How to move step by step towards Self-Management

Gosh, I am fed up with empty company talk of “Leadership” and “Our Values.” Why? For a start, I have my own values. I do not need yours. Thank you.

Second, what most people call Leadership, sounds like manipulation, interference and mind control to me. I am from Germany. We certainly had “great” leadership in the Third Reich…

Usually, these corporate value and leadership exercises are dishonest, glitzy exercises to get a company more “Startupy.” At best they are inept attempts to lessen the degree of the companies sclerosis.

I really think there are more effective ways to make use of your limited lifespan, than spending it in an amateurish corporate innovation theater.

Screenshot 2017-11-03 08.49.42.png

The Corporate Innovation Theater (Source:

Start moving toward Self-Management

Autonomy, Entrepreneurial Spirit, Empowerment – call it any way you like: Moving Organizations towards more Self-Management is probably the one mission-critical piece of DNA that traditional companies are missing.

More Innovation is tied to more Self Management. It’s as simple as that. More Self Management means moving organizations towards the Sweet Spot of Innovation (see the last post What kind of Organization do modern Companies aspire to be?).

On a team level, there are frameworks for self-management. From the Lean Startup to Scrum to Amazons two-pizza teams, there is a lot of advice, techniques, and best-practice to create high performing teams. But on an organizational level, this is a lot harder.  The risks of hierarchical interference by some manager into the cherished “entrepreneurial and empowered” behaviors shown by underlings increases exponentially with each new level of a hierarchy. It’ as simple as that: Hierarchy and Innovation do not match well.

So what are the ways organizations can progress?

The 4 Management Paradigms

To get a company to innovate, transform and learn new Management Paradigms need to be adapted.


Paradigm 1: Command and Control

What you have experienced during your education in school or while working for a company is Command & Control Management: People who told you what to do, because they had the mandate to it. Your school teacher held this mandate to control you, as did the manager you report to. Those Hierarchs holding power over you might have been benevolent or nasty, giving you a good or a hell of a time.

Chances are you adapted to their style. You accommodated to the situation, you blended in. You did your job. You raised your head in opposition only if it was safe to do so. Otherwise, you did your job. It was or is the thing you are paid for.

So did I. In 42 Years of Education and Work I blended in. Despite a perceptive streak that always made me rebellious underneath, I seldom let this come to the surface. And if I did allow it to surface, I usually did no more than vented my anger in supposedly safe environments with coworkers. It just doesn’t pay to pick a fight with the hierarchy: The few times I tried to stand up for truth, decency or plain reason, I was defeated. It pays to accept that the Status quo is the most potent force in a hierarchy.

Paradigm 2: Mission Command

But there were far more good times than bad times. When did you experience good times in organizations? I bet that these good times can be characterized as such:

  • There was trust in you to achieve things in your way
  • You worked intensively with colleagues
  • You felt a sense of purpose or contribution by helping others, the customer or the organization

What you felt those good times can be linked to a management style called “Mission Command.” Someone has been managing you, but that person brought out the best in you – or left you alone to bring yourself to bring out the best in you.

A Manager practicing Mission Command allows an individual or a unit of an organization to define how she or he will achieve commanders intent. If the purpose is clear, the objectives are stated, the manager practicing this style leaves the subordinate to rely on their own ingenuity.


Command & Control and Mission Control are not mutually exclusive.  A Manager can exercise both Management style, depending on the situation and issues at hand. Managers leaning toward Command & Control can be described as “Micro-Managers.” Managers leaning toward Mission Command are Managers that empower others.

For more on mission command, look at this post from October 2015: Force 4: New Work organization.

Paradigm 3: Self Management

Self-Management is defined as “management of or by oneself; the taking of responsibility for one’s own behavior and well-being.” Wherelse a superior keeps an employee locked in an adult-child relationship, modern Management Systems based on self-management aim to establish adult relationships in organizations.

How do they do that? By getting rid of the Hierarchy. It’s an egalitarian approach based on discipline. Think of it: Most of us cringe if they hear “egalitarian”: “That cannot work.” But if you combine this with discipline – a term we all know too well from our command and control past – it gets interesting.

I won’t say any more here about those Management Systems relying on Self Management. Shame on you if you did not read the last 12 long posts starting in May 2017. Here is the starter: A New Ideology for Management in the Digital Age and the post starting of a whole series on  Holacracy, Liberation and Management 3.0.

Paradigm 4: Crowd Management

Behind self-management with the gradual dissolution of the hierarchy, of more and more superior-subordinate relationships, comes the demise of the company as the legal glue that holds people together. This is the terrain of the crowd, which can bring into existence such wonderful things like the World Wide Web, Linux or Wikipedia.

It has been argued by many futurists since Thomas Malones 2008 book “The future of Work” that companies will tend to get slimmer because they will spin-off more and more of their activities towards the crowd. And today, 9 years later, it is happening. Take for example the platform economy, e.g., Uber, Airbnb, 99 designs et al.

How to move towards Self-Management

What vexed me a lot during the last two years is the following:

It’s good and fair that Mission Control achieves better results through more engaged employees and more organizational learning. It even makes the workplace a better place to be.

But how can I get Managers to embrace this empowering Management style? How can I get people who lived for nearly all their lives in Command & Control environments to trust, relax control and truly empower people?

To tell them to do it, through training, conversations, and coaching is just not enough to ensure consistency – otherwise, we wouldn’t have this high degree of disengagement in companies and the high degree of resistance to change.


Let’s face it: Command and Control is what we inhaled in our upbringing. It is part of our culture. It requires exceptional people to let go and embrace mission command. This feeling is primarily shared by many Silicon Valley companies like Google. The Solution to this? Hiring – see Hiring like a Pro: Lessons from Google. The empowering, entrepreneurial, team working, curious type of candidate must be hired!

I have three problems with this:

  1. Hiring your way out of trouble is not an option for established companies
  2. Putting the “right” people in toxic, command and control enterprise cultures will end up with the new hires leaving the firm or adapting to become part of the system
  3. Hiring the people with the right character traits is a great way to sustain a given culture, but not a way to create a new culture.

Hiring is, therefore, a supplemental, flanking action, but cannot be the main angle of attack. Lazlo Bock, an HR Director at Google, states in his 2014 book “Work rules,” that  “hiring is the most important skill of an organization.” I disagree. Hiring is supplemental.

The most critical and fundamental management skill is to “terraform” the organization through holistic, learning organizational design.

Such a powerful terraforming tool are Participative Management practices. It can be pictured as Delegation on Steroids. An excellent name for the next post – so bear with me.


If you really want an organization to be innovative and an excellent place to work in:

  • Renovate your Management Techniques
  • Update your world-view and embrace the Digital world
  • Step outside the corporate Innovation Theater

Embrace more self-management. I am not saying “go all-out for self-management.” There is not enough proof to advise that (yet). But try more Mission Command yourself, read Jurgen Appelo’s Management3.0 and get into your read about Participative Management Practices – Delegation on Steroids – in a fortnight.



This is what I think. What do you think?

Further Reading:

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *