Understanding Self-Management as a tool for Personal Improvement

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An ancient Chinese philosopher called Lao Tzu once said that "To conquer others is strong; to conquer oneself is mighty." It is clear that self-management is a vital tool to improve oneself, may it be in his or her workplace or personal life. Self-management encompasses a very broad range of skills, qualities, attitudes and experience. It can also mean different things to different people and, sometimes, different things at different times even to the same people.

Managing one's self many a time is associated with culture and psychology. However, how much do we understand about self-management? Can we agree that to change oneself in order to take charge can make an organisation stronger? To do all of these things well, one needs to cultivate a deep understanding of oneself. What are his or her most valuable strengths and most dangerous weaknesses? Equally important, how to learn and work with others? What are your most deeply held values? And in what type of work environment can you make the greatest contribution?

Today's business environment produces change in the workplace more suddenly and frequently than ever before. The effects from such rapid changes can contribute to growing climate of job uncertainties as well as jeopardising productivity and profitability. Human beings are known to be the most complex species on the planet, thus in business if not careful they can break or make the organisation.

This paper will exhibit the rationale and the importance of managing oneself in order to manage an organisation. Why is it necessary to create order in oneself before he or she manages people? In this, the author has chosen work motivation, an aspect of self-management, as the subject the author believes needs improvement.

There are a number of ways to define motivation; one way is through a person's behaviour. 'Why do people do what they do?' In psychology, motivation is a word used to explain why a person behaves in a certain way, which is basically triggered by comparison between self and ideal self.

Every human have a self-identity (Rogers 1961), which consists of their view of what they are in terms of such thing as: strengths and weaknesses, abilities, beliefs and feelings. It is also suggested that although motivation is a necessary contributor for job performance, it is not the only one.

As Maslow (1954) put it, the 'Hierarchy of Needs' is the important key factor that contributes towards being motivated to change or be changed. Each and every person living in this planet has needs and through our selfless needs causes a person to behave or act in a manner whereby it can bring good or bad in the organisation. Nevertheless, Maslow had only a general awareness of the concept of defining 'self-actualisation'; he never really succeeded in doing it. It is one of those models in which there is actually less to it than meets the eye! Maslow neglects the individual differences and the effect of a change in needs.

Alderfer (1972) ERG theory, Herzberg (1959) two-factor theory and McClelland (1972) theory of learned needs; have theories about how to satisfy people's needs. Although they may have different theories of assumptions that human needs are virtually inexhaustible, it comes down to one single interpretation, satisfaction. Despite their convincing appeal, none of these theories is above denunciation, there some potential important features of human motivation, Alderfer could have simplified much more the structure of needs; Herzberg's model assumed that everyone has similar needs to be satisfied; McClelland proclaimed that needs can be changed indefinitely by training is far from proven.

In many businesses today, there are colossal concerns about how a recession would affect the business and what effect this would have on its employees personally. This creates a classic case of managers who have no idea how to motivate and get the best out of their workforce. This has been proven to be prevalent in many organisations and businesses currently. So why is this so?

Being motivated essentially comes from one's need to achieve his or her goals. But to motivate others as a manager paints a different picture all together. Managing, supervising and being a team leader are some of the hardest jobs in the world because human nature can be very simple, yet very complex too. That makes them the most complex and complicated pieces of "equipment" one will have to handle. An understanding and appreciation of this is a prerequisite to effective employee motivation in the workplace and effective management and leadership.

Generally people have numerous similarities but each and every person across the globe is unique, and they all work in a slightly different way. The greed of need may differ from human to human and so do the levels of emotions. Some may crave for all the wealth in the world as opposed to those who are satisfied with what they have. There are some who may loose their cool and hit the roof when things are not going their way, whereas some might just take it in their stride in a more dignified way.

As a manager, the job requires a person to get these complex humans working as efficiently as possible. In spite of enormous research, basic as well as applied, the subject of motivation is not clearly understood and more often than not poorly practiced. To understand motivation one must understand human nature itself. Here lies the problem! There is no one around to show you what to do, and there is no instruction manual. For an example, when a baby is born, there is no instruction manual that comes with it on how to bring up the infant or child into a perfect person. The best thought method, deemed fit to raise a child into being a better person, is to motivate new parents to not repeat the mistakes made by their parents, their parent's parent and so on and so forth through trial and errors.

