Tell me… What is the role of self-management in leadership?
Self-management in leadership is the ability to:
- Objectively assess your emotions, thoughts and behaviors;
- Understand their impact on you, and on the people around you;
- Regulate and adjust your emotions, thoughts and behaviors in order to move towards your goals, and the goals of the organization.
Emotions, thoughts and behaviors are at the core of self-management. That includes everything that stems from those elements. Things like your decisions, interactions, personal development, goal achievement, and even your own well-being. Everything about how you show up for others and how you care for yourself are part of self-management – in life, and in leadership.
As a practice, self-management cannot exist without a foundation of self-awareness. Working together, self-management and awareness are a solid recipe for leadership success.
In this article, we’ll explore:
What is Self-Management and Self-Awareness?
Since self-awareness is the foundation of self-management, we’ll start with that one.
What is Self-Awareness?
There are two facets of self-awareness:
- Inner awareness – Awareness of your thoughts, emotions and behaviours, how they are influenced by one another, and how well they align with your core values, life purpose and big picture vision.
- Outer awareness – Awareness of how other people see you, and your impact on the people and situations around you.
It’s really important to have a good balance of inner and outer awareness. Too much focus inward can blind you to your impact on the people around you, while too much focus outward can lead to self-consciousness, lack of confidence and a disconnection from what truly matters to you.
Just like you can’t manage a team without knowing all of your team members and what you’re working towards, you can’t truly manage yourself without fully knowing yourself and what you’re working towards.
What is Self-Management?
Self-management is self-awareness in action.
It is the ability to regulate your thoughts, emotions and behaviors in alignment with what you want to achieve. It’s this skill – monitoring and adjusting your responses – that makes other successful behaviors possible.
For example, let’s say you want to set aside a block of time each work day to just work – no interruptions. You need clarity into what is likely to distract you, the ability to design a plan to mitigate those distractions, the ability to put that plan into action, and the ability to assess the success of your plan, then make adjustments if/when needed.
Another example would be regulating your emotions during difficult conversations. To be able to do that, you need to be aware of what emotions you’re likely to experience, what triggers the emotions, what those emotions feel like in your body, what actions you can take to prevent those emotions ahead of time, and what actions you can take to calm those emotions if/when they do arise.
Essentially, self-management is driving your behavior from within, instead of letting the circumstances around you drive your behavior.
So, when I’m asked, “Is self-awareness important for self-management?” I like to respond with another question: “Would you be able to regulate yourself if you weren’t aware of yourself?”
To regulate ourselves – our thoughts, emotions and behaviors – we have to know ourselves.
Is self-management a leadership skill? Absolutely. As a leader, you not only have to consider your own values, purpose and goals, but also the values, purpose and goals of the organization. To be able to make decisions in alignment with both sides – the personal and organizational – demands deep self-awareness and the ability to self-manage.
In addition to the personal and the organizational, you also have individual team members to consider, who also have values, purpose and goals. A great deal of responsibility comes with a leadership role, and self-management – supported by self-awareness – will empower you to step into that responsibility with courage, compassion and confidence.
What is the Role of Self-Awareness and Self-Management in Relation to Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is “the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions” (source). It’s a critical skill in life and leadership, and almost always comes up in discussions around self-management.
There are two key points I come to when discussing self-management and its relationship to emotional intelligence:
- Self-management is not just emotional regulation, but also the regulation of our thoughts and behaviors.
- Our emotions, thoughts and behaviors are connected. They inform each other.
Without self-management, emotions come up, influence thoughts, and those thoughts influence behaviors. A thought comes up, which triggers an emotion, and that triggers a behavior. A behavior triggers an emotion, and that brings about certain thoughts. And so on, and so on. It’s not just a tidy circle going around and around. It’s more like a tangled up ball.
To be able to “perceive, control, and evaluate emotions”, we have to be able to also perceive, control and evaluate our thoughts and behaviors.
What I often find with clients is that they put too much focus on behavior, without understanding how impactful thoughts and emotions are. When I think back to how I was raised, and what I was taught in school, so much emphasis was put on behavior above all else, and it turns out, it was the same for almost all of my clients. No wonder we don’t consider bringing thoughts and emotions into the equation!
By working on your emotional intelligence and practicing noticing your thoughts without judgment, you start opening up a lot of the inner pathways necessary for self-awareness and self-management.
How Do You Develop Self-Awareness and Self-Management?
Here are 7 key practices to help you develop these critical leadership skills:
- Practice noticing without judgment.
Judgment blocks awareness. We humans have a tendency to judge things. Especially ourselves. We label thoughts and emotions as “good” or “bad”, and tell ourselves that we’re good or bad for having those thoughts and emotions.Thoughts and emotions just… are. Sometimes they’re messengers, and sometimes they’re just little clouds floating through your inner sky. When we negatively judge our thoughts and emotions, they multiply. A feeling of anger, or an unkind thought starts to breed guilt or defensiveness, for example. At a certain point, it starts to impact our behavior. It’s hard to regulate something that’s multiplying and spilling over into other parts of ourselves.A simple meditation practice of just a few minutes a day can help you start practicing non-judgment. When a thought or emotion comes up, you notice it, name it, then send it on its way. It doesn’t define you or influence you unless you start feeding it.
