The 21st century management style

"A good manager is one that does not need to manage once people learn to self-manage."


What do the following words have in common?

  • Self-management
  • Self-hypnosis
  • Self-improvement
  • Self-accelerating
  • Self-replicating
  • Self-defence
  • Self-review
  • Self-appraisal
  • Self-help

Well, apart from having the word "Self-" at the beginning of each term, there is something else: they are all examples of the concept of recycling. "How?" you may ask.

Examples of recycling systems

In biology, we have the natural energy recycler of the molecular world called Deoxyribonucleic Acid (or DNA) hidden in the nucleus of every living cell. This molecule is designed to break apart and recycle its own energy and use it to attract smaller molecules known as nucleotides to DNA in order to create two new identical copies of itself in a process known as "self-replication".

In physics, an electrically-charged particle emitting radiation is known to recycle the energy in the radiation because of the presence of a gravitational field in the energy and the particle itself.

In psychology, a person can recycle his/her natural skill of relaxation using the neurons in the brain linked together to form closed circuits known as patterns, which if left to amplify (or reinforce) itself over time will reach the self-hypnotic state.

In environmental science, we have a self-sufficiency and replenishing system created by our natural ecology of different plants and animals all working together. With the right systems in place, living things are created, they live, achieve goals and then die, and eventually new life is created once again in a recycling system that lasts virtually forever.

And similarly, believe it or not, there is also a recycling concept in management theory known as "self-management".

Definition of self-management

Self-management, also called self-control in some management books, is the process of empowering an individual with the minimum knowledge and skills needed in a certain area until the person can recycle that knowledge and skills and so improve on it over time until he exercises self-leadership in that particular area.

A slightly more sophisticated definition for self-management can be seen in the following quote:

"A person displays self-control when in the relative absence of immediate external constraints, he engages in behavior whose previous probability has been less than that of alternatively available behaviors." (1)

Alternatively, you can think of self-management of a kind of "think for yourself" on how you would improve something in yourself, your actions, the work that you do, and even those of your customers and people in your workplace when achieving various objectives, and all within the budget you have available at the time.

Where would we be without self-management?

If we did not have self-management, we would depend entirely on the decisions of higher management. We would have to follow the orders of other people in a precise way, irrespective of whether we think there is a better way of doing things. And if we don't have the creativity and emotional intelligence side needed for higher management which some people would call Theory Y, we would be no different than the leaders who bark out commands in the Armed forces known as Theory X.

A world without self-management is essentially a world obsessed with the idea of turning people into robots and in controlling their behaviours (including thinking and their ideas) to perform in the way other people want them to do, usually without question, and often without emotion and creativity. In more sophisticated "management" language, Charles C. Manz and Henry P. Sims, Jr., would describe this traditional management style as follows:

"Within organizations, leadership can be described as a process through which the supervisor structures reinforcement contingencies that modify the behavior of subordinates." (2)

Now let us not kid ourselves for a minute. This traditional style of management can still be important in situations where people need to survive. For example, if an organisation is clearly facing imminent financial collapse, or if the enemy was just around the corner ready to blast your sorry ass, then you have to know how to work with others and to follow orders from "experienced" people or at least know how to apply a set of strict and precise rules for surviving if you and everyone else want to live another day.

However, we don't have to follow this "surviving on a day-by-day" management style basis all the time. We shouldn't have to be "fighting to survive" constantly. There is another type of management style, We shouldn't be living in an age where we have to feel like there is a gun pointed to our heads saying, "Do this, or else" from higher authority, or for someone to say "God will punish you if you don't do as He says" as we see in the Old Testament. There is actually a more human side to management we are heading towards that teaches us to learn and think for ourselves and understand how to improve things for the better in order to achieve certain business objectives.

Indeed, if you are vaguely religious in any way, you should be aware of this alternative style from the teachings of the charismatic leader mentioned in the New Testament when achieving the objective of applying the principle of love.

In the case of the business world, this new management style is called "self-management".

What does self-management do to the organisation structure?

An organisation that practices self-management has no need for a visible hierarchical organisation structure. Rather it becomes much flatter and more like a lattice organisation structure with many leaders, but no bosses or managers.