Unfortunately, the motivational process takes awhile before it can be successful in changing a person so the goals set by that person are achieved. Be as it may, this usually happens when a person is frustrated by the barriers of their motivational driving force and they are unable to satisfy their needs and expectations.

Conventionally, it is "do as you are told or be charged with insubordination if you are found to go against the instructions given" at a workplace. The job of a manager is to get things done through employees. However, to do this the manager should be able to motivate employees in order to attain a better understanding and appreciation as a precondition to effective employee motivation in the workplace and thus effective management and leadership.

Humans, as a fact, will do what they want to do or are motivated to do. Whether it is to excel on the workshop floor or in the 'ivory tower', they must be motivated or driven to it, either by themselves or through external stimulus. For example; there is an old saying you can take a horse to the water but you cannot force it to drink; it will drink only if it's thirsty - so it is with people. Research and observations have shown that well motivated employees are more productive and creative.

Ask yourself, when was the last time your managers have come forward and asked you, the employee, how you are doing? At some angle, the media and popular technology culture also send the wrong messages. The old cliché that is heard frequently that is, "nice guys don't finish first", have a huge impact on how managers deal with their staffs. It is a norm belief that successful managers are tough, courageous, "no-nonsense" type of people. And if you are weak or soft with your staff, then you will get walked on, and taken advantage of.

A manager will often look at successful managers in other organization to try and understand what makes them triumph in their position. More often than not in movies, managers are too portrayed as tough guys who drive their down liners by the force of their determined personality and threats - no wimps are allowed. However, if you stay and watch on, you will find that at the end, this type of managing character will not survive and be replaced faster than when they were employed to do the job in the first place.

Taking for another example, an article written in The Economist Mr. Kevin Rudd, Australia's former prime minister, who was replaced overnight by his panicked ruling Labor party on June 24th, 2010, ascribed by the rating of opinion polls sliding disastrously. A workaholic, he tended to control the government as a one-man band, running public service in Canberra ragged and shutting some colleagues out of key decisions. And Mr. Rudd's short temper had won him few friends to call on when the final crisis loomed. One environment minister only learned of the deferral planned emissions-trading scheme (ETS) by reading about it in the press.

The famous saying "No man is an island" proves to show that no one can do anything by themselves, that is why in any business or organisation managers needs other people to work with in his or her team, in order to lead the organisation successfully to the targeted goals. Human interactive is very important to ensure that goals set are attained through a group of ingenious people and any hiccups that comes along the way will only build the organisation to be stronger by weathering it out constructively.

Whatever the job or profession an individual ends up in, it does not necessarily mean that it is the right one for them. But it also has to be said that some people just don't have what it takes to be a manager or leader. Just as some people don't have what it takes to be a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer.

A brief article captured as well in The Economist, which says that, since 2006 Japan had had no fewer than five prime ministers. Three of them lasted just a year. The feckless Yukio Hatoyama, who stepped down on June 2nd, 2010, managed a grand total of 259 days. His government turns out to be incompetent, aimless and tainted by scandal as its predecessors. The man known as "the alien", who says the sight of a little bird gave him the idea to resign, has shown a breathtaking lack of leadership. Being the world's second-largest economy, now Japan's prominence in Asia has so clearly been eclipsed by China, its flimsy leaders are all easier to dismiss.

In a local corporation example, the chairman of Malaysia Airlines System (MAS), Datuk Munir Majid the news posted on wordpress.com (MAS THE FLYING BUFFET 29 NOV 2005) has been widely read by press and employees of MAS on his in competency of managing MAS. Coming from a background that is more on the banking and telecommunications sectors, it was obvious he was not accurately right for the current position he is holding. He had to employ over 20 consultants (foreign and domestic), who a few of them are top managers in the company, that had no experience or knowledge about the airline business. And these are the people that are showing him the right pathway in overcoming the financial crisis in the company. Talking about the "blind leading the blind"! Although there are some managers that are in the wrong job, they tend to be a minority. Where in this case in MAS, as a manager if one feels that he or she is not having the success they should have, did they ever ask themselves if they ever received or asked for any help from the right people? The personnel who keeps MAS flying in the skies even during those tough times are the multi talented middle managers that has been around for as close as 20 years in the company learning the whole works of the airline business from inside out.

