Gary Bradt, Adapting-to and Leading Organizational Change
If you can’t manage yourself, you don’t have a prayer of effectively leading anyone else.
For instance, let’s say it’s been a stressful week, and a day at the beach sounds like the perfect solution. Only on the day you planned to go, it rains. How will you react? Will your mood darken along with the skies, and ruin the rest of your day (and everyone else’s)? Or will you quickly let go of disappointment, and suggest alternative activities for your group?
It’s a small but revealing choice. Followers are watching, and will take their cue from you. And the unexpected rain, like any unexpected or unwanted change, will dictate your experience negatively - if you let it.
Self-management is the ability to quickly scan a range of potential responses to any situation, then choosing the one that leads to preferable outcomes. It means being aware of your automatic, hair-trigger emotional response – your autopilot – and overriding it when necessary.
For example, if your autopilot response at work is to search for solutions whenever problems arise, great. But, if your autopilot response often leads to a drawn-out process of fault-finding and blame, it may be time to override.
The same principle applies at home. For example, if your one-time star student suddenly begins to struggle, does your automatic response help kick them into gear? Or does their downward slide continue, despite your best efforts? If it’s the latter, you may want to change your approach, before you once again try to change them.
Self-management requires self-reflection. It is the ability to ask "Is my response to surprising change or difficult problems obtaining the results I want?" If so, great. But if not, self-management means having the humility, and sometimes the courage, to change course.
Self-management is an acquired skill for some, and one that everyone can polish. Here are some tips for developing your self-management acumen you may find helpful:
• Think of it like the Internet of Things. Today, practically every machine and device we use daily is loaded with sensors that monitor and control their output and effectiveness. If continuous feedback can help keep a self-driving car on track, for example, perhaps continuous feedback can do the same for you too.
• Don’t rely on self-assessment alone. Often, others will feel the negative effects of your automatic behavior before you do. So, when someone offers feedback, take it. Accepting feedback doesn’t mean you must act on it. But it can provide valuable clues that your autopilot response has you off course, relative to your intent.
• Pay attention to patterns. If one person shares a piece of negative feedback, it’s a data point. If more than one shares similar feedback, it may suggest a pattern. And negative patterns may mean a change of behavior is indicated.
• Announce your intentions. If you decide to work on changing your automatic responses, let people know what you are doing, and why. For example, if you discover a pattern of overvaluing your opinion to the detriment of others, announce "I’m going to work on listening more and speaking less," lest followers wonder why you’ve suddenly gone mute.
• Ask for ongoing feedback. When changing your behavior, ask a few trusted advisors for ongoing feedback. Let them know the behavior you intend to change, and ask for immediate feedback when they catch you doing it right; and, when they catch you sliding backward. And, when they provide feedback, thank them.
• Be gentle with yourself. Almost everyone struggles occasionally with automatic responses that oppose their intent. When you recognize a negative pattern in your behavior, take heart, for now you can address it. Beating oneself up rarely helps anyone move forward.
Bottom line: Self-management means choosing your behavior to get the results you want. It is a skill that can be cultivated and improved. Learning to monitor and regulate your own behavior can be the first step to becoming a more consistent and effective leader for others.
Dr. Gary Bradt is a thought-leader who speaks on the topic of adapting and leading change to leadership and executive teams. For more information on Dr. Bradt's keynote programs and how he can help your organization, contact his management company, Standard Ovation,