Voices

You are your own worst boss

Ahh, National Boss's Day. Every October 16, workers across America take time out of their busy day to say thanks to their fearless leaders. What do you think your staff would say about you if they're honest? What would you say about you?

Successful people are notorious for “managing to the horizon” — i.e., looking at goals far off in the distance and telling themselves, “That’s where I want to be.” When they finally get there, instead of celebrating achievements and giving themselves a pat on the back, they continue looking off into the horizon. But the horizon always moves.

As marketing guru Seth Godin once wrote, the world’s worst boss is you: “If you had a manager that talked to you the way you talked to you, you’d quit. If you had a boss that wasted as much of your time as you do, they’d fire her. If an organization developed its employees as poorly as you are developing yourself, it would soon go under,” he quipped.

If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone when it comes to being self-critical. Thanks to social media, there have never been more ways for people to brag about their successes — and for everyone else to feel worse about themselves. “Wow,” you say to yourself, “all these people are doing amazing things, and I haven’t done anything.” Young people are especially vulnerable to the “perfect life” fallacy on social media.

Remember, on social media, people are sharing a carefully curated version of themselves. You rarely see people posting about their setbacks and challenges. It’s almost impossible to ignore social media and office politics. That’s why firm leaders should do as much as they can to boost the confidence of those who work for them — not to mention their own confidence. Why? Because a confident person is more likely to take ownership of projects and to come to work with a more productive mindset than people who feel they’re always being criticized (by their superiors, their co-workers and themselves).

How do you minimize self-sabotage?

It’s vital to have a personal operating system that says: “These are the great things I have done.” We’re inundated with messages about becoming more effective, getting to the next level and following “The Top 10 Things” that the most successful people in your profession do. It can be overwhelming and damaging to the psyche.

Instead, have more realistic goals and aspirations. Ask yourself and your team every day: “What three things can we do to move the needle in a positive way so we can measure our progress?” It’s amazing how much easier it is to stay focused on a goal when you can see how much progress you’ve made toward achieving it. Progress begets progress.

We all have negative thoughts from time to time. We’re surrounded by reports about fee compression, technology disruption and clients who are increasingly demanding. But those are all things that we let happen to us. You get what you tolerate. But you should never tolerate negative self-talk.

But here’s the great thing about running a business — you get to make up the rules. Clients may opt in or opt out of those rules, but you’re the one who is ultimately in control.

It’s really tough to deliver positive messages to your team if you’re constantly sending negative messages to yourself.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

In his book, “Managing Oneself,” management guru Peter Drucker said we should cultivate a deep understanding of ourselves by identifying our most valuable strengths and our most dangerous weaknesses.

This may come as a surprise to some of you who regularly read this column, but I don’t like to write — at least in the traditional way of sitting down with a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen and putting down my thoughts. It doesn’t matter how quiet my workspace is or how much coffee I have consumed; that’s not how I write.

I need interaction. I need a conversation. I need to tell a story into a voice recorder, preferably if someone else is in the room or on the phone with me.

It’s taken me a while to realize this, but I know how I work most effectively. And whenever I have to write an article or prepare a presentation, this is the technique that works best for me. Fortunately, I’m the boss of myself and so are you. That means you don’t have a supervisor or HR department telling you how to get your work done.

You’re not the victim; you’re in charge

As I wrote in my article, "Point with your thumb, not with your finger," the game stops and ends with you. For example, I work very closely with my team. We’re a close-knit group, but I have been told on more than one occasion that I tend to micromanage people. Here’s the thing: if four people in a row all say the same thing, that does not make them bad people, but it most likely makes them accurate. I need to point with my thumbs and tell myself, “Clearly the way I am communicating is conveying a negative vibe. How am I going to adjust my communication style?” By the same token, if you have 50 clients who aren’t giving you their information on time, you don’t have 50 lazy clients — you have a bad system!

Remember, things don’t happen to you for no reason. Most of the time, you allow things to happen to you, so as a first step, remove the victim mentality.

In their book, The Art of Possibility, authors Ben and Rosamind Zander argue that we create our boxes and limitations. “Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.” Is it that simple to do?

When we think about Boss's Day, most people think in terms of their own boss, or if they’re a supervisor or principal, they think about the people who report to them. Instead, you’re the boss of yourself. Not to be selfish, but your No.1 priority is to manage yourself. If you can’t manage yourself, you can’t manage others — and you can be managed.

Boss's Day is about taking accountability for your actions. It’s not about being a better boss, per se; it’s about managing yourself and asking, ”Am I being the best I can be both up and down the organizational chart?”

It starts with looking inward. Ask yourself three things:

1. What am I going to do that makes me happy?
2. What do I find fulfilling?
3. What steps can I take that make me feel like I’m making progress?

The big takeaway for you is to remember that you control the story — not someone else.