I believe oneself is the very first person one must learn how to manage if we hope to succeed in managing others. Accordingly, some self- knowledge and a lot of self-awareness are essential accompanying steps. But most of us struggle a lifetime in pursuit of true self understanding and in controlling those elements of our personalities that all too frequently frustrate our personal and management aims. “Sometimes I just have to get out of my own way” said a very insightful participant in one of my Workshops, illustrating his own commitment to managing himself.
Why is self-management so hard? Because we are all human beings: talented yet flawed; a mixture of strengths and weaknesses; generally well meaning in purpose yet often inept in action; and although generally conscious of our goals, often unconsciously driven to behave in counterproductive ways.
Moreover, all of us have our blind spots, prejudices, hot buttons, quirks, and people, situations, and behaviors that simply drive us crazy. Confronted with any of these we are apt to act irrationally at the most inconvenient times. A long lost colleague of mine recently wrote me “if you could teach me how to manage myself, I would be forever grateful”. Trouble is, I continue to struggle with this self-awareness and self management challenge myself and I have been at it for many years.
I am a big fan of management training experiences that contain some form of personality assessment and the type of interactive role playing where you get direct feedback on your actions. Years ago I took a Workshop called “The Looking Glass” and had my eyes opened wide by the feedback I received from thirty other participants concerning my performance. As a manager, it helped me a great deal. I am also a fan of asking a trusted friend, colleague, or loved one to provide an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. But do not ask if you are not willing to listen and then act on what you hear.
Assuming you wish to maximize your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses as a manager, I have concluded over the years that there are certain areas of behavior that are especially critical if you are to achieve this end. I call them the “BIG SIX”. At a minimum, I suggest you occasionally monitor yourself with regard to each of these behaviors, especially when you have that sinking feeling that something in your management performance is amiss.
- An excessive NEED FOR CONTROL produces the world’s chronic micromanagers. Is your need for control under control?
- A lack of OPENNESS TO NEW IDEAS AND CRITICISM produces managers who are sensitive, defensive, and thin-skinned. Are you open to new ideas and criticism and listening for understanding?
- Excessive CONFLICT AVOIDANCE often makes it hard to provide honest responses to questions and feedback. Are you engaging in necessary yet emotionally difficult conversations or avoiding them?
- An INABILITY TO SET PRIORITIES can make you an inefficient time waster. Are you making the hard calls concerning which, among all the important things you should do, you should do first?
- FEAR OF FAILURE, not unreasonable given a manager’s job, can make it difficult to make decisions. Are you summoning the courage to make the hard calls you must?
- A SENSE OF HUMOR and PERSPECTIVE ABOUT ONE’S OWN SELF is the best way to avoid becoming arrogant, learning disabled, and a repeat offender. As one of my Workshop participants recently put it “you sometimes need to give yourself permission to be less than perfect”. Well, are you?
In the end, what you do to manage your own behavior and performance as a manager will matter far more to those you manage, than whether you ever truly come to understand how you came to be the person you are. And you will need to keep at it every day no matter how well you have done it in the past. After all, you are just HUMAN.
Terry Joseph Busch