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You as a Manager

So, what does it mean to be a ‘manager’? This module is about integrating theory and practice, and so much of our practice is rooted in affective domain - how does it feel to be a manager in a career and employability service?

Now read the chapter on 'Managing relentlessly' in Simply Managing. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Self-management and self-care are important dimensions of management work. A very useful resource for considering this is Stephen Covey’s best selling book 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' (1989).

In it, Covey describes seven habits to help people to live balanced and fulfilled lives. The first three habits are concerned with personal effectiveness, the next three with interpersonal relationships, and the final one is about constantly renewing the other habits. His seven habits are:

1) Be proactive. Take responsibility for your life and your choices. Show initiative. Don’t blame others or circumstances.

2) Begin with the end in mind. What do you want to be remembered for? What do you really, really want?

3) Put first things first. Identify and follow your priorities. This is the key to time management.

4) Think Win/Win. Look for agreements or solutions that are mutually beneficial. Seek to collaborate rather than compete.

5) Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Take time to listen to understand the other person’s perceptions and priorities. Listen for feelings and meanings, not just facts and logic. Then express your own views clearly.

6) Synergy. Creative cooperation means that 1 + 1 can equal 3 or more. Honest communication and a valuing of differences mean that new possibilities can be created

7) Renewal. Maintenance is essential. Keep the habits alive by continually attending to them, and by continually developing and renewing yourself.

Let’s look in more detail at Covey’s third habit, Put first things first. He introduces the distinction between activities which are urgent and activities which are important. This leads to the 2 x 2 matrix shown in Figure 5.1.

urgent important

Most people are good at attending to activities which are both urgent and important. Crises, deadlines and important meetings are examples of things which generally are dealt with. What really distinguishes people who are good at managing their time is that they also focus on things which are important but not yet urgent. Most of the rest of us focus on activities which are urgent but not necessarily important – interruptions, meetings where we don’t really need to be present, some phone calls, many emails, and so on. And, if you are spending much time on things which are neither urgent nor important, then you’re not using your time very wisely at all.

It is interesting to note the activities which Covey puts in the important but not urgent box. Many of these activities, such as preparation, planning and empowering others, might be regarded as investments of time – that is, time spent now which will yield dividends later. He also adds the term re-creation – that is the activities you do to re-create yourself. These are the things you do to relax and recharge your batteries, which will vary from person to person. He’s suggesting, for instance, that a ten minute walk in the fresh air might be a really good use of your time if it helps you to be more productive later. And he considers building relationships an important activity that generally isn’t urgent. For example, it may not matter if you don’t have coffee with a new colleague or neighbour this week – it isn’t urgent. But if you continually postpone this, then you may have missed an opportunity to develop a relationship that may be of great benefit at some point in the future.

It is common to find that people view most of the things that they do as important. However, importance is a relative concept – some things are more important than others, and everything can’t be top priority, by definition Even bearing this in mind, however, people are reluctant to relegate activities to not that important. However, if you want to manage your time effectively and strategically, then you need to clarify what you really do see as important. And you need to invest time in those things which are important but not yet urgent. One consequence of this is that fewer things will end up in the important and urgent box since you’ve dealt with them well before the deadline.

This video describes Covey’s distinction between urgent and important tasks, and suggests how you might spend more time on tasks which are important but not yet urgent.

Time Management

Covey’s third habit, Put first things first, is the key to managing your time effectively - know your priorities and then spend your time in ways which reflect those priorities. It is as simple, as profound and as difficult as that!

Let’s say it again in slightly different words. There are two basic things you need to do to manage your time:

• First, be clear about what your priorities are
• Second, spend your time in ways which reflect your priorities

This raises the question of who sets your priorities. You may be working within an organisation and hence required to deliver objectives on behalf of the organisation or set by your boss. Or you may be juggling the demands of bringing up a family, running a household and looking after elderly relatives. There are real constraints on your freedom to choose your priorities. Your view on your priorities must reflect these constraints and perhaps the needs of some other people. Nevertheless, ultimately you choose your priorities. You are the decision maker about what your priorities are. It’s your life!

In terms of priorities in general, and work-life balance in particular, there are no right answers – there are only your answers. Some individuals thrive on a fourteen hour working day. For them it may be that, in the words of Noel Coward, Work is more fun than fun. For many people, the thought of a fourteen hour working day would be a nightmare. But it’s a personal choice how much time you’d like to spend working.