Within this organisation structure, each employee is his/her own manager. Each manager listens to other managers and continually improves his/herself. Add to this the benefit of being able to apply one's own creativity, emotions and the practical method of doing the work (3), and we have ourselves a powerful and more "human" organisation for the 21st century and beyond.

Do we really need self-management?

Well, let's put it this way.

In the traditional management style, you are constantly aware of the hierarchy (or "chain of command") and you do exactly as you are told. You only learn something new when you are told to do so (or you feel you must learn in order to retain your job based on limited choices decided by the organisation). And the only time you can apply your creativity and emotion is usually outside of the organisation (unless your hours of work are so long that you don't have the time to be yourself and do anything different).

In the self-managed organisation, on the other hand, you will:

  • set the hours of work (whether it is during the night or day) and how many hours you think is necessary to achieve your goals for the organisation;
  • experience, learn and apply what you think has to be done for the organisation (i.e. both the big picture and the specifics of the job you will do);
  • decide how the work should be done in the most creative, rational and enjoyable way possible; and
  • learn what it is you need to learn to help improve yourself and make it easier for other people to achieve their goals.

In fact, you are in control of your own destiny, applying all your human aspects to the job all the time.

Remember, a traditional organisation is a purely rational organisation. The more you work in such an organisation, the more you feel like an "unemotional" robot. However, a self-managed organisation is a learning, creative, emotional and rational organisation. It combines all elements that makes us human.

Why are we changing to the self-management style?

More and more people are making the move towards self-management today. This is because:

  1. People want greater security in a changing and unpredictable world;
  2. People are looking for long-term quality solutions, sustainable profits and cost savings;
  3. People don't want to feel like they are in constant "survival mode" when maximising the profits and minimising the costs for the organisation;
  4. The perception of rapid change in the world requires people to find innovative ways to deal with change;
  5. People start to see the stability in all the changes they see through the quality "long-term" solutions they generate; and
  6. People are expressing their rights to be treated as human beings having creativity and emotion.

This last point is particularly important because more and more people are changing their work ethics to one that is more attuned to the way people want to work and which is considered more human. As Catherine Fox of The Australian Financial Review reported in an article titled Reality Check:

"The contract between employer and employee moved a long way in the 1990s as the power balance that so firmly favoured the paternal boss shifted towards the employee. The hierarchical structures of many offices flattened out. Workers wanted interesting work, flexibility and freedom or they'd simply walk." (4)

But isn't there a power shift from the employee to the employer right now?

After recent events of terrorist activities and reduced demand by consumers for certain products and services, there is a temporary shift in power back to the employer together with a corresponding increase in traditional management practices of control and command. This is understandable as profits are reduced and organisations have to suddenly find ways to reduce costs.

Unfortunately giving control back to those managers with a propensity for applying the traditional ways of management will inevitably result in basic "non-emotional" and "uncreative" means of reducing costs such as large-scale retrenchments and service cut-backs.

However, what we probably need right now are more people with self-managing techniques to apply more than ever their creativity and emotion as well as their rational skills in solving problems. There need not have to be an economic downturn because of certain events. Just so long as people are given the power to creatively find "long-term" solutions to problems and to apply them, then the economic hardships need not have to be as severe or long-lasting as some commentators would have us believe.

Despite the shift in power towards the employers, it is inevitable that at some point the reverse will come when everyone will be treated as human beings having creativity and emotion, whether it be at work or in the home. Therefore, it is unlikely the ideas of self-management and "giving power to the employee" will suddenly disappear all because of one or several terrorist actions, or the collapse of major companies or whatever.

If we want to be serious about whatever we want to achieve and to truly feel secure and stable and have the enduring peace we seek in our lives, then we must be prepared to share power with everyone. For some managers, this might be frightening. But the benefits truly outweighs any of the disadvantages self-management might bring. In fact, if such long-term thinking skills are enabled in every employee, a little self-management in our lives will travel a long way in, say, the protecting our natural environment, and potentially solving unemployment, poverty and so many other world problems. Because in the end, we all have the power to looking after our planet and making it a more safer, happier and self-motivated place to live and achieve things for everyone.

When is self-management implemented?

Self-management can be implemented in just about any organisation at almost any time. For example, where there is too much complexity within an organisation, top management will suddenly discover how much easier it is to let more people be self-managed in their own specific areas and watch the benefits grow on their own.

