• Dawn Russell

Skill #1: The Skill of Self-Mastery

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

Self-mastery is a big topic: one that spans from managing one’s own emotions to control of that inner voice – the voice that determines mindset.

Self-mastery is the skill that underpins all others when it comes to performance management. Without self-mastery, the other skills are ineffective, because mindset and emotion will always find reasons to justify and avoid tackling bad behaviour.

Let’s start with emotion. Inappropriate emotion, like fear, anger, sympathy, sadness or contempt, has no place in performance management. These emotions will derail a performance management conversation very swiftly and will certainly not help achieve a positive outcome.

Work to replace emotion with detachment. That’s not to say don’t care. It simply means to remove oneself from the emotional charge of the situation, so that it can be viewed with detachment.

Easier said than done, of course!

The key is to keep it about the situation, not the person. It also helps to ask ourselves what might cause a rational person to behave this way. Try to come from a place of curiosity rather than judgment.

Detachment can be further improved by acknowledging the stories we are creating about the meaning of the poor performance. When someone makes mistakes, it’s easy to create a story that they’re lazy or careless. When someone rolls their eyes, the story might be that they consider themselves better than others.

We are master storytellers and makers of meaning!

When we acknowledge that we actually don’t know the facts yet and are indeed making up stories in the interim, it helps us to detach from the emotion we have invested in the story.

Self-mastery also involves quelling the inner voice that serves to unsettle us. The purpose of our inner voice is to keep us safe, but safe also means small. Safe means wanting us to avoid risk, avoid confrontation, avoid “danger.”

That kind of safe does not serve us when we run a trade. Turning the other cheek, being courteous to others and saying nothing if we can’t say something nice to people has been bred into us for generations. And some of us have learned so well to keep the peace in volatile family situations that it flows over into the workplace or on site.

Feeling sorry for people has no place in performance management. Nor does doubting your own judgment. Yes, it’s reasonable to ask yourself if you’re being fair – but do it from a detached place, not an emotionally invested place. Assess whether this is a personality clash or a performance issue. Is it affecting other people’s attitudes and performance? Is it damaging your business?

Sure, you might have a couple of good days. Sure you might tell yourself that, if you’re being fair, the person also produces some good work. The thing is, you’re paying for good work every day! Not just the days when they feel like it.

Maybe they confide in you that they’ve struggled with alcohol all their lives, or that they‘ve had father-figure issues. What do you do then? Does that excuse them from poor performance? Or do you care enough to hold them to a higher standard?

Let me say that again, (because it’s this that sits at the centre of exceptional performance management)...Do you care enough to hold your people to a higher standard? Do you care enough to want them to be the very best they are capable of?

Well, that doesn’t come from tolerating poor performance!

People will always live up to (or down to) whatever standards you hold them to.

It’s a sad fact of life, but more and more people refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

As the owner of the business, one of your primary roles, especially given that you care, is to help people come to terms with responsibility and the consequences of their actions.

While it might seem that taking responsibility for one’s actions is about their self-mastery, it also abides in your own self-mastery.

When we develop the mindset that each of us is responsible for our own actions, it is easier to accept that we must each therefore bear the consequences of our own actions. Such acceptance frees us from feeling inappropriately sorry for people or feeling guilty about enacting the consequences that must flow as a natural extension of actions.

As you will see in Skill #3, The Skill of the Performance Conversation, helping people identify and articulate their responsibilities and the ramifications for poor behaviour and/or performance turns performance management on its head. In turn, it’s the skill that gives you the most currency in the performance management situation.


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