Self Management For Managers: Do You Know What You Absolutely Must Know?

August 23, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 


The gurus, the books, the courses, the self-development experts: they all stress the importance of self management. And they’re right. They also tell you about all the things you must know so that you can manage yourself and your business. They’re right about that too. But there’s one “absolutely must know” that they rarely mention.

The Absolutely Must Know

Do you know the one thing you absolutely must know? Let me state it clearly: knowing what you don’t know is essential. If you believe you know more than you really do, your self-management is in big trouble.

A Knowledgeable Whisper

Some years ago I attended a national training and development conference with a major client. He was the Training Manager in a large finance company. He and his team had created some of the most innovative and effective on job training in Australia. We listened to a keynote speaker enthuse about some work she’d done with employees in her company. The work wasn’t anywhere near as new or innovative as the speaker proposed. My client nudged me in the ribs and whispered, “doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.”

The Case Of Kobe

In 1995, the port city of Kobe in Japan suffered a huge earthquake. Over 6400 people died. Kobe was a major Japanese port with 1.5 million inhabitants. It is in an area of Japan not normally subject to intense earthquakes. Scientists have been studying earthquakes and avalanches for over a century. They still haven’t been able to establish a failsafe method for predicting their location or intensity. They didn’t predict Kobe. Nor did they predict this year’s tsunami and devastation it caused. That’s not intended as a criticism of the scientists involved. But it’s an accurate observation.

Instruction And www

Instruction on the web is generally poor. I’ve said the same for two years. Some web instruction is appallingly poor. Very, very little is very good or even good. You’ve probably been frustrated by the inadequate instruction that’s accompanied some package you’ve bought on the web. The packages are prepared by subject matter experts, not experts in instruction and instructional design. The subject matter experts simply don’t know what they don’t know. Their lack of instructional design skills limits the value of their expertise.

What’s Even Worse

It’s bad enough not to know what you don’t know. It’s compounded when you think that you do. Think of all those truisms you’ve heard about managing employees: “employees always resist change”; “people must relate well to each other to form an effective team”; “experience and interview performance are the keys to successful staff selection”; “planning, organizing, leading and controlling are the key management functions”. I could go on and on. These statements and many like them have no basis in fact. But if you allow them to guide your employee management…!

A Simple Example

You know the colour of your eyes. Let’s say that you don’t know the colour of Keith Urban’s eyes. If someone asks you, you’ll say, “I don’t know the colour of Keith Urban’s eyes.” That’s fine. You know you don’t know and admit it. It’s when you don’t know the colour of his eyes but claim that you do that causes problems for you. And if your opinion’s based on something you read in a gossip magazine about the eye colour of most male Australian country singers… nuff said!

Does It Matter?

Unless your friends are members of the Keith Urban Fan Club, his eye colour isn’t an absolutely must know. But as a manager, not knowing what you don’t know and thinking that you do is a major impediment: both to your self-management and the development of your business. Ignorance leads to serious errors of judgement when it’s confused with knowledge.

A Personal Story

When I first started my consulting business years ago, I quickly realized two things. If I didn’t learn to sell, my family and I would starve. And marketing was a complete mystery to me. I soon learnt to sell well enough to survive. But it was 13 years before I read “Positioning” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Finally marketing made sense to me. But never in those 13 years did I imagine for a moment that I knew or understood what marketing was all about. I’m still no marketing expert. But I at least know what I don’t know about it.

Start Simply

Firstly decide what you know about managing employee performance. Then work out those things that you know you don’t know. You may for instance know a lot about interviewing staff. But you also know that you don’t know much about writing successful job ads. Your self-management is threatened when you imagine that because you’re a good interviewer, you know enough to compensate for a poor job ad.

Some Simple Techniques

“Keep an open mind” is a common suggestion. But if you think that you know more than you really do it’s hard to be open minded. Always be prepared to say, “I don’t know that” or “I’ve never thought about it that way” or ” tell me more about it.” Learn to paraphrase. “Do you mean?” and “are you saying?” are useful phrases to help speakers clarify their own thoughts. And they’ll help you to obtain information that could complement your “don’t knows”.

Two Wonderful Quotes

It’s sometimes said that “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”. My professional experience supports that. Famous basketball coach John Woden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts”. And Mark Twain put it this way, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for certain that just ain’t so.”


In business and in the business of managing employees, it’s not enough to know what you know. You need to be aware of what you don’t know. When you assume you know more than you actually do, you’re missing the one thing you absolutely must know. And you’re making self-management more difficult… to say nothing of staff management.

Leon Noone helps managers in small-medium business to improve on-job staff performance without training courses. His ideas are quite unconventional. Read his free Special Report “49 Practical Tips for Removing Employee Apathy, Aggravation And Resistance In Your Business”. Simply visit and download your free copy now.

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