PEOPLE

Manage Your Most Important Employee: You

Six ways to ensure you get the most out of yourself, every single workday.
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Business is all about managing people but the most important person you need to manage is always yourself. Here are some rules for getting the most from yourself, regardless of where you are in your career.

1. Assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Nobody is good at everything, and that includes you.  Therefore, just as you would with a new hire, you should first assess where you're most likely to be successful (your strengths) and where you're likely to need help from others (your weaknesses).

This is more challenging than it sounds because your own view of your own abilities is always subjective.  Sadly, there are millions of people in this world who wrongly believe that their greatest weakness to be their greatest strength.

The easiest way to objectively assess your strengths and weaknesses is to ask somebody whom you trust, who's had the opportunity to see you in action and, most importantly, is willing to be honest with you.

Probably the best person to ask is a former co-worker who doesn't have any reason to sugarcoat his or her observations.  Your "significant other" probably has insights, too.  Another option (if you can afford it) is to hire a life coach.

Once you've gotten an objective perspective on yourself, mentally stand back and ask yourself: "If I were managing this person, how would I use the strengths and work around the weaknesses?"

Use the answer to that question as a touchstone as you work through the rest of this post.

2. Set reasonable and stretch goals.

As every manager knows, it's absolutely essential to have goals and objectives for every employee.  Goals, however, are tricky, because if they're too easy, employees will do the minimum, but if they're too hard, employees become discouraged.

The best way to solve this dilemma is to have two sets of goals: a minimal set which represents what you can reasonably expect from yourself, and stretch goals that represent what's difficult but still achievable.

The management challenge here is differentiating between the two.  Luckily, there's an easy way to sort out whether goals are definitely reasonable or possibly achievable: schedule the intermediate steps required to make the goals happen.

Reasonable goals have intermediate steps that are sparse and spread-out, so that you know you can get each step completed, no matter what. Stretch goals always create tightly-scheduled intermediate steps that require everything to happen just so.

In other words, the difference between what's definitely reasonable and possibly achievable is time.  Tightening the timing on a reasonable goal makes it into a stretch goal, and vice versa.

Adjust your goals accordingly.

3. Stop micromanaging yourself.

Nothing drives employees crazy more quickly than a manager that's always looking over their shoulders and telling them exactly what to do next.  However, while most people realize this, many people blithely micromanage their own activities.

Self-micromanagement takes the form of to-do lists that keep growing and growing to the point where nobody could possibly get all those to-do tasks completed.  The cure is to think about the results you want rather than the tasks you should do.

Rather than a to-do list, have a to-accomplish list.  Then, as you approach each item, figure out the quickest and easiest way to get that item accomplished.  Meanwhile, go ahead and let things fall through the cracks.

Here's a big secret: the stuff that falls through the cracks usually isn't all that important anyway.  When you focus on what's really important (as opposed to a list of tasks) almost all of the really important stuff gets done first.

4. Regularly evaluate performance.

There's a reason most companies have performance evaluations. They help both managers and employees better understand what succeeded (and what failed) and what needs to happen to create future success.

It's crazy to depend upon somebody else (like another manager) to provide this essential service for you.  In fact, the only thing crazier is to not have a performance evaluation at all...which is the case with most entrepreneurs.

If you want to manage yourself well, you absolutely must create a formal process that looks at the goals you've previously set, maps what you've accomplished versus those goals, and then adjusts the goals.

If you fail to do this, and just depend upon your "gut feeling" of whether you're performing the way you'd like, I guarantee you that you will eventually (and probably quickly) drift off course.

5. Manage your emotions.

Over-emotional employees are famously difficult to manage.  They explode in anger unexpectedly or simmer for days in a passive-aggressive stew.  When you're managing yourself, you do not want to be this kind of employee.

The trick to getting your emotions under control is to stop thinking of your emotions as "things that you feel" in response to events.  Instead, think of your emotions as "behaviors you do" in response to events.

The difference is crucial: what you feel is always outside of your control.  For instance, if the air is cold, your skin feels cold. By contrast, what you do is always in your control, allowing you to decide whether or not you actually want to do that behavior.

For example, suppose you lose a big customer. When you think of emotions as behaviors, you realize that it's your choice whether to react with fear and anger ("Damn!"), or to react with curiosity and thoughtfulness ("I wonder why we lost them?").

The same is true of positive emotions.  If you only experience joy only as the result of some arbitrary exterior event, you're limiting yourself.  By contrast, if you decide that you will "do" joy (i.e. enjoy) every day, you will.

6. Take responsibility for your decisions.

You may have noticed that the previous five steps are all about decision-making.  That's intentional because making decisions is what good managers do.  The flip side of decision-making, however, is taking responsibility for outcomes.

There's nothing more irritating than an employee who fails to accomplish something and then attempts to fix the blame onto somebody else.  Surprisingly, though, many people tolerate this behavior in themselves.

While you do not have control over events, you do (and did) have control over the decisions that you made in response to those events.  They were (and are) your decisions and the outcomes of those decisions belong to you.  Nobody else.

Great entrepreneurs and great leaders all know this.  They never point fingers of blame but instead point the way to the future.  That's just as true when they're managing themselves as when they're managing other people.

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Sep 26, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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