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The First Person You Have to Manage Every Day Is Yourself

The First Person You Have to Manage Every Day Is Yourself

Based on It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey Bass, September 2010)

I’ve done hundreds of focus groups with people to find out what gets in the way of their success at work. Predictably, most are factors that are totally beyond the control of the individual, such as:
  • Company policies, rules, regulations, culture and standard operating procedures.
  • The way things have always been done in the organization. 
  • Too much work and not enough time.
  • Too many low-priority activities taking away from more important tasks and responsibilities.
  • Conflict between and among employees that creates a stressful, negative mood.
  • Limited resources.
  • No clear chain of command.
  • Answering to too many people.
  • Various bosses having different standards of performance and conduct, and conflicting understandings of the rules and policies and of what takes priority.
  • Bosses who yell and scream and make things difficult.
  • Managers who don’t make time for one-on-one discussions; do not make expectations clear; do not track performance; or do not give honest, constructive feedback.
Blame, blame, blame. Don’t get me wrong. These are all real challenges that get in the way of your success at work. There is only one problem. When you focus your attention on factors outside your control, you are by definition powerless. If you want to be powerful, then you need to focus on the one factor you can always control: You.

You have limited time, but you can gain enough control of your time to take charge of yourself every day. You can play an active role in managing your part of your relationship with every boss. You can make sure you understand what is expected of you, what your concrete goals are, and what guidelines and schedule you need to follow. You can get your hands on necessary resources or work around a resource gap. You can keep track of your own performance and make work a rewarding experience even if you can’t get the pay and work conditions you’d really like. Ultimately, you can decide how you are going to operate with every single person at work -- from the most interesting and highly engaged coworker to the loudest, meanest jerk.

How? First, make sure the first person you manage every day is yourself. Take good care of yourself outside of work so that you bring your very best to work. And while you are at work, you should be all about the work -- your work, that is. Focus on playing the role assigned to you before you ever try reaching beyond that role. And before you even attempt to manage your boss, you first need to do the following:
  1. Figure out where you fit in your organization or department.
  2. Bring your best self to work every day.
  3. Don’t be a jerk at work.
  4. Be a great workplace citizen.
  5. Get lots of work done very well and very fast every day.
  6. Be a problem solver, not a complainer.
  7. Anticipate and avoid problems.
  8. Regularly assess your productivity, the quality of your work and your behavior.
Focus on controlling you. You cannot ignore all those outside factors that define the context of your situation. But you can control what you can do within the context of your job and work situation.

[Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders and a sought-after speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder of RainmakerThinking, a management-training firm. Tulgan is the author of Managing Generation X, It’s Okay to Be the Boss and many other books, including It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss. He has written pieces for numerous publications, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Harvard Business Review and Human Resources. He can be reached via email, on Twitter and on Facebook. His free weekly workplace video is available on his Web site.]

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