It happens naturally.

Are there organisations changing to the self-management style?

A number of organisations are changing to the new management style. Even the massive bureaucratic and hierarchical structure of the Australian Public Service is slowly adopting a system that is more closely akin to a self-managed organisation where people are learning to be increasingly multiskilled and eventually independent enough to run and even manage their own work (until Government applies its hierarchical management style of retrenching people and exercising authority).

As for the companies that are openly practising self-management principles, they include the big guns in the business world like Microsoft and Motorola.

Does the term "self-management" mean less teamwork and more individualism?

No. While self-management practices requires employees to exercise a certain level of individualism in their work, they are still described as "part of the team" because they work towards a common goal and are prepared to listen to new ideas and improve themselves as they go about their work.

As Shipper and Manz, the authors of the article Employee Self-management without Formally Designated Teams: An Alternative Road to Empowerment, described the management practices of the US firm W.L. Gore & Associates:

"The entire work operation becomes essentially one large empowered team in which everyone is individually self-managing and can interact directly with everyone else in the system."

Is there a difference between a team in a traditional organisation and a team in a self-managed organisation?

There is a subtle, but important difference between an ordinary team working for a traditional, hierarchical-based organisation, and a team working for a self-managed organisation.

In the ordinary team, a group of people are merely working towards a "common goal". There is no major incentive to learn by the group unless forced to by management or the group feels they must in order to retain their jobs. The team just follows orders and get their pay at the end of the day.

In the self-managed team, however, a group of people are working together and independently in their own ways toward a common goal. We called this a self-determined or self-actualised team. In this team, employees do their own self-scheduling of work, self-training, self-appraisals and so on. As they continually recycle and challenge the knowledge and skills over time, the self-managed team will improve on everything they are doing and eventually, at some point, discover new ideas that no one else has ever seen before. And then the organisation itself will leap into a brand new niche market, and probably ultimately achieve greater long-term profits. (5)

In fact, a self-managed team should benefit from the following results:

  1. Greater enthusiasm.
  2. A willingness to learn from peers.
  3. A more shared responsibility for work and other people.
  4. A feeling of greater belonging and value to the group, even more so than just merely feeling like a "member in a team who has to do this job or else".
  5. Knowing there is help when you need it.
  6. A greater sense of accomplishment and meaning in life.
  7. Higher performance in employees.
  8. Less stress on the "supervisor" to make sure work is being done.
  9. Greater decision-making responsibilities to the employees and so achieving more streamlined work processes and less company bureaucracy.

Is there a difference between self-directed and self-managed teams?

There is a slight difference in how we define the terms "self-directed" and "self-managed" in relation to this management topic.

The self-directed team, for instance, is where employees work in their own way towards a common goal defined by the team. If the goal is defined outside of the team, we call the team a "self-managed" team.

When does self-management occur?

Self-management occurs when people are not in survival mode and can develop a minimum level of knowledge and skills to achieve something (e.g. the work they are tasked to do). Thereafter, the people can apply and improve on the knowledge in their own way to help make their work more interesting and relevant to the marketplace as well as to be more efficient and effective in the workplace environment.

Is this the end of hierarchical organisational structures?

There is no need to throw out the hierarchical and "mechanistic" approach altogether. Sometimes we may need it in case there is an emergency and things have to be done quickly and on a survival basis. When this happens, it is useful to apply the old management approach for a while.

However, when it comes to surviving over the long-term, we have to treat people as human beings in the workplace with creativity and emotions, and that means there should not have to be a visible hierarchy. In fact, we should avoid the need for a "chain of command". Rather, everyone is placed on an equal "playing field" where each person contributes their own experiences, knowledge and skills to the team.

How do we become self-managers?

There are three critical things that makes us self-managers:

    As soon as we become familiar with the task demands of our work, we start to improve on the task. This creative task-related improvement in knowledge becomes a "substitute for leadership."

    We see this all the time. As soon as we become familiar with something, we find ourselves becoming the teacher of, or a leader for, others who want to know how we do things.

