The first rule of management is that successful management is actually more about how you manage yourself rather than being about how you manage others.

Management life tends to be extremely busy and demanding, particularly when you manage a large and complex organisation or business unit, and it is easy to forget that just having an external focus is not enough for one to be successful as a manager. It is critical that you take the time to also manage yourself as well as those for whom you have been given responsibility.

Here are some of my main focus areas for self-management.

How you manage your own integrity, ethics, goals and performance

Good managers do not wait for their boss to initiate a performance review to discover how they are doing in their job. It is important that you keep a critical and subjective view of your own performance and behaviours in the same way that you would do for the members of your team. Too many managers tend to readily see weaknesses in their employees without serious review of their own. It is easier, for example, to blame weak sales on underperforming salesmen than it is to look at how you, as the sales manager and the person who controls the culture and environment, are impacting the business levels being attained. Managers who fail tend to blame others, rarely themselves, but a skilled manager should monitor his own performance with even more rigour than he measures others.

Author: Robin8376 (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

How you manage your own career

No matter how senior you get it is critical that you manage your own career rather than allow it to depend on the vagaries of the fates. Too many managers are driven by opportunities that arise around them, or that come to them, rather than having a clear understanding of what they actually want to do and how they plan to get there. I was regularly amazed at how many young people I interviewed in my time who told me that their goal was to “have your job”, but when I asked them how they intended to achieve that goal, had absolutely no idea of what it would entail. A successful manager must have a clear understanding of his intended career path and the planning, training, development and mentoring needed to get there, as well as how to go about showing to the corporate “heavies”, through current performance and proof of future potential, that s/he is suitable for promotion.

How you manage your time, both work and personal

If you don’t focus on managing your own time, others will do it for you and then you will then have no control over your own life. The more senior you get the more you will find that your year will start off pre-planned to a major degree. Towards the end of my corporate life, by the time that my calendar allowed for both internal and external board meetings, my own and my boss’s management meetings as well as customer events, speeches, lecturing, teaching, mentoring, shareholders meetings, partner events and press involvements, my year was already about 70% pre-determined, and mostly involved considerable travel commitments. You must get control over your discretionary time by blocking out time for focussing on the tasks that drive your own success rather than that of others. It is also critical that you ensure that you block out time for vacations andpersonal and family events as I have rarely found a successful executive who does not have a supportive, understanding and forgiving family life.

by Wikimedia Commons

How you manage upwards and sideways

Successful managers understand that they have to build a suitable and effective working relationship with their boss. You have to be able to convince your boss that s/he can trust you enough to leave you alone to do your job, yet be there when you need him for things like advice or to remove a road-block that s/he is better placed to do. This means that you have to ensure that s/he has a detailed enough understanding of what is going on in your area of responsibility, both good and bad, to feel comfortable with according you the right to continue to control the destiny of your business area. I always told my management team that the five words that they should fear most from me was if I told one of them that “I am here to help”. You also have to build solid relationships with your network of peers as success is rarely driven in isolation.

How you manage your health

Management roles can be tough on the body and the mind, and personal physical fitness is a key element in promoting mental health. The strains of continuous travel, with changing time zones, cultures and cuisines can place massive stresses on the body and it is rare for a successful executive today to be heavily overweight and unfit. When you are “on the run” most of the time it is critical that you watch your diet, alcohol intake and exercise levels. There is no need to become excessive about it, but it is important that you keep up a fitness regime that enables you to meet the pressures of the role without it impacting your ability to do the job. In particular it is critical that you have an ability to differentiate between pressure and stress. I have found that pressure can be a key ingredient to drive the adrenalin that makes you achieve great results, but unmanaged stress can kill you.

Author: User:KVDP, User:Slashme; via Wikimedia Commons

Dee Hock, founder of VISA International said

“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers. If you don’t understand that you work for your mis-labeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.”



