Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” In recent years, the need to be able to know and manage yourself has become critical in the ever more complicated world of work. Self-Management is the cornerstone of surviving and thriving in the new world.
Self-Management is defined as the art of being the best of yourself despite all the complexities you face (Walter Vandervelde). This simple sentence asks a lot of each of us. It starts by asking us to get to know ourselves. The good, the bad. Our areas of strength and our areas of weakness. It is only through the knowing that we can decide where to start on the life-long journey of self-growth and management.
Probably the hardest part of self-management is taking ownership and responsibility for ourselves. So often, we look to the external world to justify or explain our “ugly” or “weak”. When we manage ourselves fully, we accept ourselves, as painful as that can be, and do the work to harness our strengths and manage our weaknesses. This is where we stop naming, blaming, and shaming and take responsibility.
I am not a believer in placing all my attention on fixing my weaknesses. The Gallup results on working with our strengths rather than our weaknesses debunk the traditional development approach that focusses on weaknesses. I believe in placing 70% of my attention on optimising my strengths so I can provide the most exceptional version of myself to my employers, clients, and personal life.
I am a believer of managing my weaknesses though. What systems, structures, support people can I put in place to make sure that my weaknesses do not undermine the great work my strengths can do. This is often leveraging support from one of my team who has strengths that are different from mine. This manages that the weaknesses I have are caught and improved on before they can do damage.
It is once we know and accept ourselves, the real work towards managing ourselves starts. In coaching we often tell our clients, “The only person you have the power to change is yourself”. Where I am struggling to achieve what I want because of how I am going about it, I am the only person who can change my “how”. If exploding or withdrawing are not getting the results, what is within your power to do differently. If you know that you tend to lose your cool or withdraw under pressure, how can you manage yourself and do something differently? The self-motivated drive to achieve the desired outcome is a key element of self-management. The power is in your hands.
Probably the most important and difficult element of self-management is taking ownership for who you are in every moment. The Jungian concept of projection has been such a bittersweet tool to use in my life. When I catch myself blaming or uptight at others, this tool asks me to reflect on “why” I am angry and then recognise in myself where the source of the anger is. By recognising what I allowed to anger me, I can take ownership. Ownership is at the heart of self-management. It is how we learn to recognise, and then choose to manage our behaviours better. It is how we “show-up” as the best version of ourselves no matter the complexity and chaos our lives may be in. Let me give you an example. Last week I was furious with a staff member who had not done as I expected. When I reflected, I was furious with myself for not making the time and checking. My ownership of my own failure allowed me to have a calm conversation with my staff member so we could prevent the error occurring again. Owning my own role in the failure allowed me to manage myself better in resolving the issue in a way that maintained trust and relationship.
In the modern world of work, leaders need to add value and being a clock watcher is not true value. Setting goals for a self-managed team allows each person to contribute fully and allows the leader to add real value. Team members that are not self-managed will hinder the leader’s ability to add value fully and they will not last in the increasingly demanding workplace.
As I have explored and become more self-managed over the last 24 years, the most impactful benefit has been the ability to navigate change and the unknown with greater confidence. As I get to know myself and my strengths and weaknesses, I also get to know that I am strong and resilient. I am more open to change as I have tamed plenty of other change rollercoasters in my time. This confidence and agility increase the support I provide to others as we navigate more and more changes.
As the world becomes faster, more automated and change happens more and more, the importance of knowing and managing yourself gains priority. The ability to operate under pressure and be the best version of yourself, most of the time, will be the key to your company valuing and putting effort into retaining you. It is also the foundation on which you can be creative, think critically, learn to be socially intelligent and cope with the increasing demand to pay the right attention to more and more and more.