    This raises an important point: we are all natural self-managers to some extent. As Manz and Sims writes on self-management based on the work of Albert Bandura in his book Principles of Behavior Modification (New York: Holt, 1969):

    "We all exercise self-control over our own behaviors to some degree. Typically we set certain behavior standards and reward or punish ourselves according to judgments we make of our performance in relation to these standards." (6)

    Once we are familiar with something, we tend to improve on that something either by making it simpler, quicker and/or more interesting than it was before.

    However, to make this self-management concept work properly within an organisation, we have to encourage people to learn, acquire enough knowledge and skills, and start to believe in themselves on what they can do on their own. And that means receiving regular positive reinforcement.

More on positive reinforcement, and not punishment!

Regular positive reinforcement should be our aim in life. If we use punishment as a way of changing behaviour and action, we will only create employees who will develop deep resentment with us and our ways. We may have two choices in life, but we must aim for one, and that should be a positive one.

Now regular positive reinforcement can be achieved on one's own. For example, how many of us set a kind of reward system from time-to-time and then achieve an important milestone at work or in daily life before enjoying a coffee break, taking a holiday, purchasing our favourite magazine and so on?

Or regular positive reinforcement can be achieved outside of the individual's direct control. For example, to make sure people are moving in the right direction of having the minimum skills and knowledge and a willingness to learn, we need to have minimum standards for us to observe, understand and imitate. Those standards in behaviour are specified in terms of comparison to (i) past performance; (ii) the observed performance of others; and (iii) socially acquired performance criteria.

Hence it is not unusual in a self-managed organisation to have people acting as models to help other people to see the standard and to be regularly encouraged to reach that standard and even surpass it on their own. Then to further reinforce the good behaviours, there would be lots of opportunity for people to do what they would like to do outside of work as well as join team building exercises like playing a sport of volleyball or going on a camping trip on a weekend.

This approach to encouraging, reinforcing and helping people to manage themselves is commonly applied by leaders or managers of self-management who wants his/her employees to achieve certain goals on their own (e.g. better performance, lower costs, new behaviours etc).

The main advantages of self-management

At least three benefits come to mind:

  1. There is the cost factor whereby the organisation does not have to pay the hefty salaries of a large management team telling staff what to do, and also the staff does not need to spend too much time waiting for a decision to be made by management;
  2. A smaller management team can take on a more longer-term approach to decision-making and so increase the stability of their solutions when affecting the staff of an entire organisation; and
  3. The staff are happier and more productive because they have the freedom to do their own work in the best way possible using their own creativity and emotions.

As Manz and Sims writes:

"...from a cost/benefit perspective, self-management can be considered a desirable objective because it involves less expense to the organization, in terms of dollars and time, than having someone else serve as a manager. Furthermore, the employee's manager is free to address longer-term problems and issues that need attention." (7)

The main disadvantages of self-management

There are a few disadvantages.

For example, one disadvantage is that a self-managed person can, for instance, set an unrealistically high expectation or goal. If the goal cannot be achieved, the person may become frustrated. This kind of dysfunctional self-controlling behaviour can be unproductive. To avoid this problem, it is important from time-to-time for people to discuss their goals first with someone else before going about fulfilling those goals on their own.

Then there is the situation that if a person becomes too self-managed, they may have trouble listening to higher level management to ensure the big picture is properly understood and the results of his/her work is relevant to the needs of the organisation.

Also there are people who are well-trained in the traditional and competitive management style. These people are more likely to aggressively compete and use peer pressure to disrupt the self-management system and so make it become dysfunctional. It is therefore important for the team's overall authority to intervene and correct the problem.

And yet another problem is that it takes time to create a self-managing individual. A fair bit of time has to be spent in developing the knowledge and skills needed by the individual to reach this self-actualised state. Unfortunately this requires stability in a team environment, something which is becoming unheard of in this fast-changing world where people's jobs usually last for a year or two and then move on (presumably to something better).

Nevertheless, all these disadvantages can be dealt with using appropriate management techniques.

How to develop self-management in the individual

The two most common strategies for developing self-management in the individual are:

  1. Environment planning
  2. Behaviour programming

In environment planning, the environment is rearranged is such a way as to promote the specific behaviour needed to achieve a goal (which is self-management in this case). For example, some people may decide to rearrange a desk in an office so that it does not face the door and therefore reduce the likelihood of being distracted and spending too much time chatting with others.