Unfortunately MAS do not recognize and promote these people. Giving another example of a former MAS staff that was the Head of Investor Relations in the Turnaround Management Office, Mr Senthil Balan. As Air Asia X management saw the great potential in him, they quickly pulled him into their lair as the Head of Strategic and Planning. And as expected his contribution won him recognition as the face behind AirAsia X's growing low-cost long-haul network, that have expanded from no frills flights domestically into the international skies of Australia and Europe. Creating new segments of travellers to travel long haul, who previously couldn't afford to do so.

According to Alan Fairweather author of the book, How To Be A Motivational Manager, there are three simple steps to build a highly motivated team.

First, spend quality time with your staff. Your arrival and the first moments you spend with staff each day have an immeasurable impact on positive employee motivation and morale. Start the day right. Smile. Walk tall and confidently. Walk around your workplace and greet people. In the customer service oriented environment, before the doors are opened for business it starts with a couple of minutes briefing by the manager. Sharing to its team members, his or her goals and expectations for the day. Let the staff know that "today is going to be a great day and it starts with you." You can make their day.

"In today's increasingly competitive world, recognition strategies need to do more," says Mike Ryan, Senior Vice President of Madison Performance Group, a premier global reward and recognition design and consulting firm. "Many studies demonstrate that showing appreciation to employees for making even small steps toward a goal can do wonders for workforce performance, especially if you do it in a timely manner and make it personal."

Secondly, give them positive feedback and coach them to do even better. Make sure you get feedback from the employee so you know he or she understands what you need. Share the goals and reasons for doing the task or project. As a manager, don't just emphasise on quantity, to only want a quality product finished quickly. If you must make a change midway through a task or a project, tell the staff why the change is needed; tell them everything you know.

Feedback through employee surveys can be a powerful management tool. They can test the temperature of the business and identify the things that are motivating staff or driving the business forward. They can tell managers how well their systems and processes are working and define the issues that needed to be addressed to make it work better.

Managers who understand of what their employees believe about the organisation they work in - their aspirations and frustrations, the things that excite them or wear them down - is what managing people is all about.

Most importantly, trust and believe in them to do a good job. When managers puts their trust into their employees when handling a task or job, this will indefinitely motivate them to be confidence and produce better results than expected. Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services company says that there are lack of trust among employees and management. To transform a company, people must align themselves and work together towards one goal, but this cannot happen without a culture of trust. According to Nayar the specific way to build trust is through transparency.

Motivating employees is basically what will keep a business up and running in this time of financial crisis and uncertainties. That little push can create a positive bottom line contributor as well, as it helps relieve employee's anxiety, which can take a personal toll on workers and results in significant direct costs to businesses.

The same goes to motivate oneself in changing to become more efficient in anything he or she does in life may it be at work or at home. In this case, our need is the cause of motivation that makes a person change to be competitive and strive to be better than another person. However, being too competitive is not good for a person and the environment as well, due to the fact that he or she will do whatever it takes to win even if it will create chaos figuratively speaking for example, environment pollution (air, sea or land), decrease in job opportunities by killing off competitors and so on and so forth.

The author comes to the final conclusion that motivation plays a crucial role in the soaring elevation in stress at workplace and at home. People, who go through stress that can be brought about by pressures whether at their workplace or home, are more likely to be unhealthy, poorly motivated, less productive and less safe at work. Thus, this can likely degenerate an organisation from being successful in a competitive market.

It is obvious that, employers, however, cannot protect stress at home, but they can protect them from stress that arises at work. Good management that frequently insures its workforce is highly motivated creates a good work organisation, which is the best form of stress prevention.

Motivation need not only be through monetary ways but it can be from just a simple word of 'greeting' or a sincere 'smile' to subordinates which can also be applied to family and friends. This would cheer up a person's day and create a pleasant working atmosphere. Smiling or laughter is also contagious and will enable a person to feel a bit of relief from the chaos of the expeditious phase change in today's world of business transformation. There is no need for us to be a comedian but enticing a laugh out of a friend is a favourite energy booster and at least it will allow a person to get to know their co-worker a little better.

Many of a time managers takes for granted how well or good the job done by their subordinates that commonly ends into resentment and feeling displeased that they are not acknowledged or rewarded for a job well done. This happens especially when the manager takes the credit for all the good things that materialized from the task given by the upper level management. If managers recognise and appreciate their staff honestly, hence, provide the appropriate remunerations as mentioned by Mr. Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, then we can see a significant difference in improvement of our working environment, which is positive and transparent.