Managing self is the hardest part of exercising leadership. When I manage myself poorly, I won’t make progress on much of anything.
Think about it. Without self-knowledge, self-control and awareness of how others perceive you, how likely are you to energize people to make progress on an important challenge? Seeing yourself as others see you and being willing to change your approach for a purpose are at the core of leadership.
In the KLC leadership framework six behaviors make up the competency of Manage Self. Everyone can improve their ability to:
- Manage your vulnerabilities and triggers
- Get used to uncertainty and conflict
- Choose among competing values
- Know the stories others tell about you
- Experiment beyond your comfort zone
- Take care of yourself
Managing Self Isn’t Complicated, But It Is Hard to Do
To make more progress on our most important challenges, learn to manage your vulnerabilities and triggers. Each of us is guarding some aspect of ourselves that we don’t want others to see. When we hide vulnerabilities and triggers, rather than acknowledge and manage them, we make it harder to lead.
Vulnerabilities are sore spots in our psyches. Triggers are hot buttons. They’re painful when touched and we can’t always anticipate the power of our reaction. Vulnerabilities and triggers take us out of the game of leadership. We may be so worried about revealing a trigger and flipping our proverbial lid, for instance, that we hold back from engaging in tough conversations.
Managing self also requires getting used to uncertainty and conflict. Most of us hesitate to intervene when the heat is high. For instance, I might not like to ask difficult questions of my neighbors, colleagues or bosses, but if I want to lead, I’d better steel myself to do it anyway.
It’s Called Self-Management, but it Happens in Systems
You are part of the system you are trying to change. Right? Somehow, you are part of the problem. You are part of the mess. (Check out Chapter 15, “Start with Your Part of the Mess,” in When Everyone Leads) Maybe you are contributing to a problem you say you want to solve because you’ve failed (so far) to choose among competing values.
Or maybe it would help know the stories others tell about you. Like it or not, people in your system (organization, company, community, family, etc.) have their stories. Some they talk about, others they don’t. And some of those stories are about you. Don’t you wonder how they view your attempts at leadership? Or how they react to your title? What do they think about your attempts to intervene? Might it be freeing to admit that you are neither saint nor sinner? What if people are reacting to your role rather than you yourself?
Give yourself permission to wonder about those stories. Give yourself permission to do a little research. Give yourself permission to stop taking things personally. Listen. Imagine. Discover what people are saying. Take the stories with a grain of salt. But consider them as you choose your next leadership intervention.
You Aren’t Just Part of the Mess; You Are Part of the Solution
It is a leadership behavior, associated with this competency of Manage Self, to experiment beyond your comfort zone. Experimentation (beyond your comfort zone) is key to discovering new ways to make progress. Experimentation is about learning and discovering new routes to success.
Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
You won’t make sustained progress on an entrenched, adaptive challenge if you don’t take care of yourself. Exercising leadership will wear you down. It will take time. Sometimes a long time. Take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. You won’t make progress if you are depleted. Burnout is not a leadership behavior. If you care about solving tough challenges, care for yourself too.
Why Do People so Often Fail to Manage Self?
There are three big reasons people fail to manage themselves:
- We lack emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence doesn’t just happen. Stepping up to exercise leadership as an activity means recognizing your own levels of self-awareness, social-awareness and self-control. Everyone has room to grow.
- We think we need to be right. Leadership on tough challenges is not about having all the answers. It’s not about command and control. It’s about listening, considering multiple perspectives and testing alternative points of view.
- We fear being disliked. Challenging the status quo might not make us any friends, at least at first. Don’t let yearning to be liked undermine your willingness to act.
At its core, Manage Self is about courage. When we build our capacity to Manage Self, we summon the courage to lead.