In behaviour programming, rewards (and not punishment!) are used as a future consequence of applying a specific behaviour when achieving the goal of self-management.

Once the environmental planning and behaviour programming are properly set up, with adequate support from others, people will acquire the critical knowledge by which self-management will be applied on their own in that area.

The essential procedure for self-management is covered below:


  1. Self-observation: This involves gathering information about one's own behaviour and determining which part of the behaviour needs modification using some form of self-reinforcement.
  2. Specifying goals: This is believed to be important by psychologists not only to improve performance, but might be sufficient as a self-regulatory strategy in itself.
  3. Cueing strategies: The process of gradually reducing certain stimuli that precede maladaptive behaviour. One such example of this is environment planning.
  4. Incentive modification: The process of self-reinforcement (using rewards) or self-punishment. Generally positive self-reinforcement consistently yield positive results. The same cannot be said of self-punishment.
  5. Rehearsal: The covert or overt practice of a desired behaviour. Usually the rehearsal is covert (i.e. imagined) and later it becomes overt (actual consequences).
  6. Self-evaluation: Comparison of actual behaviour reached with desired behaviour.

So encourage yourself to engage in self-management practices. Or find a leader who will emphasise self-management by asking the following questions:


  1. Self-observation: "Do you know how well you are doing right now?" and "How about keeping a record of how many times that happens?"
  2. Goal-setting: "How many will you shoot for?" and "When do you want to have it finished?" and "What will your target be?"
  3. Cueing strategies: "What do you need to help you achieve your goals?"
  4. Self-evaluation: "How do you think you did?" and "Are you pleased with the way it went?"
  5. Rehearsals: "Let's practice that." And "Why don't we try it out?"

Note that external reinforcement is fine in the early stages. But the primary aim of the leader is to encourage the employee to develop his/her own self-reinforcement unless he/she specifically requests some form of external reinforcement.

The use of a model

To make it easier for us to become self-managers, it is useful to have people who already have the skills of self-management in the job they are doing. In that way, these people can act as a model for us to observe and so help us to self-evaluate our own standard based on this currently accepted standard.

But care must be taken not to have an overdependence on other people acting as a model. We all have to develop our own unique self-management style suited to our particular area of employment so that one day we can become a potentially better model for other people to follow for themselves.

How to develop a self-managed team

To develop a self-managed team, keep in mind the following points:


  1. The team defines work as the achievement of goals. Hence what we do or who we are does not matter. We learn to focus on the goals.
  2. The team set their own goals with approval from higher management.
  3. The team makes a game out of work.
  4. The aim of the game is to reach the goals.
  5. Once the goals are reached, the team wins.
  6. The more winners, the better. There is only a Win-Win situation for everyone.
  7. There is no competition between individuals in the team because strategies and information are shared to help the team reach the goals more quickly.
  8. As soon as the team reaches the goal, everyone is made a winner. Firstly, management acknowledges and recognises the achievement. Then every winner celebrates the achievement.

The importance of celebrating the moment

This celebratory moment (or positive reinforcement) is rather important in a self-managed team and for self-managed individuals for it helps to reinforce the behaviour and reinitiates a new cycle of goal achieving. The reinforcement is designed to make people feel a sense of belonging and an opportunity for further personal growth.

This is a bit like life. For some religions, life is a cyclic thing. Each time we live, we achieve something important. When we die, our efforts are recognised and celebrated. And then the mystery of the universe somehow allows us to start a new cycle of achievement by starting a new life and attaining a higher level of goals for the good of everyone and not just for ourselves.

How to develop self-management in an organisation

For an organisation to become self-managed, it must think along the following lines:

  1. Authority should be distributed to the people who are doing the work.
  2. Authority should be based on expertise and competence, not on position or status.
  3. The skills of management and leadership should be shared across the entire organisation.
  4. Information required for learning and doing the work should be easily accessible and transparent.
  5. The most valuable resources to the organisation are customers, shareholders, employees and everyone else affecting the organisation. It is never one group more important than another.

If it can achieve this goal, the benefits to the organisation will include the following:

1. The Economic benefits

  • A lowering of long-term overhead and personnel costs as more and more people become self-managed.
  • A reasonable and consistent long-term profit.

