Too much self-agency can hold leaders back

I’ve often argued that self-agency is the most important attribute a leader can possess. This opinion is grounded in positive psychology research. It has shown that self-agency can be a more significant driver of success than self-esteem.

For this reason, many of the leadership modules I include in my Learn with Eleanor Shakiba online programs contain content on building self-agency. Recently, in one of my courses, someone asked me a fascinating question. “Can you have too much self-agency?” The answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes’.

After all, self-agency is your belief that your actions can reap positive results. A great leader has high self-agency and fosters self-agency in others. However, anyone who’s worked for a ‘control freak’ leader knows that some people fail to do this. The result is a leadership style which can come across as autocratic, distant, or unwilling to collaborate. For this reason, positive psychology trainers should send balanced messages around the role of drive and confidence in leadership contexts.


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So how can we boost leaders’ self-agency to appropriate levels? Essentially, this involves developing capability in three key areas.

  • Positive mindset
  • Powerful communication
  • Purposeful action

Combining these three elements in leadership training ensures that leaders learn to balance self-directed action with collaborative dialogue. This turns them into dynamic change-agents, who are capable of taking teams with them on the journey to success.

If you’d like to find out more about using positive psychology principles in your leadership programs, download Eleanor Shakiba’s free e-book, Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D Practitioners.


About the author: Eleanor Shakiba

Eleanor specialises in positive psychology and NLP. She works with HR and L&D teams create vibrant organisational cultures, by delivering training that makes a difference. Eleanor’s qualifications include degrees and diplomas in Social Anthropology, Positive Psychology, Counselling, Coaching, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming. Her passion is fostering the success of ‘positive deviants’ in the workplace. Download a copy of Eleanor’s free ebook Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D Practitioners.