top of page
  • Writer's pictureKevin Humphreys

Cultivate Your Personal Culture Through Noble Self-Leadership

In leadership, 'noble' often evokes notions of aristocracy and birthright. However, with 'Noble Self-Leadership', nothing could be further from the truth. 


Noble Self-Leadership transcends conventional definitions. It's not a status conferred by lineage, nor does it have anything to do with ego, pride, or valour; instead, it's a commitment to cultivating one's personal culture. At its core, noble self-leadership involves being selfish to be selfless, understanding that leading others effectively begins with leading oneself—perhaps the most noble act of all.


Indeed, according to Plato, "For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories." 


My journey to this profound realisation was as personal as it was painfully transformative. As a servant leader (the type we're all told to be through military training), I dedicated myself to the unit and organisation, continually putting their needs ahead of mine. However, this approach came at a cost. There were never enough hours in the day.


If someone took the time to request something of me, I felt compelled to get it back to them, and I always wanted an empty in-box before I went home ('the kids will be ok if I'm not there to put them to bed – again…' I thought). I downplayed and ignored self-care, 'I'll sleep when I'm dead', 'I'll play golf next month', 'I'll exercise before work when things settle down'.


I normalised the deviance in my behaviours and, ultimately, allowed external opinions to override my inner voice. That was the beginning of the end that (among other things) eventually led to resenting work, contemplating suicide and a psychological breakdown.


I've learned that my experience reflects a common misconception in leadership: the belief that consistently putting others first is the epitome of effective leadership. 


However, the secret to sustained servant leadership is that it's only possible after, and if you continue to be, selfish in leading yourself first. Not selfish such that you get the spoils, are first in line, or have 'it' at the expense of others' ability to do so. Instead, selfishly lead yourself to ensure your mind stays open, your attitude stays balanced, your body remains nourished, and your well-being is maintained.


In effect, self-leadership cultivates one's own personal culture. Just as culture is the main determining factor in ensuring workplace safety and productivity, your personal culture will directly impact your future success or failures. 


When your personal culture is empowering and supportive of yourself, you have the capacity to be selfless for others, and it also directly impacts your level of job satisfaction. 


Delving into the research landscape, the significance of leading oneself becomes apparent. McKinsey's 2021 survey of 18,000 people across 15 countries identified four crucial skill categories for thriving in the future of work: Cognitive, Interpersonal, Digital, and

Self-Leadership. Notably, Self-Leadership emerged as an indispensable skill for job satisfaction and was rated highly for earning high income and employment overall. 


While your employer has a responsibility to provide a workplace that's as safe as possible, it's up to you whether that work is satisfying or not. It seems obvious reading it in print, but in the moment, on the coal face, it's easy to forget that how we view ourselves in the world is the main factor determining whether we whistle while we work. 


Whilst formal education had a high correlation in McKinsey's Cognitive and Digital categories, attributes like empathy, the ability to self-regulate emotions, navigate uncertainties, demonstrate courage, and cultivate self-confidence underscored the importance of personal attitudes and self-leadership over skills alone. 


As shown in the model below, Noble Self-Leadership is achieved through Awakening, Connecting, and Leading.


Figure 1. Noble Self-Leadership Model

It's important to realise that you navigate the Noble Self-Leadership model twice, as we seek to lead ourselves first before leading others.  


First, you focus wholly on yourself. This results in inner acceptance of and respect for your present state, transformation to the desired state and trusting yourself to make it happen, then finally emerging with an empowering and supportive personal culture where your personal performance is intentional and congruent. The second navigation shifts the focus to the context of others. This creates a holistic perspective that builds acceptance for those around you and mutual respect, transformation of relationships that improves trust, and ultimately emergence

of self-less leadership attuned to the team where performance exceeds expectations. We start with Awaken. 


Awaken invites a journey of self-discovery to understand our neurology and biology, and

also identify our biases, strengths, weaknesses, values, and passions. If you're honest with yourself, there will be some difficult conversations in the mirror. With clarity about who we are and what drives us, we can release things that no longer serve us, align our actions with our values and pursue paths that genuinely resonate with our purpose. 


Next is to Connect, with yourself. It may sound a little odd to 'connect with yourself', but I know many others are like me; I was emotionally void and numb for some time with little correlation between physical sensations and emotional or psychological issues until the dam burst. 


Finally, Lead focuses on leading oneself in all domains, such as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It embodies taking ownership, setting goals, and executing with intention. It emphasises embracing responsibility, taking bold action, failing early and often, and being humble in these failures. It also emphasises making decisions aligned with our values and being proactive in driving our own success. Doing these things silently inspires others to follow. 


To consciously lead yourself involves continuously learning, adapting, and embracing challenges as opportunities for growth. It's bloody hard and uncomfortable! You'll kick, swear, and may even cry, but keep going because success is near. 


Now that you have emerged with the new personal culture and leading yourself every day, it's time to focus on others. 


Awakening to others includes understanding that what they think, do, or say is based on their biases, knowledge, and past experiences. We can be compassionate towards others, as we want them to be with us. Still, we cannot take on their emotional load or hate if we truly lead ourselves.


Then, we connect with others, building honest and meaningful relationships and fostering a solid support network. This encourages us to embrace diversity and cultivate empathy. We amplify our impact and create positive change through collaboration and effective communication. Building relationships also provides opportunities for learning, mentorship, and continuous growth. Indeed, connection is one of the best defences against poor mental health.


Lastly, it's about leading others; yes, that's the last thing. Only once we are aware and connected with ourselves and others and leading ourselves with intention will we best lead others.


You may want to think of Noble Self-Leadership as akin to being your own rescue pilot. A rescue pilot possesses the skills to rescue others but, critically, also has the wisdom to avoid needing rescue in the first place. Just as it takes time, commitment, and training to become a rescue pilot, it takes those same three elements to become your own self-leading rescue pilot, too.


Noble self-leadership is not a static state but an ongoing journey. Pursuing personal and professional excellence demands a positive personal culture emphasising consistent self-reflection and a commitment to growth. In mastering noble self-leadership, individuals pave the way for a profound transformation that benefits them and radiates outward, positively influencing the teams and organisations they lead.


As a bonus, you'll also be far more likely to whistle while you work too.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page