2. Organisation Effectiveness

  • Employees are more productive after reaching their minimum knowledge and skill level needed to do their work properly.
  • Products and services are more quickly and better improved.
  • Innovative ideas are created and implemented faster.
  • Employees and the organisation are more responsive to market changes.
  • Employees are more committed to a self-managed organisation because they can design their own tasks without supervision.
  • Employees are more creative and have more freedom of expression.
  • Employees are not afraid to express their views, knowing that other people will listen and do something to improve themselves.
  • Employees learn to trust one another and build long-term partnerships in the organisation.

Self-management is most common in fast-changing, information-based and creative jobs

It should be remembered that self-management may not always be appropriate for all organisations.

This is especially true today because many organisations are still relying on the traditional management style of controlling people in an attempt to make as much money as possible in the short-term. It all depends on the nature of the organisation, the management style of higher management, what the organisation is trying to achieve, and the type of work you are required to do.

But if the organisation does value its employees, and the job does require constant learning, creativity and other intellectual work, self-management can be a very effective management tool. As Manz and Sims said:

"It seems clear that when a task is largely creative, analytical, or intellectual in nature, greater self-management would be appropriate." (8)

Microsoft - An example of a self-managed organisation

A classic example of a self-managed organisation is the world's biggest company known as Microsoft. How do they employ self-management principles?

As Doug McKenna, head of Human Resources Planning at Microsoft, said: 'Hiring smart people who can learn on the job." (9)

This statement contains important keys to understanding the self-management practices at Microsoft. Firstly, "hiring smart people..." implies a minimum level of knowledge from the people who can begin the self-managing process.

Secondly, "...learn on the job" implies each individual is learning to improve themselves and their work in a self-managing way while at the same time learning to understand how to make it easy for everyone else in the work that they must do.

This understanding of what others do is called broadening the knowledge-base of people. As McKenna stated:

"We give new people tasks as broad as they can handle, and let them work alongside mentors that can guide them through the informal networks." (10)

Once the broad knowledge-base as well as the specifics of the job are developed, people start to make their own decisions such as goal-setting, performance objectives, defining the scope of their jobs, and working out how to achieve the goals in their own way. This gives higher management at Microsoft more time to reflect on the quality of the services and products produced by the organisation, to look at the competitors products and services, and explore new ideas.

Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, emphasises the importance of self-management by saying a flatter organisation structure with fewer bosses telling people what to do is better for staff, the customer, and the long-term future of the organisation:

"There's no one path at Microsoft. We have a very flat organization. Sometimes ideas flow down, sometimes they flow up, or horizontally. Usually someone will get an idea or identify a problem and send e-mail to someone else. That may kick off a swat team to deal with it. At some point the decision gets made face-to-face or over e-mail. On strategic decisions, it may go up to a senior VP or to me. By and large we empower people to make decisions themselves. I try to identify major decisions and work with my staff to make sure they are focused on them." (11)

Gates believes it is not about managers taking on the responsibility of controlling the work of employees. Otherwise they will focus too much on the specifics of getting the work done, and then lose sight of the big picture and the real problems and issues that need to be understood. The aim at Microsoft is to give more freedom to employees to alter ways of doing things in the achievement of a common goal rather than forcing them to do things in a certain rigid way.

This also helps the employee to focus more on what the clients' need by looking at their own work and then understanding how they would use their own service in the best way possible.

Other things that Microsoft does to support this self-management approach include the following:

  1. The word "bosses" are eliminated at Microsoft. People are seen as "coordinators", "mentors" and "experts" in their field of work.
  2. In a bureaucratic organisation, managers rarely meet their peers regularly to learn from each other. Unless it is to make a good decision and therefore need to talk to others, usually it is to keep themselves hidden in their office or create their own culture in higher management. In a self-managed organisation like Microsoft, everyone shares information with everyone else. Managers at Microsoft meet with everyone else over lunch to discuss concerns and discoveries. The managers learn more about the products and services each person does.
  3. Microsoft is also open about criticism, especially about the problems they've encountered. But they emphasise good thinking and communication skills to help solve the problems, and learning how to improve on things.

Do you want to become a self-managed person?

