The Power of Reflecting on Your Best Possible Leader Self

Key Takeaways:

  • Reflection on who you desire to become at your best as a leader—your best possible leader self—may create a self-fulfilling prophecy of leadership.
  • No formal leadership experience is necessary to benefit from the best possible leader self. Whether you are currently a leader or aspire to become one in the future, imagining your best possible leader self may be useful for becoming more leader-like.

As you rush out the door each morning toward a busy day at the office, self-reflection may not be at the top of your to-do list. But, if you are in a position of leadership at work or you aspire to become a leader in the future, taking a few minutes to start the day with self-reflection on leadership may make you more effective at work.

Most employees aspire to leadership positions and desire to perform well once in a leadership role. But many people never stop to imagine what success may look like for them personally as a leader. Psychology has long suggested that people can create best possible selves—mental images of who they desire to be at their best in the future—for roles that are important to them, such as parent, friend, or spouse. In the context of leadership, a best possible leader self refers to a personalized mental picture of who you ideally think you could become at your best as a leader. In other words, it’s an image of you thriving as a leader at a future point in time.

Imagining your best possible leader self may create a self-fulfilling prophecy of leadership. In a recent study published in Personnel Psychology, my colleagues (Klodiana Lanaj at University of Florida, Joel Koopman at Texas A&M University, and Gerry McNamara at Michigan State University) and I found that on days when participants reflected on their best possible leader self before work (vs. days they did not self-reflect), they exhibited more positive leadership behaviors at work. They also described themselves as more leaderlike. Specifically, we found that they helped their colleagues more, and they shared more strategic visions for the future with their teammates. As a result, they identified more as a leader at the end of the workday, and they reported having more influence in their team.

Spending time reflecting on your best possible leader self is helpful even if you do not currently have a formal leadership role at work. We found that visualizing a best possible leader self had similar effects for aspiring leaders as it did for current leaders. This means that self-reflection on your leadership aspirations may be beneficial at any career stage.

In sum, visualizing yourself as a successful leader in the future may point you toward positive leadership, helping you get closer to embodying your best possible leader self one day at a time. So tomorrow, take a few moments to start your day by reflecting on your best possible leader self, and you’ll already be on your way toward becoming the best leader you can be.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.