It doesn’t matter what type of business you run. It doesn’t matter how small or large your business is. It doesn’t matter what you used to do, before you became the leader of your company. What matters – the only thing that really matters, day after day, year after year – is how well you manage yourself.
Why is it so important? Because true leaders – the kind that other people actually want to follow – have mastered self-management. They instill confidence. They are calm, reasonable, and wise. They can consistently be depended upon to do the right thing. They don’t fly off the handle at the smallest thing – or anything, for that matter. They don’t obsess about one aspect of their business at the expense of other, just-as-important aspects.
When you can manage yourself, you can manage others – and work successfully with customers and clients. This is why it is so amusing when folks right out of college say, in their first job interview, when asked what they want to do: “I want to be a manager.” Very few people straight out of college manage themselves successfully, much less others. Managers earn the right to be managers, because “everyone knows” – above them, to the side of them, and beneath them – that they are ready to manage.
Before we learn how to manage ourselves, we think of self-management as “self control” or “self discipline.” While control and discipline certainly play a large part, they aren’t “it.”
When we focus on “control” and “discipline,” we tend to swing back and forth from rigid discipline to blithe self-indulgence. When we disappoint ourselves, we judge ourselves harshly, and make sweeping promises to ourselves: “That was really stupid. I am never going to do that again,” we will say. A week later, when faced with the decision to do what we know is right versus doing what we were never going to do again, we let ourselves slide. “I know I’m doing it again, after I said I wouldn’t, but it won’t hurt anything to do it just this once.”
Self-management is much more long-range, more calm, and definitely does not swing from one extreme to the other. That’s the whole point. You manage yourself, every single minute of every single day. In every situation, you take the same systematic approach. You observe, you analyze, you plan, and you take action. You don’t take action until you have taken all of these other steps.
Of course, this requires patience. Ah, patience. Years ago, when my husband was dating, as he was waiting for his date to come downstairs, he and her mother were chatting. After a while, he pointed upstairs, with a quizzical look on his face. She said, “Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can. It’s seldom found in woman, never found in man.” It was the first time he had heard that quote (source unknown), and he never forgot it.
While this always makes me laugh, because there is obviously a lot of truth in it, I have to admit that I have found a number of patient men and women in business – and, not surprisingly, they are the ones who manage themselves well. They don’t get frustrated – or if they do get frustrated, they manage it beautifully. For one split second, a look of frustration may flit across their features. Then they calmly take the situation in hand.
It’s a real pleasure working for someone like this. Contrast this with the boss who is always frustrated and angry. Everyone hates working for someone like that. Daily grumbling is the norm, and turnover is always high. The least effective boss is the one who rants endlessly about his frustrations in meetings.
Nothing good comes from vented frustration. Oh, sure, the psychologists have told us for years that it’s good for you to express your anger, that keeping it bottled up inside is not good for you. Well, success is even better for you.
What if you never got angry? What if you saw the situation for what it was, didn’t take it personally, forgave the person who made you mad, and then figured out how to solve the problem? Isn’t this more likely to lead to a successful outcome than just flying off the handle? Venting may ease your frustration somewhat, but it won’t solve the problem that caused it. And it won’t do much for your reputation either. You will look weak, threatened, and out of control. And, it certainly does nothing to improve your relationship with the person you’re yelling at.
I have worked with several entrepreneurs who vented their frustration in meetings, as a way of “making themselves heard.” The problem was, there was no consistency to their rantings. It was as if they had to be frustrated about something in a meeting, and one subject was just as good as any other. That’s not leadership. That’s management by intimidation, and it doesn’t work. Over time, even the most masochistic employee will get discouraged. When these entrepreneurs learned how destructive their rantings were, and stopped doing it, everything got better.
Interestingly, the few people who managed to continue to be positive about working for a ranting boss always ignored the method of delivery – even if it was aimed directly at them – and focused on the content. One such person told me, “Well, the fact is, he is usually right.” This is leadership behavior, on the part of the employee. This is precisely what I described a minute ago – the person saw the situation for what it was, didn’t take it personally, forgave the person ranting, and then started thinking about how to solve the problem.