If you want to be self-managed, then you must be curious and be willing to solve any kind of problem set before you. That's the behavioural characteristic you should have to become a good self-manager.

Be creative

To solve problems, try to balance your thinking by being more creative.

Next, try to find ways to improve a situation or work practice. Consider reading up in different subjects and from different sources, talk to people and get their point-of-view and what works for them, get inspiration from nature for ideas, or sit down and contemplate various issues and see what unique perspectives you can come up with. Create a database and store all these ideas where the mind can later refer back to them and slowly the subconscious will distil the information and give you new and original insights into something.

When doing this, it is clear self-managed people need to apply creativity as they come up with new long-term solutions, and then find simple rational methods of implementing the solutions, and all within a reasonable budget.

New solutions mean new opportunities

As your self-management skills slowly build up, you should get more confident. Soon you will see the bigger picture of what's happening from which new opportunities and new directions for you and your organisation will present themselves. Try them out. You may be surprised by the outcomes. They can only make you and your organisation more adaptive and resilient to all sorts of changes as you get to the essence of what people want and how to achieve something.

In fact, you will be so confident and bold that you may even want to go at it alone or with a group of friends using these self-managed skills to help run your own business.

Be curious

So long as there is a continual willingness by the self-managed person to be curious, to learn and to find new ways of doing things, productivity and to achieve more (or simply to relax more and have a happier workforce) within the job will naturally increase without the necessity for intervention by others (i.e., management). And you certainly don't need to be subject to regular feedback from managers on how you should do things better. We all know we have to improve. That's a natural part of life. Why as adults do we need to be told how to do things better if we can see the solutions and ways of improving things? People entering the workforce should be grown ups with independent minds and a source of new ideas who don't need to be constantly told what to do (unless the organisations and those in "higher authority" don't want change - usually out of fear, or need to protect their position of power and wealth). Indeed, it can often be cheaper for the organisation to have self-managed people as this helps to reduce the number of dedicated high-salary managers managing a group of people, while those who are already reasonably self-managed will naturally find cheaper and easier ways of doing things. If they enjoy their job (makes it easier to become self-managed), people do become happier knowing they have achieved something they can call their own and to give themselves more time to try different things, or to relax more and be themselves.

And as we all should know, happy people are more productive and relaxed people, which kind of re-feeds back into the positive cycle to make the organisation even better.

How do I do it?

If you are already running a business, you should already have some self-management skills. Well, seriously. How did you learn the skills to managing your business? And who has to tell you how to be more efficient or work more effectively? You know how to do that by now. And you should know how to talk to your customers and employees, how to do all the jobs in the business, and how to be more effective and efficient in the selling of your products and/or services to customers. Indeed, you should be able to create almost any great advertisement, or improve the shopfront design and make it more effective at selling things. You should know how to read up in newspapers and see where the market is going and how you can get ahead in the trends and then make the adjustments to your business. If you are really self-managed, you should be able to manage the finances very well on your own (if you don't want to use an accountant), and yet still have time to do the things you enjoy (there's more to life than just simply running a business). If you haven't got enough skills to be a good self-manager and your business is struggling somewhat, you need to be curious, ask many questions (like you have done right now), and listen to different people (including your potential customers) who will have new perspectives on things and what they are looking for. Then you will develop new ideas for your business.

In general, all great managers (and the more creative and genuinely good "leaders") never lose their curiosity and willingness to solve problems. A good self-manager will always want to learn new things no matter how much of an expert or how experienced he/she might be. Life is a constant learning experience and the universe is our classroom. Other people are not just students but also your teachers.

We all have room to learn and do things better, or discover new opportunities for us to try out.

If you are an employee, whether or not you can be more self-managed will depend on the nature of your organisation. Some organisations will be progressive (e.g., Google, Inc., Virgin Airlines etc) in the sense that management do encourage people to think for themselves and be creative in their own work areas (have you seen the movie with Tom Cruise in it called "Cocktail" and how a barman doing his work can make things interesting, enjoyable and so much better - again, all part of self-management), and even want to listen to employees for their ideas. This is the start of people becoming more self-managed. However, other organisations, such as the military, tend to frown on creativity and curiosity unless the idea can be seen to provide considerable efficiencies in some area or achieves some particular objective in a ruthlessly efficient or effective way. Generally if the organisation is trying to stay afloat, or management and their employees feel like they are in survival mode, this should be the time to apply more creativity as needed to push the organisation towards new areas and so make it easier to survive in a competitive world. However, in most cases, management in such organisations tend to close ranks and prefer to be very rigid in its thinking and expect people to do as they are told.

