Don’t be a tool: develop your management tools through self-awareness

Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 11:21

By AIM Senior Research Fellow Dr Samantha Johnson

‘To the person who only has a hammer, everything they encounter begins to look like a nail.’ Abraham H. Maslow

How hard is life, when you have to be good, not only at what you do, but at who you are?  

We’re all good at doing something, in life.  But are we good at being people, at being ourselves?

As a manager, you are most likely good at what you do, technically.  You’re a good lawyer, accountant, programmer or whatever.   You’re also a good manager and this means being extra good as a person, as often as possible and regardless of the situation.

Good managers are self-aware.  Most experienced managers get that.  Self-awareness is the manager’s currency.  Without it, you’ll be a very poor manager. 

Self-awareness means you know yourself. You know who you are, why you behave the way you do, what drives you in life, what your values are, how you get things done, how you communicate etc.

Self-awareness builds metacognition, the ability to understand yourself.  The ability to move attention between doing something real in any given moment and exploring why you do what you do.  It’s the next step up from self-awareness. It’s self-understanding.

Self-awareness first, self-understanding second, self-management third and self-complexity fourth.  This is a lifetime journey. And a challenging one.

Managers with self-complexity have self-awareness, self-understanding and self-management.  This results in the ability to adapt and operate effectively and appropriately in many situations.    

These managers use a hammer only when it’s required.  They know when to change tools. They have many tools that they can use and they are very good at using the right tool in the right situation for the right results. 

These managers are sophisticated in their interpretation of different situations and they recognise the need for different approaches.  They change the way they think and behave to be effective in new or different environments. And this is not a fluke, nor is it luck.  It’s an ability that is practiced and polished constantly.

This is serious stuff.  But if you’re a serious manager, it’s worth knowing. 

This is the road to agility and adaptation and the platform for success as the manager’s world grows in complexity.

My advice is this.  Open up and discuss who you are, how you manage, what you think and what you do.  Do this often with peers and colleagues.  Attend management and leadership development programs.  Listen to other people’s perspectives and to what they do in certain situations.  Don’t think that you are right and others are wrong.  That’s a sure way to a closed mind and a low level of self-awareness.

Reflect, reflect and reflect some more.  Get to know yourself and when you think you know yourself well, get to know yourself more.  Listen to feedback about you from others. Understand yourself.  Practice being different.  This is not about pretending or faking.  It’s about being you in different ways.

Be aware and deliberate about how you think and how you behave in any given situation, particularly the tricky ones.  Give yourself permission to act differently in different situations, to get the best results you can.

Write yourself a reminder:  start with self-awareness, develop self-understanding, practice self-management and become comfortable with self-complexity.  Interpret situations with sophistication.  Manage yourself with deliberate intent. Be what and who you need to be when you need to and adapt to situations with care, caution and consideration.  Don’t be fearful of new situations, be mindful of new versions of you and your ability to adapt.

Don’t be a hammer when you should be a clamp.  Don’t see a world of nails.  Look again. There’s bound to be something else and another way of behaving.  Success as a manager is about managing yourself before you manage anyone else.

Reference: Balthazard, Hannah, Jennings, Thatcher & Waldman (2013) The Psychological and Neurological Bases of Leader Self-Complexity and Effects on Adaptive Decision-Making.  Journal of Applied Psychology. 98(3). 393-411