In business, professional success may come down to one critical skill that trumps all others, regardless of generation or industry, and it’s this: self-management. The new leadership. Here’s why.

Self Management IS the New Leadership

If you spend any amount of time reading the HR and staffing articles that fill social media news feeds and business magazines about attracting and managing Millennials you might come to believe that the balance of power has shifted from employee to employer. Today’s employers are admonished to offer flexible work schedules, create teams, eliminate hierarchy, do away with titles, offer cafeteria and non-traditional benefits packages and more if they expect to attract “the best and brightest” among Millennials and the younger generations that will follow them into the workplace.

What seems to be missing are articles telling Millennials and emerging generations how they can adapt, grow and develop in order to succeed, including advice that might shatter their misconceptions about what the work place will be like. Zappos, Amazon and the like have embraced hierarchy and work environments that work well for their business models; however, to think that one type of work style translates to all industries and business types isn’t logical. Companies that rely on constant invention and innovation need to be structured in a way that facilitates those activities, but the vast majority of businesses in the U.S. are not Amazon-like in work environment or organizational needs.

One size does not fit all when it comes to employers, nor does one size fit all when it comes to employees, regardless of age or assigned generation. Some people thrive in the holacracy; others, not so much. To think that one style of workplace would be best suited for everyone in a certain age group is as illogical as assuming that one type of teaching style suits all students. It’s just not true.

Here’s something that is true regardless of age, regardless of industry, regardless of work environment: Self-management is the new leadership.

Whether you work in a role with lots of goals and measures or few, whether you work in an environment with lots of oversight or little, and whether you work in a business that has lots of policies and procedures or hardly any, success in any type of business comes down to your ability to effectively manage the time and resources at your disposal, even if that only resource is you.

Self-management covers a lot of turf. It’s about managing work time in a way that is purpose-driven, focused, disciplined and productive – but that’s not all. It’s also about having self-control, and that includes time spent doing work but it also includes time spent in meetings, on teams, and time spent interacting with bosses and co-workers.

At its core, the new leadership – self-management – comes down to four main components: observation, discernment, wisdom and a bias for action.

Here are definitions for each along with synonyms that help to clarify them even more.


The action or process of observing something or someone carefully in order to gain information. In other words, you keep an eye on things. Synonyms: surveillance, scrutiny, watching, study


The ability to judge well. In other words, you have the ability to accurately interpret what has been observed (with at least some degree of objectivity) and begin to form conclusions or strategies as to appropriate response or next steps. Synonyms: judgment, acumen, shrewdness, sensitivity, intuition


The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. In other words, you have the knowledge and/or experience needed to determine which would be the best options from among possible actions or strategies that should occur next. Synonyms: understanding, intelligence, astuteness, insight

Bias for Action

The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim. In other words, you’ve seen the problem, developed solutions, chosen the right one and you are willing and able to take action for resolution, response or progress. Synonyms: exploit, achievement, accomplishment, feat

Whether you’re a sole proprietor, part of a traditionally-structured business or a team-member in a holacracy environment, these abilities make you more valuable, more effective and more successful. If you’re an HR, staffing or recruiting professional, these abilities are going to set your best candidates apart, regardless of their age or assigned generation. If you’re a business owner who is wondering which of your staff should be developed for leadership or promotion, choose those that display these characteristics.

If you’re a Millennial – or someone even younger – who is about to enter the workforce, these are the attributes that will help you grow, adapt and succeed over the course of your professional career, perhaps more so than any other skills you have. Self-management is the new leadership (and it was the old leadership, too!)

Recruiting and hiring decisions often hinge on hard skills and real life experience that indicate a candidate’s prowess in performing certain tasks, operating machinery and equipment, leveraging technology and so on. Soft skills are harder to measure, but may be even more beneficial to your professional success and the growth of your business.

3 Soft Skills that Strengthen Teams

Growing a business usually means adding people to the team that have experience and education that is directly related to the tasks and responsibilities they will be completing on the job, or which is indirectly related but considered transferable; that is, their knowledge and work history shows that they can adapt and learn what a new employer needs them to do. Based on a candidate’s resume and interview it’s usually fairly easy determine whether they have the direct or transferable skills you are looking for. It’s more difficult to determine whether the soft skills that they bring to the table are the ones that will make your team better, but you can discover them if you know what to look for.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable and improve an individual’s ability to interact effectively with other people. Soft skills are probably being utilized all around you, every day. They are in use when sales people are negotiating, when co-workers are sharing problems and sympathizing with one another, when customer service pros are interpreting and resolving customer complaints, when team members are brainstorming, weighing options and dividing up responsibilities, and so on.

How can you uncover soft skills during the hiring process?

The things a candidate has done in school and on the job reveal their hard skills; the outcomes they have achieved, the route they took to get there, and even the words they use to describe situations about their interactions with colleagues and customers can help you uncover their soft skills.

3 Soft Skills and the Teams that Need Them


Having the ability to accurately determine what a person is feeling and considering a situation from their point of view can be a serious advantage for sales, customer service and human resources. While we often associate it as a key skill for the two latter teams, it’s not uncommon to find a sales team filled with less-than-empathetic individuals bent on getting to “yes” with a client, sometimes by any means possible. Sales teams might actually get to “yes” faster when they employ empathy to uncover a prospects real objections and concerns, which often go unstated.

In truth, there aren’t many roles in a business where empathy will not be an asset and so is desirable in most candidates. While it might be a plus for any candidate, it should be a must for managers.


Academic research brought to bear on the impact of having women on teams revealed an impressive truth; teams with women perform better because women score higher on the metric of average social sensitivity. What this translates to – in essence – is the equivalent of mind-reading in business. Social sensitivity makes women more able to pick up on and decipher non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, tone, etc.

With intuition, employees can get to the real issues more quickly, but they can also better understand the motivation, mindset and outcomes that can help in negotiations and resolving conflicts. Intuition is the soft skill that leads to win-win situations, and it’s a soft skill that can propel sales, customer service, human resources, and teams responsible for product development and innovation farther, faster.


While this is not a treatise on the benefits of having women on your team, a University of Massachusetts Amherst study of 120 undergrad engineering students found that teams made up mostly of women or which had equal numbers of men and women performed better. In teams that did not have this balance, first-year female students were reluctant to contribute ideas and experienced higher levels of stress and anxiety. In teams where women were dominant or represented in roughly equal numbers to male counterparts, there was less stress, less anxiety and higher levels of contribution.

Most business owners understand why creating an environment where contributions – from any employee – are welcome can lead to business improvements, cost savings and innovations that help with growing a business more quickly. However, it’s not all that common to find a business where that atmosphere is present and maintained over time. If balance can be achieved merely by ensuring that both men and women are represented on a team, it seems like a no-brainer! Sales teams, product development teams, management teams and even department-to-department, bringing balance to the workforce could help you grow your business more quickly.