What’s at the Core of Your Management?

Here’s Why It’s Important and How to Find Out

Effective management is a combination of experience, interpersonal skills and systems that drive management outcomes. MBA curriculums are designed around these areas to train students in management. However, something less discussed in management, that isn’t as easily learned, but is just as important, is what I refer to as a manager’s core.

Management acumen aside, a manager’s core is one of the biggest determinants of a manager’s behaviors and ultimately connected to his or her success. For example, a manager’s core can be the distinction between a people centered manager who motivates employees and a manager who falls into the “asshole” zone[1] and demotivates employees.

Defining the core

I define the core as what you believe in and what you believe about yourself. In social psychology these aspects are referred to as an individual’s values and self-concept.

Values are a set of personal beliefs and principles. Values are ordered or prioritized. For example, you value some things more than others. The self-concept, put simply, is how an individual views his or herself. The self-concept is developed based on both assessments by others (your knowledge of how others perceive you) and self-assessments (how you perceive yourself relative to others). Your core is lived by you and experienced by others.

How the core impacts your management

The core is the internal driver of behavior, including management behavior. It is the birthplace of both altruistic, as well as narcissistic managers. For example, narcissistic leadership is linked to an unjustifiably inflated self-concept and a value system that supports it. The core is also the origin of self-confidence or insecurity, traits that are developed based on your perception of how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself relative to others.

Everyone has a core, even those who lack clarity about its contents. When managers lack clarity about their core their core ultimately manages them. In such situations the core functions as a subconscious influence on management practices (for better or for worse) instead of a conscious and strategic management tool.

Now of course this subconscious autopilot form of management is less problematic when it results in positive management experiences and outcomes for employees and the organization. However, when the manager’s core produces ineffective, toxic or deleterious outcomes it’s problematic.

A manager’s core impacts their management in 3 major areas:

1.   How they treat their employees and the associated performance of their employees.

2.   How they interact with their superiors and ultimately their own personal career trajectory.

3.  Their management priorities and what they care about from a management perspective.

A more specific example of how the core impacts management is in the area of conflict resolution. Individuals who have clarity about their self-concept are more likely to practice problem solving over increased contention in conflict situations. This is partially due to a decreased tendency to dwell on negative attacks during conflict, which can be a distraction from problem solving. Having clarity allows them to stay focused on finding a resolution.

Similarly, personal values impact conflict resolution too. In conflict situations, the spectrum of possible resolutions can be limited by an individual’s personal values. Individuals are less likely to choose a solution or course of action that is in conflict with their value system, which can potentially hinder the conflict resolution process.

You can’t fake your core

Here’s the rub, you can’t fake your core. I’ve seen it time and time again. A new employee starts and both the manager and employee are on their best behavior (because let’s be honest, whether you are aware of your core or not everyone knows what good behavior looks like). The manager presents their best self and the new employee reciprocates. However, after the honeymoon period is over, work starts to intensify and the pretenses are gone, the true core of the manager always emerges.

You can’t fake your core, instead you must do the self-work to understand it, evolve it if necessary and be intentional about how it impacts your management.

Understanding your core

Below are some suggestions to better understand your core:

Introspection. Take the time to get clear on your core. Dedicate a couple of hours to think about your values. Values are so innate that people rarely think about what they are specifically. Taking the time to clearly list out your values may even surprise you as to what shows up on the list or what doesn’t. Then, write down what you believe about yourself, followed by what you believe others think about you. Compare the lists. Do the lists paint a similar picture or are there discrepancies? If so ask yourself why.

Critical Analysis. Once you are clear on what you believe constitutes your core, analyze how well your management actions align with what you wrote. Do you live your values or do your behaviors support a different set of values? Do your actions align with your self-perception?

Feedback. To understand how your core is experienced by others, feedback is the best route to seek this information. A 360-degree feedback exercise may be a useful tool to collect such feedback. Solicit feedback from your employees, superiors and peers about their experience working with you and their perspective of your management. Be open to their perspective rather than being defensive.A 360-degree feedback process can be done either face-to-face or anonymously, masking the source of the feedback.

To be clear the purpose of the above exercise is not to paint a rosy picture of yourself. Everyone has both positive and less positive aspects of their core. The idea is to understand your core. If you do the work to gain understanding about your core and its impact on others you are in a better position to manage from the core, instead of it managing you.

Managing from the core entails two things

Fully understanding the contents of your core (and evolving it if you don’t like what you find).

1.  Being self-aware about how your core impacts your management behaviors and blind spots.

2.  As a manager your core can be your biggest asset or liability – you get to decide which.


[1] See Robert Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule


This post was originally posted on LinkedIn on June 20, 2017

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