Sunday, January 30, 2022
As the readers of this blog know, I have been offering free coaching sessions since November last year. From then, I’ve coached over twenty people from several tech companies. I knew of a few from prior experience, but many others were new. Though most of the participants were individual contributors, there were some engineering, product, and program managers as well.
During these sessions, the participants and I explored various aspects of their leadership. Each participant is at a different point in their leadership journey, yet we identified challenges to overcome. In some cases, the challenges were apparent, but in most cases, we had to peel a few layers to discover areas of improvement and tactics to employ. What we felt a challenge turned out to be a symptom of some other underlying challenge.
But as I started spending more time with participants, I began to see a more significant issue. Several sessions underscored one essential skill we all need to acquire: managing yourself.
Managing yourself includes managing your internal state (how you feel about yourself and others and your emotions), time, relations at work, dealing with conflicts, setbacks, and difficulties, being present and investing in personal growth. Through these coaching sessions, it’s become clear that most of us aren’t even aware of ourselves, take managing ourselves for granted, and float along in our daily lives.
A few participants told me that time management was their biggest challenge, and they wanted to figure out how to be more efficient at doing and completing all the things they wanted to do. They have tried some approaches, which didn’t work. On probing a bit more, I ended up telling them that they don’t have a time-management problem, and their problem is self-management. Time is not a manageable entity — every moment, we inherit a new moment, and the current moment becomes the past. Each moment comes and goes. But, what we do with those moments is manageable.
You’re the CEO of yourself — a one-person enterprise — act like one
In the introduction to his classic management book High Output Management, Andy Grove writes that “you are in effect a chief executive of an organization yourself” (see page xv, in the first chapter). Although he expressly referred to middle managers in that chapter, his point applies to everyone.
Imagine yourself being the CEO of a one-person enterprise. To be a functioning enterprise, you have to set a purpose, a strategy, and objectives for yourself. You have a business plan and metrics. You have an operating plan to function as an enterprise.
As a CEO, every day, you get to decide how you’re going to invest your time, which is your primary fixed capital. You choose the activities you want to do and those you don’t want to do. You prioritize. A CEO rarely runs the company based on that morning’s news, social media chatter, or the stock ticker. Same for you. Why let incoming email, meetings, rumination, and doom-scrolling dictate how you spend your time?
Every day, you, the CEO, are accountable for the mood in your company. Have an all-hands with yourself and hear what you are telling yourself. Are you setting a purpose for each day, or are you letting daily activities take you in different directions? Are you mumbling to yourself, giving yourself excuses, or do you sound energetic and joyful with clarity of purpose and action?
Ask yourself about your investment plan for yourself. What skills are you acquiring? What are you learning? What alliances and partnerships are you building? Are you being effective at those partnerships?
When you imagine yourself being a CEO of your one-person enterprise, you don’t take conflicts and setbacks at work personally. You tackle those with strategy and tactics. You realize that your relationship with your employer is fundamentally a business relationship.
I find that such a mental model of being the CEO of a one-person enterprise can build self-awareness. It puts you in a position of driving action, not stagnation. It is an effective tool. Try it out.