Getting the most from your people is one of the most critical goals of every manager. This doesn´t just mean that you have to get your team to work long hours and work hard, but it also means that you must ensure that your people work on the right tasks within the right conditions.

As Peter Drucker said “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Author: Jeff McNeill; via Wikimedia Commons

To get greater productivity from your team you must focus on some critical elements.


You must control the number of meetings, their duration and the number of people attending. Limit the number of standing meeting as these have a way of growing in numbers and in duration till they take up too large a proportion of available time. Spend more time talking to individuals and small groups about what is important to them rather than pulling all managers in for multiple days every month to sit through meetings that generally affect each individual attendee for only a small part of the time. When you must call a group meeting limit the number of people attending as well as the duration, making sure you have a tight and pre-circulated agenda and that everyone comes to the meeting well prepared. (See “Meetings bloody meetings” posted April 18, 2011)


Pablo Picasso said “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”

Author: Argentina. Revista Vea y Lea; via Wikimedia Commons

The most common office layout these days is open-plan, mainly because it is a space, and therefore money, saving way to build a floor layout, and yet most organisations do it badly. However, if handled properly it can also be a great way to build team spirit and to get people working closely and collaboratively together. To achieve the most benefit from an open plan office layout it is important that, as well as having places where teams can work, think and plan together, you also have quiet closed-door spaces available for when people need to focus on things that can be best done alone.

Author: Benn; via Wikimedia Commons


As the team leader you set the standards for behaviour so if you use email all the time to communicate with your people you will create a culture where they will be perpetually checking their emails to see what it is that you need next from them. Talk directly with your people either by walking over to them, or by calling them. Overuse of email is one of the worst time stealers and productivity destroyers so ensure that you instil email management as a critical behavioural standard. (See “Fifth secret of time management” posted November 11, 2010).

Source: User:MG; License: GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons


Listen to your people when they need the time to talk to you directly. Most managers, even good ones, have a lot on the plate at any time, and busy managers have a tendency to cut off subordinates when they have issues to discuss … resist doing so. It is worthwhile giving people enough time to talk with you and to have their say. It will ensure that your people understand that they can come to you to resolve things rather than have to leave them to fester and which could therefore impact their ability to deliver on their goals. It will also enable you to have more immediate understanding of what is happening and in particular of things that could impact your team’s ability to perform.


Don’t get angry and cut off good people if they decide to leave whatever the reason, and no matter how much it impacts you and the team, as you should always keep strong links to people that you believe are true professionals. You never know when their situations can change and when a critical vacancy comes up in your requirements it is worthwhile checking with previous employees as to how they are situated at that time. It is always less risky to bring back someone who understands the organisation and whose strengths and weaknesses are well known to you, rather than go outside to someone unknown and untried.


Dedicated professionals often have no real idea of time, particularly when engrossed in a critical project that they find fascinating and challenging. It is important that the manager tracks their hours/days/months to avoid burnout. You need to ensure that people work hard and put in the hours that are needed to get the job done, but you also need to ensure that people get reasonable time to unwind and to rejuvenate, and that means sometimes dragging people away for a drink after work, making them take some vacation or just sending them home in the evening. When your team starts talking about work-life balance you have already let it go too far.


Getting things done, achieving results and having successes is the greatest boost not only to team morale but also to on-going productivity. You need to ensure that goals that are set and projects that are undertaken have a measurable endpoint that can be visible and celebrated. Creating a culture that acknowledges successful outcomes is fuel that is needed to fire up the team. It is important to have a strategic plan, but the only worthwhile part of it is getting things done well.


It is a critical role of any manager to protect his people from interference, politics and rumours from other parts of the organisation and from all directions as these can just act to defocus the best of teams. As their manager, and protector, you must establish an understanding with your people that you will keep them updated on the realities of what is going on in the company, and they can therefore disregard external noises.


