Feature Article: Self-Management – Integral Leadership, eleventh in a series

Russ Volckmann

The articles offered on Integral Leadership to this point have been focused on one of four sets (individual or collective, internal or external) in four levels of leadership:

  1. Getting individual leaders onto the same field. (Commitment to shared purpose.)
  2. Assuring effective use of leadership resources. (Competence in leading.)
  3. Appropriate teamwork. (Innovative players on a team of leaders.)
  4. Building relationships and involving stakeholders in achieving business objectives. (Connected entrepreneurs in a leadership enterprise.)

While there may still be much to explore related to each of these themes, we will return to them later. For the time being, this and other articles to follow will shift the focus to working the relationship of the four factors through self-management, alignment, engagement and leadership system evolution.

Self-management here refers to the developmental (or anomic, when poorly executed) process of relating internal/individual (intention) to external/individual (behavior). And this is a very, very big subject. It relates to all that we have evolved as a species about learning, growing and developing as human beings, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually–education, training, therapy, counseling and consulting, human potential activities, physical development and coaching.

Among integral theorists, most notably Ken Wilber, developmental psychology has held a special position. This includes the work of Robert Kegan ( The Evolving Self, In Over Our Heads), the spiral dynamics of Graves a la Don Beck ( Spiral Dynamics by Beck and Chris Cowan), and the work of Loevinger, particularly as applied by Susann Cook-Greuter ( Leadership Development Profile) and Bill Torbert ( Personal and Organisational Transformations, The Power of Balance), respectively. It is beyond the scope of this article to elaborate these, but the references are hopefully useful to anyone wishing to explore further.

The purposes of self-management include keeping and evolving focus, making behavioral adjustments, learning from experience and so on. Self-management is fundamentally the process by which we observe our inner and outer experiences and make adjustments through learning, altered assumptions, experimentation and the like. We develop knowledge and skills in doing this. Self-management is the manifestation of those skills for development.

In business leadership, self-management attends to the relationship between individual leaders’ intentions (values, beliefs, assumptions, etc.) and their behaviors in their roles as leadership group members, leadership organization contributors, leadership team players and leadership enterprise entrepreneurs.

An example: Roger believed that it was important for him to educate corporate customers of his technology. His approach to marketing and sales relied for some time on this strategy. After a while, sales began to slide. His belief continued to drive his behavior in the way it always had. But something had changed. Thus, awareness is the first critical step in self-management.

Roger asked one of his customers why their purchases had declined. He was told that his technology was getting out dated. Later, as he walked to his car, Roger got angry and started calling his customer derogatory names. He got on his cell phone, called one of his managers and complained bitterly about his customer’s loyalty and understanding of the technology.

His manager’s response surprised him. “Maybe there are some innovations we need to be looking at.”

As a leader in his company Roger decided to find out for himself what was going on. After talking with a more of his best customers, he discovered that their companies were beginning to find additional applications that were important to them in dealing with shifts in their markets. Newer companies were occupying that niche. These customers were not totally satisfied with how things were working

Roger found himself being confronted with his attachment and belief in the technology he had been instrumental in developing and bringing to market. The fundamental technology was sound and it needed to evolve. So did Roger’s assumptions and beliefs. He worked with each to identify their requirements, went back to his company and successfully worked with others to get this new functionality available in their suite of applications. Sales began to climb again.

In order for this change to happen, a not so exceptional business development, Roger had to go through a process of self-management. This involved being aware, noticing a variance between results desired from behaviors based on his beliefs and the results he was actually getting, gathering new information and testing changes.

Thus, self-management is about learning from the relationships between

  • commitment and being a member in the leadership group,
  • competence and contributing to the leadership organization,
  • capacity for innovation and being a leadership team player, and
  • ability to connect with stakeholders as an entrepreneur in a leadership enterprise.

Self-management uses these relationships between what is internal to the leader and the behaviors that stem from that to growing and evolving learning in leadership.

Self-management is a critical set of skills for leaders in the face of change in so many dimensions of their businesses, changes that seem to happen slowly or in an instant. The successful business leader understands his/her relationship to self-management. In articles to follow, we will explore how self-management relates to alignment at the level of values and beliefs, engagement at the level of action, and the evolution of the business leadership system.