That's fine. There are no right or wrong ways.

If you are in an organisation where management loves to see real innovation and want to listen or see you implement your new ideas, then there are things you can do on your own. Firstly, understand everything about your job and how it fits into the scheme of things within your organisation. What does the job entail? How important is the job to the organisation? Is it important to you? How relevant are the specific tasks you must perform to achieve something? Is there an easier way to do the same thing? Or does it need to be made more interesting and fun? Do you know of a more efficient or effective way of doing something and without breaking the budget? Will the things you have to do likely change in the future? Are you curious enough to learn about these changes and to "get ahead" of the game so to speak? Do you want to help the organisation to do better? Or do you see new opportunities from your work that you wish to explore and potentially set up your own business?

Sometimes it helps if your job does allow you to make some purchasing decisions (i.e., you can manage the budget in your area and can choose certain things to purchase). If so, you can make reasonable decisions that will help to quickly push your area in new directions and achieve more amazing things that are far better for the organisation in the long term. If not and your manager is a bit rigid in his thinking, you may have to do a lot of persuading with your manager. If it is the latter, try to have a good relationship with your manager or supervisor and suggest some ideas. Or else try to do things in secret and pretend like you don't know how the improvements came about (say they were there all the time). Just let other people see the obvious improvements to the point where it would seem pretty silly to say no. Because at the end of the day, the improvements will clearly benefit everyone. Try to even make it seem like it was someone else's idea (especially from management) so it can make them feel so good about themselves that they simply can't say no. Who cares about taking the credit for it. You can always use the skills later to do your own thing in your own time and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

And secondly, find a way to implement new ideas from the opportunities you see arising from your information gathering exercise.

In due time, you will become self-managed

Because in the end, the more great ideas you can come up with and gets implemented, the more management start to see some of the skills of self-management emerging within you.

Or else you can make your own decisions for the benefit of your business, customers and employees, or simply for yourself and/or other people around you on a more personal level.

You choose. Because eventually you will become self-managed.


So now we have a choice of management styles to apply in the organisations of the future.

We can either stick to the old "authoritarian" and hierarchical management style where after a while everyone below the peak of the pyramid start to feel like robots doing what we are told and sticking to the rules and regulations no matter what and hopefully everything will turn out just fine according to the higher management team getting paid very well by the organisation. Or we could apply an often neglected substitute for balanced leadership style called self-management. (12)

The choice is yours to make.

But if we want to truly minimise the costs for an organisation, in solving problems more effectively, in taking a longer-term view in our decision-making, and in helping people to be really happy by giving them the freedom they need to apply their creativity and other human aspects to life and their work, then we need to consider seriously the self-management approach.

Until that time comes, which hopefully will be soon, managers of today must decide how much self-management to encourage in their employees as they lead the organisation to a better and brighter future for everyone.

Self-replicating, self-accelerating, self-sufficiency. They are all quite natural phenomena. So why not self-management in the business world?

Problems with implementing self-management

There is still a long way to go before self-management can ever reach the point of being the norm in everyday working life. There are still far too many employers in management roles who do not fully understand the distinction between managing for the whole organisation and giving the big picture to individuals, and the managing that an individual has to do with his/her own workloads and the people he/she meets whose goals will ultimately fulfil this big picture for the organisation. It doesn't matter how much experience and/or how many years of work an employee may have acquired with his/her job, there are employers who will, for whatever reason, limit long-term decision-making of an individual, no matter how high the workloads for an individual might be and any innovative solutions the individual might find to reduce the workloads. Unless you work for an innovative employer who truly understands and supports the 21st century self-management style, there is little chance many employees with reasonable on-the-job experience can apply any form of self-management skills to managing their own workloads and clients while being innovative in how the work is done. Your only solutions are: do it quietly until employers can see the obvious improvement and, therefore, can't say no to it; or go elsewhere or set up your own business.