Never forget that work is also meant to be fun, and by this I don’t mean funny. People define fun in many different ways, but I believe that in a work context it should mean that people get to work with great colleagues, where their skills are appreciated, used, challenged and expanded, working within an ethical, rewarding and supportive environment that sustains their souls.

“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” — Thomas Edison


We have all at one time or another been really disappointed with our boss, if for example it is because we believed that he had made some bad choices, struggled too long with a decision, or promoted someone who was more politician than professional.

Author: ThisIsRobsLife (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

It is not unusual to sometimes disagree with what your boss says and does, but this does not necessarily mean that you need to view him as being incompetent, just that he is fallible as are all humans. It is a rare boss who is 100% right 100% of the time.

Unfortunately “The Peter Principle”, which states that ultimately everyone gets promoted beyond their level of ability, is alive and well, meaning that in many organisations there are quite a few people in management roles that are totally out of their depth (see “When you know that managers are amateurs” posted March 19, 2012).

So, what can you do if your boss does continually show that he really is incapable of living up to the needs of the job, and that his lack of leadership and management skills is having a negative impact on the performance and success of his team, of which you are a part ?

Firstly, you have to make sure that your view of your boss being incompetent is realistic and is not just your jaundiced view through either resentment or jealousy. Is it just that your boss is annoying you, picking on you, pushing you harder than you want to be pushed or micromanaging you ? Any of these things on their own may be enough to make you peeved with him, but do not necessarily make him incompetent. Young and ambitious people can build a resentment of their boss that they translate to being due to his incompetence as a way of justifying their own position on things. The competent boss is articulate, inclusive, decisive, focussed on results and inspiring but may still be a pain in the arse. It is only when the boss allows the team to build dysfunctional behaviours through fear, political intrigue, backstabbing, factionalism and lack of purpose that one has the right to conclude that he is incompetent.

Even if you are 100% sure that your boss is incompetent, and even if your evaluation is backed up by solid evidence of his behaviour, you should never indulge in open complaining about him to colleagues. It pays to remember that someone higher up the ladder will have promoted your boss into his current role and will therefore have some personal interest in justifying this decision. This means that he will therefore be likely to protect your boss, particularly from a subordinate bitching over the coffee machine about someone he personally selected for advancement. The old adage “… if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything” holds very true in this situation. Even if those around you are openly negative about your boss, it is in your own interests to not join in with the herd.

To build a solid career, it is important that you make it about you and not him. It is critical that you focus on your competencies and benefit to the organisation rather than his weaknesses. I have a strong belief that in worthwhile organisations skilled and capable people will ultimately always be valued.

When your boss is struggling, it is a great time to show your leadership skills by compensating for his weaknesses for the benefit of the team. Under these circumstances, it is worthwhile having a discussion with your boss about you expanding your knowledge and learning by “helping him with his workload”. If he really is struggling with the role he will be pleased for the offer of help, and will gladly hand over responsibility for parts of the job to you. This will give you the opportunity to grow your own skills and will also give you a chance to help other members of the team to stay focussed on their roles and on the success of the team. It is important to remember that there is great benefit to your career to be part of a high performing team, irrespective of how good is your boss. A team that is seen as being weak taints all members of the team, not just the weak boss, even if he is the main cause. Focussing on your strengths to help overcome the weaknesses of your boss will help to position you at a senior level by those in the team, who by now will be hungering for some strong leadership and direction. People in the team who positively sing your praises will always outweigh negative discussions about your boss. However, you do need to be careful that you don’t become so indispensable to your boss’s success that he ensures that you never get a chance to move out of your current role.

It is also important at this time that you continue to expand your network within the company. Competent managers are well connected and have a good understanding of different elements of the whole organisation, and it will significantly help your team to have solid links throughout the company as this will work well in your favour when you need things to get done that requires support from people who are outside your immediate ecosystem.