Unfortunately only about one in thirty people are capable of this kind of detachment, in my experience. Everyone else cringes under the attack, and starts thinking that life’s too short to endure such abuse. They are not leaders. They must be led. And the person best equipped to lead others is the person who successfully manages himself or herself.
Successful self-management consists of several components:
Calm assessment. No matter how personal or chaotic things may get, you calmly appraise the situation, and decide what to do. Most of us are pretty good at deciding what to do, given some experience in similar situations. And when we stay calm, we are much more likely to see what is really happening. This includes not hysterically berating yourself, in your own head. If your inner drill sergeant is screaming obscenities at you for “being stupid,” your actions will reflect that hysteria. You’ll scurry around fussing, which will only make things worse – and will probably irritate anyone around you who is trying to help, or work with you to solve the problem.
Objectivity. Yes, that person might be yelling in your face. Think about the movies you’ve seen where someone terrible was yelling in the face of the hero or heroine. What made them the hero or heroine? They didn’t yell back! They watched the person yelling, and heard what the person was saying, but they didn’t “take it in.” You should do the same thing. Or, perhaps there’s a yeller in your head who is always trying to make you feel inadequate.
Sure, you have weaknesses – we all do. (Remember that next time you think you’re the only person who makes mistakes!) The trick is to compensate for them. If you’re always late, start doing things early. Prepare yourself ahead of time, rather than at the last minute. This is calm self-management. Keep it up, and you will develop a new habit, to the point where one day you will hear someone say, “You’re always on time.” You can smile secretly to yourself when you hear that, knowing what you had to overcome to earn that reputation. Just look at each situation as you would if you were helping a friend rather than dealing with yourself. That’s what you’re doing, after all, when you help yourself. You’re helping your closest friend.
Forgiveness. Disappointment is a fact of life. No one on earth has managed to live a disappointment-free life. We disappoint ourselves, others disappoint us, and situations almost always don’t turn out the way we want or expect them to. We get ill. The housing market takes a dive. Someone we love dies. Our business career doesn’t take off the way we thought it would. We hire someone and find out later that they had faked their resume. What should you do? Get over it!
If we can’t forgive ourselves and others, we get stuck. We carry that baggage around – everywhere we go, in everything we do. It becomes part of who we are. That disappointing story is woven into the fabric of our being.
It doesn’t have to be, however. We can shake it off and let it go. The only way I know to do this is to forgive. I call this “real-time forgiveness” – where you forgive the person or the situation even as it is happening, so you can assess the situation calmly and make sound decisions as quickly as possible. After all, reality is the sum of all the people and the circumstances involved. When we see ourselves as the focus of the situation, we feel personally “wronged,” our perception doesn’t reflect reality, and our subsequent actions will not be appropriate.
Appropriate action. This is where those folks right out of college are at a big disadvantage. If you have never done something before, your changes of taking appropriate action are fairly slim. The more experience you have in any given area, the more likely you are to know what your options are. Our brains are wonderfully adept at running through the options – when we are calm, not obsessed with the emotional aspects, and have had some experience. Note that acting like a manager, as stars do in Hollywood movies, is not the same as being an effective manager, able to successfully handle all situations.
There are several people I know who swing wildly from one extreme to the other – periods of incredible, focused productivity to debilitating, deadening depression. The successful path is somewhere in between – a peaceful, reasonable, “no harm, no foul” place, where success is just a matter of calmly assessing what needs to be done, assessing priorities, and getting it done.
Sometimes we create unnecessary drama because we have a need to feel important; in a sense, that is what those venting bosses are doing. They feel that the very act of venting establishes their “leadership” in the situation. Of course, the opposite is true. They undermine their own leadership when they lose control. The frantic, “I’ve got so much to do, I can’t do it all,” person is also falling into the same creating-drama-to-feel-important trap.
If you feel yourself beginning to get angry, giving in to the anger will only hurt you. Successful self-management always starts with choosing calm objectivity over frustration. It is a choice, and how you make that choice can change your life – and increase the revenue you are able to produce.