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The Self-Determined Manager

The best managers intentionally create an environment where employees thrive and great work gets done. To become “self-determined,” you must make a choice to follow through every day and never, ever let up.

The Self-Determined Manager

It's Your Business

Author: Terry Greenhut
Subject Matter: Tools for the excellent manager
Issue: Determination

It’s Your Business

  • Author: Terry Greenhut
  • Subject Matter: Tools for the excellent manager
  • Issue: Determination

Are You a Self-Determined Manager?

If not there are ten changes you might want to make sooner than later.
The best managers intentionally create an environment where employees thrive and great work gets done. To become “self-determined,” you must make a choice to follow through every day and never, ever let up.

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Begin by asking yourself; Am I a great manager? This is an incredibly tough question to answer in reference to yourself. Others may not see you in the same light as you do. A manager’s job though is to get things done by marshaling the efforts of others. Most of us, as human beings, have blind spots that keep us from always seeing how we impact the people we lead. We may know what we want to get from them, but getting it consistently is the challenge. There are lots of managers in the world; they’re in every industry. There are bad ones and good ones but not very many great ones. Great managers are self-determined managers, and they are extremely rare.

Why are there so few truly great managers? Because it’s very hard work to be one and maintain that status day in and day out. Being a great manager, the kind who creates a high-performing workplace, is exceptionally difficult. To accomplish it you can never rest. You can never let things slide. You can never waste an opportunity. You are responsible for creating an environment in which people can achieve and grow in ways they did not even imagine and that’s a job that’s never finished.


Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? But if you don’t hard work hard at becoming a self-determined manager, a lot of major things can go off the rails. Bad managers create environments where there’s little openness or honesty or where everyone curries favor for themselves rather than focusing on performance, or where people deflect blame onto others.
When employees do these things it’s usually their way of trying to cope with the environment the manager has created. The flip side though is that when managers learn more and eventually become self-determined they see a dramatic change in the behavior and performance of their crews.
Being a self-determined manager is not so much about mastering a vast array of technical skills. It’s less about task and more about attitude. It’s about creating environments of overachievement where people thrive and great work gets done, not because people have to, but because they want to do a great job.

If you want to be among the small number of great self-determined managers here are ten changes you may want to make right now:
Set aside time to reflect on your own agenda. It’s really easy to lose sight of how (and if) your current situation fits with your overall aims. If you don’t have a clear sense of what your purpose is, why you’re doing what you do, and how it fits with your life, you cannot hope to make consistently good decisions for yourself and others. You’ll just be condemned to react to your circumstances.


Choose, deliberately and actively, the type of environment you want to create. As a manager, it’s your job to decide the kind of environment that the team will experience. Think of the best teams you’ve worked on. What was the prevailing atmosphere? How did the team members work together? How were problems solved and issues resolved? At the heart of all that will have been a manager who set the tone and created the atmosphere, good or bad.

A good, solid work environment isn’t something you can just will into being; it’s a process. But every process begins with a decision, and making that decision now is the step that all other improvements will flow from.

Be more restless. Each week ask yourself and your team: What can we do better? The best managers have impatience (if something is worth doing, why wait?), an instinct for continuous improvement (good enough is never good enough) and a lingering sense of constructive dissatisfaction (how can we do this better next time?). They set for themselves and others very high standards of performance and conduct.

This demanding impatience for ever-greater impact and ever-higher standards can make self-determined managers very difficult to work for unless they balance the high expectations with encouragement and a positive approach.

Start treating employees like adults. Some may act like children at times but treating them as such won’t make them grow up or do a better job. It just gives them license to continue their bad behavior. Work is not school. Adults do their best work when they are treated as adults. Therefore, great managers don’t yell, bully, shout, patronize, belittle, play favorites, name-call, behave aggressively, or condescend. To generate trust and respect, you must create an environment where adults can do great things.

Curb any tendencies toward self-serving behavior. Avoid the urge to take the glory for victories or shirk responsibility for failure. When you do this, you create an environment where people quickly learn not to volunteer, to not trust the intentions of their leader and to be busy on work or projects away from the team where there will be some recognition or reward for their efforts. If you feel the need to take credit or protect yourself at the expense of your team, remind yourself that it’s all about them, not about you. Your ego, fears and ambitions are not relevant to your team, so keep them to yourself.


Start letting people know when they do great work. (This creates confidence). The best managers make it clear to their people that they have confidence in their abilities and in their potential to make a big contribution to the team’s success. They do two things. First, they recognize when someone does something well and they acknowledge this as a good thing. Second, they express confidence in the person. (So long as they truly believe it. If you fake it they will know).

Learn something new. Take a class, master a new skill, or even take up a new hobby outside work. The best managers are interested, curious, open, and alert. They are forever seeking knowledge. This extends far beyond their professional work and reflects their interests, passions, pastimes, and preoccupations. First, thinking “widely” opens possibilities by helping you foster connections, recognize new opportunities and find better ways to do things. Secondly, broad knowledge and curiosity make you adaptable; a key part of career success is about applying what you have learned in new situations.

Master the art of friendly, informal, light interaction. While you don’t need to make everyone your friends, it’s important to cut formality and standoffishness at work. Be gentle and kind with others as well as yourself. Work on creating positive interactions, where people come away feeling good, feeling they have some standing, that they can be themselves to a large extent and that they are meeting with a good member of the human race.


Learn to like the people you work with (yes, even the unlikeable ones). It’s crucial that you enjoy and appreciate the people you work with. If you deal with someone who is unlikeable, find something to appreciate in their person. Here’s why: First, it changes the nature of all interactions and maximizes the chance that you’ll be successful in dealing with that person. You get a less cooperative, less inventive and less engaged relationship with someone you do not like. Secondly, it furthers the chance that your team members will overlook your unlikeable qualities and focus on your best traits as well. Finally, everyone responds well to being treated well.

Figure out why the work of the team matters and impress this upon them. Without this sense of purpose, it’s hard for people to make greater effort, direct their energies and self-correct.

Striving to be a self-determined manager is incredibly hard work, but the payoffs are immense. Not only do you get to witness personal breakthroughs and join in team celebrations, you get to watch company performance escalate over time.

Managing others is not for the faint-hearted. Doing it well is a conscious and tough choice you need to make every day. Just don’t let up though. If you do once, you will again and again to a point where you will slide back to being a mediocre manager who will not get the respect or the productivity you want.


Don’t be too worried about making mistakes along the way. We all do. It’s what we learn from those mistakes and apply to future situations that count. Just try not to make the same mistakes in the future.



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