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Strategies for Improving Your Own and Your Team’s Self-Management

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Self-management of your emotions and thoughts is essential to self-efficacy (the ability to take action) and emotional intelligence (the ability to recognize your own and others’ emotions). When emotions overwhelm you, self-management brings you back into control so that you resume your ability to set goals and reach them in a productive and rewarding way.

By improving your self-management and the self-management of your work or home team, you improve everyone’s ability to meet goals and communicate effectively and everyone’s satisfaction in their achievements and relationships.

Improving Your Self-Management

All your emotions deserve your attention; eventually, even the most overpowering—grief, anger, love, fervor, depression—settle into something that allows you to go forward with life in a constructive, satisfying way. Self-management skills include the ability to recognize, control, and use your emotions and thoughts to move ahead toward your goals. You improve self-management when you:

  • Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. You begin by establishing goals for yourself that are easy to reach to experience the benefits of success—that first step forward. If those first goals are too difficult for someone in your emotional state, you may descend into a quagmire of guilt and self-blaming, which is counter-productive. By assessing your strengths and weaknesses before an emotional crisis occurs, you can develop strategies that kick in as soon as you recognize your vulnerability. “I feel depressed, and it helps when I talk to someone” or “I lashed out because I was feeling stress around the holidays; I will delegate some of my work, take a personal day to relax, and apologize to the people I spoke to in anger.”
  • Talk with someone. By sharing your emotions with others, you normalize them and find out how other people have struggled and dealt with them. Talking with your team or family about how you feel will help you identify the first step toward improving your self-management. For example, if you are feeling stressed by overwork, it may be time for others to share your burdens more equitably or for you to step away from some obligations. If you have responded inappropriately to others due to poor self-management, a simple apology, without lengthy justifications, helps to restore your relationships, particularly if you are taking steps to avoid the offense in the future.
  • Develop systems. Prioritization and other time management strategies are important in giving yourself time to recover, and organization increases the likelihood that you will be able to give yourself that time. If your affairs are always in a mess, you limit your ability to take charge of them, make decisions, or enable anyone else to help you—especially when your self-management is low. Developing systems that stand up to stress is essential in improving your self-management.
  • Plan ahead. Prepare before you meet with people; set the schedule for the day on the previous day; discuss the requirements and expected outcomes of new projects or experiences before undertaking them. The more planning you do, the better able you will be to regulate your emotions and continue striving toward your goals. Whether a diagnosis, a wedding, a job interview, or the birth of your first child, the more you know about what-happens-next, the better prepared you are to deal with it emotionally.
  • Check-in with yourself and others. Periodically assess your progress toward your goals. Be patient with yourself. You may find that others give you more credit for progress than you give yourself or that you are on schedule for what is, ultimately, a longer process than you thought. Celebrate progress when it happens, rather than waiting for a big reveal. Self-management is something you learn anew each time you practice it.

TIP: The achievement or lack of self-management in your personal life spills over to your professional life and vice versa. The SMaRT skills you learn are endlessly transferrable.


Improving Your Team’s Self-Management

If you think the teams in your life as the work, personal, and social groups you have connected with, then you have surely known some that work (for each other as well as for you) and some that do not. That difference may very well be rooted in the team’s ability to self-manage.

Self-management for teams can be defined in two ways. In one definition, self-management makes the team—and not the leader—responsible and accountable for producing a product or completing a project. The employees themselves plan their everyday tasks and duties. Some companies have had more success with self-managed teams than others, with the difference attributed to the type of organization that institutes the teams. The more rules and standard operating procedures that an organization has, the less likely the team will succeed in developing its own rules and procedures and improving its self-management. If self-managed teams are not working for your organization, rather than diagnosing and changing the team members, you need to examine and change the organization.

Self-management can also be defined by the characteristics that enable a team to work independently and successfully together. Those characteristics include the ability of each team member to take and be responsible for independent action, foster trust in each other, show emotional intelligence, communicate respectfully and clearly, be open to learning, and set and reach goals.

You contribute to improving your team’s self-management when you:

  • Explain the value of what the team is doing. Setting goals and taking responsibility are impossible when people do not know the purpose of what they are doing or what difference it makes if they succeed or fail. “You won’t get paid,” is a motivator with severe limits: it motivates people in the short-term without providing long-term benefits, such as greater productivity, quality, or accountability. If your goal is improving your team’s self-management in the long term, you need to connect with deeper values, such as helping other people or gaining skills that will further their careers.
  • Escape from the drama triangle. The drama triangle contains a villain, a victim, and a hero—the villain blames, the victim complains, and the hero fixes. You yourself could take any one of those roles. When you and your team escape those roles, you transform into challengers of the status quo, creators of solutions, and coaches rather than fixers.
  • Model honesty. If you are honest about your emotional state, the work you can handle, your own self-management, and how the others are affecting you, you help your team to honestly assess their own emotions, capabilities, and relationships. Moreover, you build the vocabulary of respectful challenge, cooperative creativity, and trust. You prepare yourself and your team to presume good intentions rather than bad intentions and so diffuse potential drama.
  • Setting guidelines. Especially for a team that is recovering from dysfunction or a team member that has problems with self-management, guidelines reveal the difference between undermining and improving the team’s self-management. In too many teams, stress is considered normal; overwork is considered normal, and shouting and bullying is considered normal. Instead, these are all signs that self-management is not working, and it is time to return to the principles of good team-building and self-awareness.

TIP: Your job as the leader is not to fix the team but to show the way to better self-management.

Key Takeaways

Self-management aids your recovery from situations that increase your stress and lower your resilience by allowing you to recover control of your emotions and take effective action. In a team, self-management changes their perception of victim, villain, and fixer to creator, challenger, and coach, allowing the team to assume greater or all responsibility for their own decisions and results.

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