- Practice self-acceptance.Learning to accept yourself – your entire self; shadow and all – is a radical and empowering act. It allows you to recognize your inherent worthiness as a human being, so that you no longer feel built up by successes or torn down by missteps. You are a whole person and cannot be made less. What does this have to do with self-management? When you have nothing to prove, when your worth isn’t tied to KPIs or ROIs, you’re actually able to show up with greater confidence. You can make better decisions with greater clarity because your vision isn’t clouded by worry over your personal value.
- Understand control vs. regulation.The only thing you can ever truly control is how you choose to show up. Everything else, you must learn to regulate your response to.While you cannot control your thoughts and emotions, you can be intentional about how you respond to the ones that come up, and how you allow them to influence your behavior. This is regulation. It’s noticing – without judgment – then making calm, conscious decisions about what you will do next.Regulating your response is a huge part of taking control of how you show up. Essentially, practicing regulation empowers self-control, which empowers self-management. Meditation helps with this because it builds the habit of consciously choosing your response while you’re in a calm state, so that you have that habit to lean into at not-so-calm times.
- Practice asking yourself “what” instead of “why”.
This is a great tip from Harvard Business Review. When you ask yourself questions like, “Why can’t I get this done?” or “Why are boundaries so hard for me”, it sucks you into the past. You start looking back to when or how the issue began, or all the times you’ve struggled in the past. This is important to do. It’s good to look back to see what you might need to heal or let go of.However, approaching this from a “why” mindset can get you stuck in victim mode. Yes, it’s important to heal from your past, but you don’t want to stay in the past, or get stuck in old patterns. If something from your past is still hurting you, it’s likely you didn’t have the tools to handle it at the time. Maybe you were young, inexperienced, or vulnerable in some other way. “Why” brings you back to that vulnerable version of yourself.When you switch to “what” questions, you might ask yourself things like, “What is holding me back from getting this done?” or “What old beliefs keep me from holding boundaries?” or “What impact do I want to have in this situation?” That grounds you in the present, and helps you get clear on what you need to shift in order to move forward. It helps you tap into the you of today, instead of sliding back to that hurt, vulnerable version of you. This is a huge element of self-management, and an important part of healing yourself because it allows you to experience yourself as empowered.
- Ask for feedback AND examples.
Feedback can help you develop that critical outer awareness, especially if it includes examples. You might ask questions like, “Can you give me an example?” or “What did that look like from your perspective?”Be careful about who you take your feedback from. Is this someone you trust and respect? Do they support your growth? Feedback is a really powerful tool, IF it comes from a trustworthy, supportive source. This is another benefit of asking for examples. If someone criticizes you, but can’t give solid examples, that’s a red flag. However, if a critique can be supported by real-world examples, that’s often a green flag to go ahead and do some exploration into what you might need to address.
- Start a conscious daily round-up practice.
Once a day – you may choose to do this in the evening, at the end of your workday, or even the next morning – ask yourself:
- What am I proud of today? (list everything you’re proud of, no matter how small)
- How could I have made today even better? (I love this question from the Intelligent Change blog)
- What steps did I take towards my big picture vision?
- What impact did I have on others?
- What would make tomorrow great? (or today, if this is part of your morning routine)As a daily practice, these questions help you continually develop your self-awareness and start planning steps to put it into action as self-management.
- Identify your areas for growth and make a plan.
Knowing what you need or want to grow in yourself is a key part of self-awareness. Taking steps towards that growth is self-management.A really great way to uncover what you need to grow is to use the personal assessment wheel (free download). This assessment wheel guides you to explore 9 key areas of your life and create a visual of how satisfied you are in each area. Once you have that visual, you start asking yourself those powerful “what” questions: “What is holding me back from growing that area?” “What do I need to say yes or no to in order to improve that?” and so on. How can I organize my time to take steps towards this?Just asking yourself, “What do I need to grow?” can leave a lot of people stumped. By doing a deep dive first, you get greater clarity into what you actually need and want to grow to create a fulfilling life for yourself.Once you’ve identified what you want to grow, choose one and start making a plan. Where you used “what” questions before, now it’s time to ask yourself some “how” questions such as, “How can I organize my time to take steps towards this?” You may want to create a vision board for that area, or you may prefer pen and paper, a spreadsheet, a session with your coach… whatever works for you, but please start with just one area at a time to allow yourself to fully focus your energy and effort.
True self-management is a lot more than just motivating yourself to get things done. It’s about truly understanding yourself, your impact, and the world you want to create. It’s about stepping fully into your worthiness as a human being. Your worthiness to be happy. Your worthiness to be fulfilled. Your worthiness to grow, to ask for help, to struggle, to succeed. It’s about claiming the CEO seat in your own life.
If you would like guidance on developing self-awareness and self-management for yourself or your team, I invite you to connect with me.