Purpose – Although the measurement of self-leadership (RSLQ) has been developed and validated with samples from the USA with promising reliability and construct validity, its generalizability to the Chinese context is problematic. The purpose of this study is to modify the existing self-leadership scale (RSLQ) in order to make the application of self-leadership theory and measurement more relevant to the Chinese culture. This modification includes: enhancing the generalization of self-leadership measurement to the Chinese context by refining the items of four existing dimensions (self-observation, evaluations of beliefs and assumptions, natural rewards, and self-punishment) found to have low-reliabilities in one previous validation study; and extending the breadth of some self-leadership components based on the cross-cultural theory about self-concept differences between individualism and collectivism. Three self-leadership subscales are newly developed through extending three self-leadership components (natural rewards, self-observation, and evaluating beliefs and assumptions) with the incorporation of social/relation-based features associated with collectivism. Design/methodology/approach – The modified RSLQ was administered to 569 Chinese students. The reliability and construct validity of this modified self-leadership scale was explored using exploratory (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). Test of association with self-efficacy was also examined. Findings – Results from the EFA demonstrated good reliability and stable factor structure for the modified scale and CFA demonstrated acceptable model fit for 11 factors of the modified self-leadership scale. Most notably, the refinement of four existing dimensions (self-observation, evaluations of beliefs and assumptions, natural rewards, and self-punishment), which had failed to reach acceptable levels of reliability in Neubert and Wu's Chinese sample, showed increases above the commonly recommended level of 0.7. Two new extended dimensions, relation-based natural rewards and social-oriented evaluation of beliefs and assumptions, consistently emerged in two independent student samples. More interestingly, the items of another extended dimensions, relation-based self-observation consistently merged with the task-based self-observation (the original subscale) to form one factor, suggesting that, in Chinese culture, task-based self-observation cannot be separated from relation-based self-observation. The modified RSLQ was also positively and strongly associated with self-efficacy. Research limitations/implications – Further validation work is required to examine whether the refined RSLQ could be generalized to another collectivistic country such as Korea or Japan. Practical implications – Managers will benefit from understanding how culture shapes an individual's use of self-leadership strategies. Originality/value – The study makes a significant contribution to the universal application and generalizability of self-leadership measurement to the Chinese population. The validation works to support the belief that the modified 38-item RSLQ is a superior measure with higher internal consistency and more stable factor structure than that of the existing instrument, which could be generalized to a Chinese context.