Power to the people why self management is important (1)
1. Powerto the People:Why Self-ManagementIs Important
by Jack Suess
Monday, September 14, 2015
Today, I want to focus on the skill of self-management, something that I believe is
the fundamental requirement for empowering both people and organizational
success in the knowledge economy.
Before jumping in to discuss this skill, I think it is important to try to define self-
management. There is ambiguity about the term, and in most discussions, self-
management refers to a combination of behaviors that focus on how people
manage themselves in their work and their life. For example, Daniel Goleman and
his co-authors define self-management through these six traits: self-control,
transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative, and optimism.1 Robert Kelley
includes a full chapter on self-management in his bookHow to Be a STAR at
2. Work.2 Kelley’s research highlights the following key elements in self-
Making a commitment to lifelong learning in supportof both the
organization’s goals and your own goals
Learning how to make certain that your projects add value to the
Developing your personal productivity skills to manage both your time and
Building broad personal networks that allow you to tap expertise in and out
of the organization for complex problems
Being willing to embrace change and rethink both organizational structures
and work definitions as new opportunities arise
Kelley emphasizes that star employees are intrinsically managing both their
work andtheir career. By providing high value to the organization, stars get more
opportunity to select which projects they work on and are instinctively building
new skills to further their career prospects.
At the core of self-management are three skills everyone must develop: (1)
learning to manage your commitments and time; (2) cultivating the motivation and
capability to learn new things on your own in supportof your work; and (3)
3. building and nurturing your personal network. With those three skills, you will be
successful, though they may not make you a star.
In my opinion, to move from a good employee to a star employee, you must build
on those skills in the following three ways: (1) add value by understanding your
organization’s key success factors and learning how similar organizations are
achieving success in those areas; (2) identify your long-term goals for your career
and seek projects that both add value to the organization and advance your career
goals; and (3) be willing to share in your success and help others achieve their
A key question is whether these skills are something you are born with or whether
they can be developed and honed with practice and time. Although some people
are lucky to be born with these skills, most of us are forced to develop them
through practice and reflection. Kelley notes that learning to manage your
commitments is unique to each person: there is no single approach that works for
everyone. This is an area that Kelley feels you must experiment with to find what
works best for you. He also notes that as your duties change, you are likely going
to need to evolve how you manage your commitments. For me, learning to manage
my calendar was the essential skill I needed to learn as I advanced in management.
4. Today, I live and die by my calendar, and I have learned to use my calendar to
build in dedicated work time to complete my commitments.
Understanding how to add value to the organization is critical to being a star.
Higher education is a complex system, and each college/university differs in how
information flows and decisions are made. To learn how your institution works,
and where there are opportunities to add value, you have to understand it from
different perspectives or viewpoints outside of your department. I found two
different activities were important to my success at understanding UMBC;
however, when I started them, I had no idea they would provide the keys to unlock
the secrets of the university. First, for many years of my career, I played pickup
basketball at lunch with other faculty and staff. I was the only one from the IT
organization, and I became friends with faculty and staff from many other areas.
We would talk about work, and those conversations gave me insight into how
technology could help them and helped me prototypesolutions for others. Second,
after ten years at UMBC, I had the opportunity to serve in our professional staff
senate. I met staff leaders from all over the university and was briefed on topics
and activities that had nothing to do with technology but were at the core of the
university’s mission. This was my higher education 101 course!One of my
greatest accomplishments was chairing the campus parking committee. Working
5. across groups, I was able to partner with leaders to develop a long-term plan for
Building self-management skills takes time and is a multi-year process. It requires
time for people to find what works for them and to be given more autonomy and
opportunity as they grow professionally. To do this at UMBC, we have tried to
rethink performance evaluations. I became a Marcus Buckingham fan when I heard
him speak at the EDUCAUSE 2004 annual meeting. I hadn’t intended to listen to
this keynote session, but I found his talk inspirational and bought his book The One
Thing You Need to Know.3 After reading it, I bought multiple copies and assigned
it to all my leaders for a bookdiscussion.
Buckingham emphasizes the obvious fact that employees have strengths and
weaknesses. What was eye-opening to me was his analysis that we, as managers,
often spend much more of our time trying to improve employees’ weaknesses than
we spend on trying to enhance their strengths! Buckingham noted that most
managers spend more time trying to improve people in some category of weakness,
say from a “D” to a “C,” when the best option for business should be focused on
improving people from a “B” to an “A” and giving them more responsibility in an
area in which they excel. By rethinking evaluations to focus on strengths, we are
6. empowering workers to focus on developing their strengths—something they were
naturally inclined to do.
For employees’ weaknesses, we need to do one or more of three things: (1) assume
they will struggle from time to time in this aspectof work; (2) realign job duties to
lessen this activity; or (3) provide additional supportto help. However, instead of
spending all our discussiontime and mentoring time on improving weaknesses, it
is much more beneficial to focus on building strengths! This approach is not
universally acknowledged, but I believe that for knowledge workers in the IT field,
it has proved very positive.
I’ll end by talking about myself and four lessons I have learned about self-
management during my career.
First, take advantageof rare opportunities. Early in my career, due to an
instructor’s illness, I was asked (at the last minute) to teach a computer science
course, “Machine Organization and Assembly Language Programming.” I could
have said no, but I took advantage of the fact that either I would teach the course or
the class would be canceled. Teaching a university course did two things for me: it
allowed me to see how hard it is to teach a college-level course; and it gave me an
appreciation of what mastery of a topic truly required. I thought I was an expert
until I began to get questions from smart students in class. That helped me to
7. understand that there was another level of learning necessary for mastery. If you
are interested in higher education IT, teaching a class is an incredible opportunity
that will give you a new appreciation for faculty and a much deeper mastery of the
topic. Whatever that rare opportunity is for you, don’tdoubtyourself. Use it to
challenge yourself and grow.
Second, become comfortable with delegating your work and managing your
time. Early in my career I was always working. After my wife and I had children, I
found that I could not do all that I was doing at work and still be a good husband
and father. That forced me to realize that I had to learn to delegate and trust my
team. At the same time, I had to be much more planful in allocating my time to
projects. I could no longer simply pull an all-nighter to finish a project because that
would affect my family. I remember that when I coached sports for my sons, in
September I would clear my calendar for late afternoons in the spring for practices
so that I could lessen potential conflicts before they occurred. Control your
calendar, and you controlyour life!
Third, take care of yourself and find time to think. As I age, I find that to produce
at a high level of work, I need to exercise regularly. This does two things for me.
First it allows me to remove stress and stay on an even level emotionally, and
second, I find that when exercising (I like to run and swim), I am able to let my
8. subconscious work on those bigger tasks behind the scenes. Often, I will finish
exercising with the realization for how to proceed on something that has been
stumping me. Whether your choice is running, yoga, walking, or something else,
what is important is building this time into your schedules early in your career. I
always prioritize exercise and family over my work by controlling my calendar.
Fourth, identify broad goals to pursue. Ideally, self-management should allow you
to align your work, career, and personal life. When I hit fifty, I tried to be more
conscious aboutthis integration. Now every year or two, I step backand think
about what I want to accomplish.