October 2017

Self-Management from the Captain's Perspective

By Ron Hewett

In the September 2017 edition of Talent Development (TD) magazine, Bruce Tulgan, the noted management speaker, provided an article on, Teaching the Fundamentals of Self-Management. He started by emphasizing the need for managers to be involved in teaching soft skills to new, younger employees, then called out the military as a superlative example of an organization that effectively teaches leadership. He insists that the military approach starts with teaching the self-management skills verified by his research:

  1. Time management
  2. Interpersonal communication
  3. Organizational skills
  4. Basic problem solving

Now, allow me to build onto Tulgan’s principles and provide the practitioner’s perspective. Whether as a captain of a warship or corporate leader, the critical path to developing leaders is providing the training and coaching to take direct reports from "knowing" to "doing." There are fundamentals that I believe will help any emerging leader or veteran executive to establish a critical set of basic skills, and enable them to move quickly to the next level.

Time Management.

It starts with gaining control of your schedule by planning, working to optimize your time, and being sure to make good use of others’ time. A key skill needed to accomplish this is learning to set priorities. You must be able to dramatically increase your productivity without putting in more hours at work. By identifying High Payoff Activities, leaders learn to shift their energy from the "urgent" to what’s really "important". In developing a disciplined approach within this framework, leaders achieve more control over their schedule which is a sign of efficiency, but more importantly, the leader becomes more effective!

Interpersonal Communication.

Courses abound in teaching a variety of aspects of communication. However, I believe the most important element of communication can be summed up in an understanding of "feedback." A great example is demonstrated aboard naval ships during visual signaling. One ship contacts the other by displaying a series of multi-colored flags representing letters. The receiving ship then duplicates the message and displays it for the sending ship to view. Once the sending ship verifies the receiver has it correct, the signal is "executed" and both ships act in unison. Today’s leaders must grasp this simple principle of "repeat back" and apply it to today’s world of email and short hand messaging. Learning to communicate so as not to be misunderstood, rather than to believe you are understood, is a critical skill.

Organizational Skills.

Using good systems to keep track of guidelines, specifications, expectations, timelines, and measureable concrete actions are paramount. What is more critical to leaders at all levels is the need to develop personal goals that are aligned with organizational goals. Developing a sense of personal goals, establishing key performance indicators, and making sure each individual’s goals align with organizational goals is critical to the success of every organization. This is no easy task for the individual or the organization, but it deserves significant attention in the form of training and alignment guidance. Like voyage planning, a naval task force must be aware of the commander’s intentions, then meticulously prepare their individual ships to carry out every aspect of the plan.

Problem Solving.

Standing orders and standard procedures for regularly occurring problems prepares you for the occasions when you must improvise. To naval vessels and any other effective organization, this is an absolute — have plans in place to do the routine, but train your people to be prepared when the unexpected occurs. "No plan survives first contact" is taught to every military commander and should be heeded by every corporate leader as well. It all starts by knowing yourself, knowing your team and knowing your stuff. With this solid base, you have the tools to be prepared to react to whatever circumstances prevail.

In conclusion, I am confident that the programs Academy Leadership offers prepare leaders to get results by developing self-management skills. In a variety of practice sessions that include learning about your leadership style and how it impacts those around you, leveraging the power of conflict, determining your high payoff activities, aligning and accomplishing goals, and many others, leaders at all levels gain the skills to move quickly along their leadership journey.