Managing you- The key to high performance management

January 09, 2024

‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’

Leo Tolstoy

Start at the Beginning

If you open your browser and type in the search term, ‘managing high performance teams’, you’re going to get lots and lots of results (I’ve just got five-hundred and fifty-five million). You’ll be offered programmes, workshops, essential guides, top tips and more from everybody ranging from university professors, teachers, trainers and consultants to amateur bloggers and wannabe management gurus. Their content covers all the usual suspects: communications skills, motivation techniques, conflict management insights and teambuilding principles, among other well-intended tools.

But there’s a problem here. All of those tools, tips and techniques focus on ‘them’—the targets of your management efforts—in other words, your team. Now, you might think that this is a reasonable place to begin your journey towards being an effective manager. But it isn’t. You’ve overlooked the most important person in the mix, and that person is you.


Whether you’re talking leadership, management, teambuilding, performance management, influencing skills, interpersonal communications or coaching techniques, you’ll find that managing yourself is key to dealing effectively with other humans. So, what is self-management?

Self-management is about choosing our most effective behaviour as we navigate through our day, moment by moment. And, if you think you’re already doing that, I would urge you to think again. In my training rooms, I get managers to break into small groups and list the factors that impact on their thoughts, their feelings and their behaviours as they move through their day. The lists they produce are invariably astonishing in length. They could spend hours instead of the ten minutes I allocate to this exercise. There are so many things that influence your behaviour at any given time— how you slept, what you ate, the time of the day, the time of the month, the time of the year, the time in your life, physical or mental health, your personality, the weather, the news, a meeting you’ve just come from, a meeting you’re about to attend—the list is endless.

The Road to Self-Management

Much of self-management is about transitioning from being a Reactor to being a Responder. Reactors lose control of themselves in challenging situations, producing knee-jerk reactions that can be ill-considered, irrational, problem and blame-focused resulting in counter-productive (and sometimes destructive) behaviour. Reactive behaviour is uninspiring and unbecoming of a person with the title of ‘leader’. Responders, on the other hand, do the opposite. Because they are tuned into their thoughts and feelings, they can recognise a developing emotional reaction. Responders know how to calm themselves in the eye of a storm, leading to measured, rational decision-making that is solution-focused and attracts assistance. Responders are leaders who inspire others and show them the way, through their own self-leadership and self-management. I smile when I hear someone describing how someone else’s behaviour ‘brings them out in a rash’. Others are responsible for their behaviour. You’re responsible for your reactions. Self-management is very much about taking full ownership for your thoughts, feelings and emotions and not blaming others for them.

Choosing your most effective behaviour as you move through your day demands a shift in your thinking. The first and most important change is in shifting from unconscious autopilot mode to conscious self-awareness. It also calls for an awareness of your personality traits, as these drive your most pronounced behaviours. You need to become conscious of the kinds of people and situations that are likely to trigger uncontrolled emotional reactions, and to develop an understanding as to why these reactions occur. It means reminding yourself, as you are stepping into your working day, that things rarely go according to plan, and that problems and crises justify our job titles and provide us with opportunities to lead and to learn.

Caring for the Invisible Innocents

Self management is a life-long journey. It requires focus, self-honesty, not a little humility and the willingness to change. But the payback can be career-enhancing and life-changing. Self-management has the capacity to shape your personal brand as a confident and effective leader—the kind that organisations desperately need. Self-management can also function as an effective OFF-switch from the world of work, delivering benefits for the ‘invisible innocents’—the ones we share our kitchen table with—as we have much more of ourselves to give to them after a calm, controlled and successful day in the workplace.

Leading by Example

As you acquire more leadership responsibility, what you do and what you say matters. People look to you for indications as to what constitutes appropriate behaviour. The best leaders are the ones who think and act in ways that inspire others through their example, particularly when the pressure is on. They are the ones who create calm instead of turbulence. And the leaders who do this most effectively are the ones who are best at managing themselves.


Nicky O’Brien delivers leadership and management training and coaching programmes to some of Ireland’s leading companies on behalf of Ibec Academy.