and, above all, better health. (Siegel) Yet surveys show clearly that happiness has not increased [...]” (Layard).

4. Too much too early: We live in a generally wealthy society, at least in Europe, the United States, and several hubs across the globe. It is difficult to keep high expectations for the future, because people generally have easy access to things from very early in life. A French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Catholic theologian Blaise Pascal has said, “Disgrace finds light in the sole which prosperity fails to perceive” (Nuria and Maruja 2013).

5. Allergy to suffering: The newer generations have difficulties to suffer. The culture around us has created a break in our tolerance toward suffering, anguish, stress, and frustration (Nuria and Maruja 2013). Without trials, our endurance is diminished. We should remember that career implies too many hills to climb and setbacks to overcome.

6. Ambiguous identity: The demand for tolerance toward different values has degraded to relativism toward any value. In simple terms, many today do not have clear red lines for their decision making. Comedian Groucho Marx illustrated the meaning of it by saying: “those are my principles, and if you don’t like them ... well I have others” (Siegel). People without red lines lack the deep-rooted convictions that would ultimately doable the alignment between career and life. We will tackle the topic of scale of values at large in a later chapter.

7. Individualism: The 21st-century society is an individualistic society with a characteristic weakening of the societal linkages. This makes particularly challenging any degree of cooperation in companies, families, and society at large. This poses a challenge of its own to any long-term career development plans as they require the building of a network of support.

How to Think of Success Regard(less) Google—An Exercise

The creation of a success plan requires “thinking,” using our main ally (our brain) to reflect on our own trajectory and build the project for the future. The key competence is what is called “critical thinking” that allows us to get holistic “points of view” meanwhile we challenge the apparent assumptions. Critical thinking requires imagination, creativity, wisdom, and thinking outside the box.

The Google generation has got accustomed to easy answers (digital content experts try to maximize the user experience in a way that anyone can find answers in up to three clicks). It is hard for people today to have as a habit “the recourse to thinking” as a first step in finding answers. We do not deny the enormous advantage of finding quickly and precise answers from Google. However, Googlemania can restrain the training of our brain to draw relevant conclusions from complex problems on our own. And, planning your career is as complex as it can be!

Try your thinking capacity now! Answer the following puzzle without using the help of other people or the Internet: Imagine you are on a deserted island with no phone or other Internet-enabled device. You have never been to NYC. Now, if I asked you how many Thai restaurants are in NYC? How would you try to find that out? What considerations might be important to answer this question? (Chopra 2014)










What are your takeaways for your own self-development?








Resignation Letter—An Exercise

Change managers used to say that if there is a big wall between the ideal plans and their implementation, this big wall is no other than the “lack of sense of urgency.” This is the reason why in severely conservative systems, often, the only realistic way for triggering change is “restricting resources.” If we are planning, our career is because we want some changes to happen. Either we want a U turn or we want a leap forward or something in between. Experience says that without a crisis of any sort, we will not take our hard decisions.

In absence of external challenges, the only sure way to trigger a positive crisis is a reality check. All the exercises in this workbook are designed exactly for that. But, one of the most powerful is the following: writing your resignation letter. Please, follow these steps:

1. You will write your resignation letter! Try to do it in an adequate physical space, for example, a cozy corner in your home. Use no more than 20–30 minutes and stick to a one-page long.

Questions to consider

What do you wish you had done differently? What decisions do you wish you had made, conversations you wish you had had, and risks you wish you had taken? If someone else was coming into your role, what should this person do that you have not done? Which dreams do you think you cannot fulfill in your current job?

2. Put it in the envelope, close the envelope, and discuss it with a close classmate or a friend. Keep the letter until the end of the workbook.

Circle of Influence or Circle of Concern—An Exercise

In Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes the importance of understanding the effects of two circles, which contain our lives, the circle of concern and circle of influence (see figure 1.2).


Figure 1.2 Circle of influence or circle of concern

Source: (Covey 1998)

Circle of concern—The things we care deeply about in both personal (our health, career, relationships, etc.) and global (global warming, war, hunger, natural disasters, etc.) scale. (Covey 1998).

Circle of influence—The things we have the power to affect (our family life, recycling, riding a bike instead of a car, volunteering, and charity) (Covey 1998).

According to Covey, effective people start with “[...] being proactive and focusing our attention, time and energy on our circle of influence instead of concentrating on our circle of concern” (Covey 1998).

The challenge at stake is to focus our energies, efforts, and power for the greatest impact.

Adapted by Professor Rivera from Steven Covey’s very famous model, we offer an exercise in order to understand how focusing on the circle of influence can help you to gain a can win mentality on the possibilities to succeed and become leaders. In other words, how to improve your “self-efficacy” mindset. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief that they can be successful when carrying out a task (Cambridge English Dictionary n.d.). Covey writes, “At the very heart of our Circle of Influence is our ability to make and keep commitments and promises” (Covey 1998).

(1) As the first part of this exercise, list all the issues—concerns, worries, projects, tasks—that automatically come to your mind during the last seven days.

A list of roughly 20–25 will do;
















(2) Indicate from 1 to 5 the level of difficulty of the corresponding item (concern, worry, project, and task).

Scale: 1 (almost no effort needed);

2 (requires effort but there is not risk);

3 (doable);

4 (as much doable as risky);

5 (impossible).

(3) Create the graph with four quadrants. Each quadrant belongs to a specific potential area of the item: family or friends, health, work, study, and so on;

(4) Map all the items in the four quadrants;

(5) Draw a line connecting the 3s points in the X and Y;


Level 1—call my sister, … (family or friends)

Level 2—work on best-self-portrait, … (study)

Level 3—take my immunity vitamins every morning, walk 10,000 steps/ day, … (health)

Level 4—visit my grandmother, … (family or friends)

Level 5—help every colleague whose position was eliminated during pandemic, … (work)

Part of Exercise—Example “Circle of Influence or Circle of Concern”


Part of Exercise—Your Personal “Circle of Influence or Circle of Concern”



We hope this first chapter has helped you to understand the enterprise ahead, grasp the main challenges for self-development, and kick-off the reflection process. In this first chapter, we have:

(1) Understood the concept of self-leadership in the context of this book.

(2) Outlined practical recommendations on how to approach a process of leadership development

(3) Through exercises, you have been able to understand the level of difficulty to becoming a successful leader, considering the relevance of reflection for leadership development, the importance of creating a sense of urgency to kick-off personal development process, and the impact of self-development processes on self-efficacy.

Before closing the chapter, we want to introduce the Leader’s Journal that will accompany you during the whole journey.

Personal and Career Journey “Leader’s Journal”

This is an exercise that goes across the book and will help you to create a roadmap for your career. It has been created by Dr. Rivera and initially intended to be used in the Personal and Career Development course for the MBA students to have a clear development plan.

You are suggested to fill the roadmap following the sequences of the chapters. This helps to think on the topic and then analyze the case, meaning yourself. It is not suggested to fill all sections at once at the end of the book. You will be instructed when and how to fill out each part. This roadmap forces you on writing your own reflections, which is very important to articulate them better. If it becomes difficult to write, the authors encourage you to follow the recommendation of Ernest M. Hemingway: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know” (Hemingway n.d.). You can always find one sentence that is true and familiar to you, which will work as a starting point.

Finally, we suggest the readers make a nice printout of the Leader’s Journal once it is fully completed. It might prove to be very inspiring to look at it occasionally when the reader needs to take important career decisions. Good luck!

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