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Self Management – The Core Trait of High Performance, Success, and HappinessRegardless of industry, company size, or workplace culture, every business wants top performing employees. These high effort performers are highly productive, self-driven, and bring real success to the organizations they choose to work for.

It’s true that each role and company requires different skills and characteristics of its employees; however, there is one competency that is always an essential trait of top performers: self management.

In our 35+ years of research and data into what makes people successful, self management has emerged as the #1 most important competency for top performers across all spheres, generations, and roles – from business to sports, and everything in between.

At its core, self management is the intersection of two critical components: responsibility and accountability.

1. Self Managers Are Responsible

Self managers take responsibility for their day-to-day effort. Goal-oriented and internally driven, they will set their own objectives, commit to those activities, and evaluate their own performance. They manage themselves, taking responsibility for their own behavior.

Good self managers do all of this by habit – it’s just what they do. And it’s what makes them so successful.

2. Self Managers Are Accountable

Going hand-in-hand with responsibility, self managers also hold themselves accountable for the results they achieve. When they set goals, they evaluate themselves based on how well they were able to meet those goals.

Self managers do this without a “boss” or manager overseeing what they are doing. While they may ultimately be accountable to their boss, the key distinction is that they are firstly accountable to themselves. As such, they will course-correct and maximize results before their boss ever needs to look in on their work.

Everyone Has Self Management Potential

Self management is not an all-or-nothing competency, but rather a matter of degree.

And the good news is: self management can be learned!

We all start as self managers in infancy. Think about it – infants are internally-driven by their own needs and goals. However, children quickly learn to become externally-motivated as parents and teachers positively reinforce certain behaviors and achievements. As a result, many people come to rely on external structures and motivation in order to focus their daily energy. They learn to take an outside-in approach.

Self managers, on the other hand, work from the inside-out. They are internally-driven, take responsibility for their effort, and manage their own energy. While they’ll still receive the external reinforcements, that’s not what motivates them. To self managers, external reinforcements are the icing on the cake rather than the cake itself.

When hiring and developing top performers, it’s not a question of whether they are self managers but the degree to which they are self managers:

Hiring candidates with strong self management traits can be done with scientific employee selection assessments, particularly when benchmarked to the needs of your specific organization and the role itself. Different roles may require different degrees of self management in order for candidates to be effective (for example, competitive sales roles require a very high degree of self management).

If you want to improve self management on your existing team, remember that everyone has the potential – it’s your job to coach and develop that potential in your employees. Keep in mind that real self management comes from within, so the traditional outside-in approaches to behavior modification (changing the environment, motivational seminars, etc.) will not succeed long-term.

Good performance is almost always related to strong self management. And that’s why self management matters in today’s workplaces.


For over 30 years, SMG Academy has led the way in developing self managing leaders, coaches, and employees, as well as helping leaders to create high performance self managing cultures. Our Academy offers many accredited personal and professional development courses. Contact us to learn more.

Discover our “Principles of Self Management” training workshop.

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John Marshall

About John Marshall

John is the President and Founder of The Self Management Group, and has a doctorate in psychology from York University where he also worked as a lecturer. For over three decades, John has helped hundreds of organizations develop into self-managed, high performance cultures. Using advanced statistical methods and principles, SMG has become a leader in applied research and using predictive analytics to assist organizations in attracting, selecting, and developing top performers.

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