Gauges, thermometers, controls, and dials – all instruments to check whether a system is working or not.
But how does one monitor and report back on a concept?
Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.
H. James Harrington
The concept of self-leadership training has become a regular sight in professional training schedules. It is also beginning to make its way onto self-improvement course lists in private households. All to support people to become more competent self-leaders.
But how do we know this training achieves what it promises? This article details how you can measure this concept with self-leadership assessments.
Before you continue, you might like to download these three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
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To examine if a program has the effects it claims to have, we need to be able to measure the intended outcome.
Self-leadership training is predominantly delivered in organizations, often to hundreds of workers simultaneously. Simple, quick, and cost-effective measurement strategies are therefore preferred.
One way to measure is to ask people. A questionnaire is inexpensive, easy to administer, and noninvasive. It can be administered through an interview, pen and paper, or electronically to a large number of people. Analyses can be automated and fed back to the participant nearly instantly.
The trickier question to answer is what to ask them, and the effort involved to develop a psychometrically sound self-leadership questionnaire is considerable.
The historical development of the questionnaire
Psychometrically sound measurement tools are those that are grounded in theory, reliable, and valid. The development of such tools is resource extensive. It usually starts by drafting several questions representing each theoretical component.
In the context of self-leadership, Charles Manz and Henry Sims started this process with a prototype in 1987. By combining self-leadership theory with observation and interviews, they drafted a set of 21 questions.
These were proposed to assess self-leadership across its three theorized strategy categories: behavioral, cognitive, and natural reward (motivational; Manz & Sims, 1987). At the time, self-leadership was understood as a salient form of leadership behavior, facilitating self-managing behaviors in teams (also referred to as super-leadership).
Over the years, the concept of self-leadership was further refined and predominantly understood to be the skill to motivate oneself for the completion of work tasks or the achievement of goals more generally. Simultaneously, assessment tools for self-leadership were further developed. In particular, the prototype by Manz and Sims was refined and progressed into two distinct self-leadership scales.
One was a 34-item questionnaire representing eight self-leadership factors (Cox, 1994).
The second was a 50-item instrument with 10 factors, which was developed using the Delphi method (Anderson & Prussia, 1997). This was the first-ever published self-leadership scale and therefore laid an important scientific foundation for future self-leadership scales.
However, there were some psychometric challenges, and to overcome them, Jeffery Houghton and colleagues eventually combined both of these scales. This resulted in the revised self-leadership questionnaire (RSLQ; Houghton & Neck, 2002) and later the abbreviated self-leadership questionnaire (ASLQ; Houghton, Dawley, & Diliello, 2012).
2 Helpful Questionnaires
To date, the RSLQ (Houghton & Neck, 2002) and ASLQ (Houghton et al., 2012) are the only psychometrically sound self-leadership questionnaires.
The revised self-leadership questionnaire (RSLQ)
Houghton and Neck (2002) developed the RSLQ using the 50-item questionnaire by Anderson and Prussia (1997) as a basis, discarding weak or ill-loading items, rewording some items, and adding some additional ones from the 34-item scale developed by Cox (1994). It was then tested using exploratory factor analysis and subsequently using confirmatory factor analysis.
The resulting questionnaire contains 35 items. These represent cognitive, behavioral, and motivational self-leadership strategies across nine distinct dimensions, such as shown in the following self-leadership table.
|Behavioral strategies||Cognitive strategies||Motivational strategies|
|Self-goal setting (5 items)||Visualizing successful performance (5 items)||Focusing thoughts on natural rewards (5 items)|
|Self-reward (3 items)||Self-talk (3 items)|
|Self-punishment (4 items)||Evaluating beliefs and assumptions (4 items)|
|Self-observation (4 items)|
|Self-cueing (2 items)|
The items comprise statements about work habits (details below). Participants are asked to describe how true each statement is in describing them. Answer options are given on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 – not at all accurate to 5 – completely accurate.
The RSLQ has been validated across numerous empirical studies (e.g., Carmeli, Meitar, & Weisberg, 2006; Curral & Marques-Quinteiro, 2009; Houghton, Bonham, Neck, & Singh, 2004; Nel & Van Zyl, 2015) and shown good psychometric properties. However, the authors saw an opportunity for a more concise version, which led them to develop the ASLQ.
The questionnaire and instructions are published in the paper by Houghton and Neck (2002), which can be accessed for free via ResearchGate.
The Abbreviated Self-Leadership Questionnaire (ASLQ)
The ASLQ consists of nine items that were taken directly from the RSLQ (Houghton et al., 2012). Those items that loaded highest on each of the dimensions were chosen. While the self-punishment dimension was dismissed due to empirically observed unsuitability, a second item from the self-goal setting dimension was taken instead.
Exploratory factor analysis revealed three factors with three items each. The factors were perceived to encapsulate the classic self-leadership strategies and were interpreted as behavioral awareness, task motivation, and constructive cognition.
Equivalent to the RSLQ, the items comprise statements, with participants being asked to evaluate how well they describe themselves across a 5-point Likert scale.
The ASLQ has been validated across several studies and has shown satisfactory levels of reliability and validity (e.g., Houghton et al., 2012; Mahembe, Engelbrecht, & Wakelin, 2017; Nel & Van Zyl, 2015). It can be accessed free of charge via ResearchGate.
Additional Determinants of Effective Self-Leadership
Self-leadership is a broad construct, including many different elements and skills. Research is still somewhat in its infancy, and opinions regarding other potentially relevant aspects, such as strengths or psychological capital, are ongoing (Du Plessis, 2019).
Similarly, key elements of current self-leadership training vary across training institutions. It is therefore recommended to complement the above self-leadership questionnaires with an assessment of other relevant outcomes. Two such potential outcomes include conscientiousness and grit.
