Everyone says self-awareness is essential to effective leadership. It is, but there is another aspect to awareness that may be equally compelling and sadly overlooked. It’s self-management.
It’s one thing to know yourself. We know what we do well. Yay! That’s why we are so good at what we do. We may even know what we are not so good at it so we ignore it. Boo! That can hurt us.
Enter self-management. Self-management is a form of self-control. We do not control events; we merely control how we respond to them. For instance, I know I have a tendency to become short with customer service agents who, let’s face it, have the thankless job of dealing with people like me who think we have better things to do with our time than waste it with people like them.
So after much trial and error, I have taught myself to be more polite. Not just polite but overly polite. I engage the agents in conversation. I act grateful. And I thank them for “making time for me.” Overkill? Perhaps! but it keeps me from flying off the handle.
The trigger itself is neutral; our reaction to it can be positive or negative. How we manage that reaction is critical to our ability to function as well as to excel.
When it comes to working with others, reactions to triggers can be career-defining. More than one executive I know has derailed a career because he failed self-management. He could manage a balance sheet, a resource allocation and even a team, but he failed to manage the one asset he needed to control and could not: Himself.
Failure to control oneself manifests itself in multiple ways: temper, impatience, ingratitude, hubris, and self-absorption. None of these is fatal and most of us exhibit them in some form or another occasionally. What is fatal is failure to manage it.
Self-awareness teaches us what the trigger is – some act, some word, or some person. Self-management teaches how to respond.
My colleague, Kevin Butler, former chief human resource officer and senior vice president, global business services, at Delphi, advises a two-step process. One is to recognize that you are beginning to react to a trigger. When that occurs, doing one or all of the following: take a deep breath, count to 10, get up and stretch or go for a coffee. What you does not matter. What matters is to arrest the process of reaction. Remove yourself from the situation — if only for a moment — to collect your thoughts.
A second strategy is to enlist the help of a spotter, someone who knows you well. When that person sees the beginning of your reaction — lips tighten,eyebrows furled, narrowed eyes — they flash you a look, or drop a code word. That is a signal that you need to rein yourself in.
Of course, neither of these strategies work unless you recognize the issue. Knowing that you are becoming derailed and reacting positively rather than rashly. Easy to say, difficult to practice.
And practice it will require. You may succeed for a while and then face a trigger or a situation that sends you off on a tangent. You may feel as if you are back to square one. That thought is self-defeating.
The key to self-management is management. If the numbers don’t add up, the shipment is late, the balance sheet is askew or deadlines are missed, it doesn’t help to yell and scream. You must manage the situation. Same for managing self. Take a deep breath and keep on trying. The one you are managing most is you.
John Baldoni is chair of leadership development at N2Growth, is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2014, Trust Across America named him to its list of top 100 most trustworthy business experts. Also in 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 100 leadership experts, and Global Gurus ranked him No. 11 on its list of global leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”
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