Management Futures: A resolution for self-awareness

08 January 2014

Are you as good a manager as you think you are?

It’s now well established that, as human beings, we’re not terribly accurate in our perception of how we come across to others, how good our judgement is, or how effectively we manage.

So a good new year’s resolution for many of us would be to improve our self-awareness: stop assuming, start checking.

Mentoring and coaching is a powerful way of doing that.  CMI Achieve – our soon to be launched mentoring scheme – could help. It’s now open for members to register their interest before the pilot goes live soon. CMI’s own 2012 research report The Business Benefits of Management and Leadership Development found that CEOs in particular felt they’d have benefitted from this type of development sooner in their career, reflecting the value it can bring.

Curiously, some research indicates that good judgement and self-awareness do not correlate with high computational intelligence. High achievers are prone to over-confidence, a common cognitive bias. They are so used to success that they over-estimate their capacity to make good judgements. They tend to extrapolate from a strong track record in areas where individuals have considerable control (landing a top job, completing a well-defined project); to areas where they have much less (launching a major acquisition, deciding business strategy).

One study a few years ago by KPMG recorded that around 80% of mergers had failed to add economic value, but the same proportion of executives involved in the deals had recorded them as successes.

Arguably, though, overconfidence bias is not always negative. As this Wall Street Journal column reports, entrepreneurs on average think they have a 60% chance of success, but only 35% of start-ups survive more than five years. So perhaps we would have less innovation if we were more realistic and self-aware. Management is not like laboratory research: there is never a precise answer, and there is risk in every decision.

At the level of an individual manager, since at least the 1990s the empirical evidence of Daniel Goleman and others has linked self-awareness and other dimensions of emotional intelligence to better organizational climate and improved business results. Goleman's research also indicates that the most effective managers can deploy a range of styles, and that self-awareness helps decide which to use.

But how is the mix of necessary management styles changing as business models evolve quickly? Google and others see themselves as complex networks, not formal hierarchies, with strategy as a collaborative learning exercise, not a set of decisions. Innovations such as open sourcing have influenced a wave of collaborative approaches to discovering breakthrough technologies or new ways of working. CMI research set to be published later this month finds that managers do foresee changes in how they’ll need to work by 2020, but the challenge is staying ahead of the curve. We’ll also shortly be launching a web app to help managers rate their abilities against some of the key skills for future success – watch this space for more.

Dr Jules Goddard of the London Business School is one of those arguing that an overhaul of the business model is underway, with smarter strategy and stronger human capital needing to replace cost control as the primary focus. Yet our Future Forecast report indicates that there is a conflict here: ‘cost control’ is still rated as the number one priority!

If Dr Goddard is correct, this prioritisation will increasingly be challenged, with ripple effects through the organisation. Individuals managing to budgets will be replaced with teams working around ideas. At the same time, social media enables more real-time conversations with customers and suppliers, again radically altering the way in which managers work. Is command and control being squeezed out by market forces? The jury may be out, but we need to be aware of the deliberations.

These developments build, at a collective level, on the findings for individuals that self-awareness and continual learning have to balance the entrepreneurial drive. Subtler arts such as coaching, facilitation, communication skills come more to the fore. Hence the ‘mega-trends’ the CMI has identified: towards inclusivity, collaboration and coaching.

The skill-set required in 2020 could be markedly different from the skills and knowledge that have served you well to date. New Year 2014 sees management in a state of rapid evolution. It could be the perfect time for managers to think strategically about their career development.

A good way to make a change – or a waste of time? Tell us whether you’ve set yourself any new year’s resolutions relating to how you manage and lead on the CMI LinkedIn Group!

Submitted by Philip Wood

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