If all this fails, your only choice is to find a strong positive reason for re-assignment, or if that doesn’t work you need to make sure that your CV is up to date (see “Third secret of success” posted October 21, 2010). You do however have to assume that in any standard 35-40 year career not all your bosses will be a source of inspiration and an example of skilled professional management.


Management styles are mainly based on the two key elements of how one goes about making decisions and how one relates to people, which tend to point towards someone being either an autocratic or a permissive manager.

Whilst many managers may have little self-awareness of in which category they actually belong, most seeing themselves as being somewhere between benign dictators and kindly father figures, their subordinates generally have no doubt of their boss’s true style, and will therefore react accordingly.

However, I have long felt that these two categories of either autocracy or permissiveness are not definitive enough, and that within these two fairly broad categories of management styles, there are many sub-categories that define how managers tend to act when it comes to the decision processes that they use and how they interact and manage their people.

An autocratic manager believes that it is his role to make all the decisions with little regard for his subordinates, and as such the business unit will totally reflect the opinions and personality of the manager. Whilst this may give an impression of a well-run business, it is a style which does tend to drive away the better people who will find it hard to be excluded from any decision making process and who will find it even harder to live within very limited bounds of freedom. This style of “command and control” is still very evident in many French companies, which helps to explain why French workers are amongst the most dissatisfied with their management as shown in global surveys (see “Engagement has a nice ring to it” posted March 5, 2012).

Whilst a consultative manager tends to be a bit more people oriented, it is still essentially an autocratic style but with some emphasis being placed on employee interests as well as those of the business. Communications still tend to be downward, but feedback upwards to the manager is encouraged mainly in an attempt to build morale. This can work when the manager is highly charismatic and can build loyalty from his people, as at least their social needs are being addressed, but it does build an organisation where people are totally dependent on the leader. This is the typical style of many religious cult leaders.

Attribution: Jonestown Institute; via Wikimedia Commons

The persuasive manager is very aware of his subordinates, but not necessarily more inclusive and the management style has much in common with the dictatorial manager, as they still maintain total control over the decision process, but just spend more time working with people to convince them of the benefits of the decisions that have been made. This can be useful when the manager is a subject matter expert, for example a project manager in a complex project, who will take time to explain how the project will be run to ensure that the team is all “on the same page”, but where s/he will retain overall responsibility for making it work to plan.

A democratic manager involves employees in the decision process and consensus on decisions is sought from the majority, with extensive bi-directional communications. This is supportive of high job satisfaction and quality of work as it tends to drive high engagement, but can be an incredible barrier to speed of decision and execution as there are always many “chefs in the broth”. It can work well in complex projects that require many different subject matter experts for varied inputs to ensure a workable solution.

Author: World Economic Forum; via Wikimedia Commons

A French term but definitely a rare French style of management where the manager is more of a mentor and staff look after and manage their own business areas. This style can work well with an inspirational leader that truly understands all the different business initiatives, and who has creative and capable people who understand and share the organisational vision and mission. It can be successful where there are strong, entrepreneurial and creative groups of people, but can be a disaster when the leader does not have broad expertise and the skill to communicate a strong vision, as it can all degenerate into conflicting and divergent activities that deliver little benefit to the organisation because of lack of focus and direction.

A management style where the manager is still very autocratic but does really care about the quality of life and work of his people. Very common in Asian companies where staff turnover is rare and loyalty to the company over-rides all else. There is little questioning of authority and it is thus very similar in the way that most parents run their household. Like fathers, paternalistic managers will make decisions based on the fact that they know best what is needed for their children (workers) and that as long as one resides “in their house”, they have to abide by their rules.

Author: Robert D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons

Many managers tend to live and act within just one management style, as generally that is the only style that they have and they feel that at least this ensures consistency, in that their people know how they will act in any given circumstance. I feel that the best managers have the ability to shift between the styles depending on the particular team and the situation or project being faced, particularly in complex and fast changing organisations, industries and markets, and that they can do this without evercompromising their values or their integrity.