One way of shifting how you spend your time so that you focus on the important rather than the urgent can be summed up in the phrase Schedule your priorities, don’t prioritise your schedule. Just because a meeting is in your diary or a task is on your to do list, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is important. But many people run from one meeting to another somewhat unthinkingly because it’s in their calendar. Question the notion that you have to prioritise what’s in your schedule.

To illustrate the notion of scheduling your priorities, imagine that you are about to pack the boot of your car to go on holiday. (If you don’t drive, you can still imagine that a friend has offered to drive you to your destination.) Let’s say you have two large suitcases containing the things you will really need on holiday and a dozen carrier bags with things that are nice to have – maybe a pair of spare flip flops, a set of boules you occasionally play with, a disposable barbecue, and so on. How do you pack the boot? If you put all the carrier bags in first, you might well find that there’s room for only one of the suitcases – some of the important stuff won’t get in. Alternatively, you can pack the two suitcases first and then see how many of the carriers bags can be fitted in. It doesn’t really matter if one or two carrier bags have to be left behind. Similarly, in scheduling your priorities and in working through your To Do list, make sure you devote sufficiently large chunks of time to carry out the large, important tasks. Then fit the less important tasks around the larger, scheduled priorities. As an illustration, you might have five minutes to spare when you can fit in a phone call or deal with a number of emails.

Note that it isn’t enough just to schedule your priorities. You also have to make sure you carry out the priority activities that you have scheduled. Having good intentions is a useful first step, but isn’t enough.

A useful word when talking about time management is ruthless. It’s helpful to be ruthless when prioritising and when scheduling your priorities. Ruthless in this sense doesn’t mean cruel or unfeeling. Rather, it means having a very clear focus and determination. If you have lots of demands on your time, it is even more important to focus very clearly what you regard as the really worthwhile uses of your time.

One of the skills which will help you in scheduling your priorities is the ability to say No. This is not about ignoring the needs of other people, and can be consistent with Covey’s fourth habit of seeking Win/Win outcomes. It about being assertive, which may be defined as the ability to state clearly and confidently what you want or need in a situation AND to allow the other party to state clearly what they want.

If you want to manage your time effectively and strategically, achieving the work-life balance that you seek, then it is important to be able assertively to say No to requests or activities that you judge to be relatively less important. It can be difficult to say No without feeling guilty – or that you’re letting others down. And there are occasions when it is unwise or hurtful to say No, and you may choose to go along with a request that you’d rather decline. Nevertheless, the ability at times to say No can be invaluable in focusing your efforts on the things that really matter.

Exercise: What’s important to you?

Think about a typical week for you and how you spend your time?

1) Bearing in mind the constraints that face you and your personal preferences, what are the most important things that you do?
2) In a typical week how much time do you spend on these important things?
3) What activities take up a lot of your time but are not important to you?
4) In a typical week how much time do you spend on these less important things?
5) What changes will you make to how you spend your time?

Professional values

It can be argued that we are all managers, managing ourselves and our activities. After all, the word derives from the Italian "maneggiare" to handle, train (horses), derivative of mano (Latin: manus hand )

Your route into management of career services will create your own unique perspective on this blend of management and professional identity.

An issue often discussed by managers in career services is whether it is possible to manage in ways consistent with the professional values of careers work. Where tensions exist, does this mean our professional values have changed?

To consider this, we must first look at what are the professional values of careers work.

Schon (1983) articulates the way that reflective practitioners work in terms which I think aligns well with client centredness.


Expert Reflective practitioner
I am presumed to know, and must claim to do so, regardless of my own uncertainty.

I am presumed to know, but I am not the only one in the situation to have relevant and important knowledge. My uncertainties may be a source of learning for me and them.

Keep my distance from the client, and hold on to the expert’s role. Give the client a sense of my expertise, but convey a feeling of warmth and sympathy as a “sweetener”.


Seek out connections to the client’s thoughts and feelings. Allow his respect for my knowledge to emerge from his discovery of it in the situation
Look for deference and status in the client’s response to my professional persona. Look for the sense of freedom and of real connection to the client, as a consequence of no longer needing to maintain a professional facade.


Table 5.1: A model of traditional and reflective professional practice (Schon, 1983, p.300)

You might find it helpful to consider this alongside these resources on leadership development (click on the image to download word documents).



Covey, S. (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.London: Simon & Schuster.

Schon, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action. New York, NY: Basic Books.