Conscientiousness is one of the five broad personality trait domains of the Big Five Model of Personality (Costa & McCrae, 2008). Conscientiousness is the trait of wishing to do one’s work well and diligently, and includes thoughtfulness, self-control, organization, and consideration of others and circumstances.
There is some evidence to suggest that individuals with a higher conscientiousness score are more efficient self-leaders (Stewart, Carson, & Cardy, 1996). Assessing conscientiousness may therefore be helpful to identify opportunities to develop this personality with targeted training.
While there are many tools available to measure the Big Five personality traits, the one developed by Goldberg (1992) is free, easy to administer, and psychometrically sound (Smith & Snell, 1996).
This scale includes 20 items measuring conscientiousness. Instead of questions, the items comprise adjectives of 10 high and low markers of conscientiousness each. Participants are asked to indicate how much the adjectives describe them, and we discuss these further below.
The Grit Scale (Grit-O)
Grit can be understood as the combination of perseverance with passion for long-term goals (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). As such, it can be considered as repeatedly demonstrating resilience over time.
Grit is fundamental for long-term success in self-leadership. However, it is not (yet) formally included in self-leadership theory. It is therefore recommended to add a grit scale to the self-leadership questionnaire.
The Grit Scale (Grit-O) is a validated grit questionnaire (Duckworth et al., 2007). It consists of 12 items comprising descriptive statements. Participants are asked to indicate the degree to which each statement describes them. Answer options range from 1 – not like me at all to 5 – very much like me.
41 Questions to Ask Your Clients
The following provides a list of questions to ask your clients to assess their self-leadership skills, conscientiousness, and grit.
The questions are taken from the instruments described above.
9 Questions assessing self-leadership
The following are the nine questions used to assess self-leadership as per the ASLQ (Houghton et al., 2012).
Read each of the following items carefully, and try to decide how true the statement is in describing you.
1 = Not at all accurate
2 = Somewhat accurate
3 = A little accurate
4 = Mostly accurate
5 = Completely accurate
- I establish specific goals for my own performance.
- I make a point to keep track of how well I’m doing at work.
- I work toward specific goals I have set for myself.
- I visualize myself successfully performing a task before I do it.
- Sometimes I picture in my mind a successful performance before I actually do a task.
- When I have successfully completed a task, I often reward myself with something I like.
- Sometimes I talk to myself (out loud or in my head) to work through difficult situations.
- I try to mentally evaluate the accuracy of my own beliefs about situations I am having problems with.
- I think about my own beliefs and assumptions whenever I encounter a difficult situation.
Scores are to be averaged.
20 Questions assessing conscientiousness
The following questions are taken from the conscientiousness subscale of the 100 Trait Descriptives (Goldberg, 1992).
How accurately can you describe yourself? Use this list of common human traits to describe yourself as accurately as possible. Describe yourself as you see yourself at present, not as you wish to be in the future. Describe yourself as you are generally or typically, as compared with other people you know of the same gender and roughly your same age.
Before each trait, write a number indicating how accurately that trait describes you, using the following rating scale:
1 = Extremely Inaccurate
2 = Very Inaccurate
3 = Quite Inaccurate
4 = Slightly Inaccurate
5 = Neither Inaccurate nor Accurate
6 = Slightly Accurate
7 = Quite Accurate
8 = Very Accurate
9 = Extremely Accurate
*Scoring for these items is to be reversed.
Scores are to be averaged. The maximum score is 9 (extremely conscientious), the minimum score is 1 (not at all conscientious).
12 Questions assessing grit
Participants are instructed to respond to the 12 items with honesty, as there are no right or wrong answers. Answer options are as follows:
1 = Not like me at all
2 = Not much like me
3 = Somewhat like me
4 = Mostly like me
5 = Very much like me
- I am a hard worker.
- I finish whatever I begin.
- My interests change from year to year.
Scores are to be averaged. The maximum score is 5 (extremely gritty) and the lowest score is 1 (not at all gritty).
Further Reading: PositivePsychology.com’s Resources
For an overview of self-leadership models, theory, and an example, read this article on self-leadership that describes the historical development of the self-leadership concept, its theoretical foundations, a current model integrating aspects from positive psychology, as well as eight core competencies and skills.
Read this ultimate coaching guide if you are interested in developing your self-leadership skills or are looking for guidance to support your clients in doing so. It contains a description of the core elements of self-leadership; cognitive, behavioral, and motivational strategies; questions to ask your coaching clients; and development plans with corresponding exercises.
In the Big Five Personality article, you will be introduced to the concept of personality traits. The article provides a historical view of personality research and an overview of the Big Five personality domains, including conscientiousness. It explains how the Big Five are connected to the various aspects of our lives and makes suggestions about how to assess them.
Finally, you might enjoy reading this article about developing resilience and grit. It explains what a growth mindset is and how it is related to grittiness. You will be treated to 10 ways to develop grit, including in teams and with students, and find many inspiring tools and resources.
A Take-Home Message
For any self-leadership training provider or coach, there is nothing more rewarding than helping your clients improve their skills. If the client notices a difference and is happy, so are you.
However, if the training is provided to groups of individuals in the context of organizational training initiatives, trainers are typically required to provide more solid evidence of their training impact than a happy client.
This can be done quickly and cost effectively using the psychometrically tested RSLQ or ASLQ.
Through the application of these self-leadership questionnaires, you will be able to demonstrate improvements to your clients’ cognitive, behavioral, and motivational strategies following your training. With that, you will have solid evidence that you have equipped your clients with the skills to conquer today’s increasingly challenging work demands.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
If you wish to access more, our PositivePsychology.com Toolkit© contains over 350 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.
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