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How To Be Your Own Manager

Developing an external, strategic perspective on your career, just like a talent manager would, keeps you moving forward.

How To Be Your Own Manager
[Photo: Flickr user Dmitry Boyarin]

Say “manager” and the corporate middle-of-the-ladder guy generally comes to mind first. But there’s another kind of manager out there: the sort that actors, musicians, and athletes often have. This manager provides an external perspective on a career. He or she figures out the business aspects and strategy, so the talent can do what she does best.

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It’s an appealing concept, and the good news is that you don’t need another person on the payroll in order to tap this mindset. Indeed, we should all start thinking this way because, as people move in and out of roles more frequently, we’re starting to have as many jobs on our résumés as an actor might have gigs. If you want to be a rock star at what you do, here’s how to be your own manager.

Figure out your core competencies

“What a good manager does, whether it’s part of your brain or another person, is look at what makes you unique and focuses on those attributes,” says Jay Samit, a serial entrepreneur and author of the new book Disrupt You!. “That’s what’s going to give you the most value in the market.” A good manager steers her client toward gigs that will showcase her strengths. As a corollary, take a rational look at what you don’t do well. While it’s an option to try to shore up your weak spots, it’s also equally valuable to just look for opportunities in which your weaknesses won’t matter.

Get clarity on your goals

A manager is focused on the long game. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? How would you get there? Samit suggests looking at LinkedIn profiles of people you admire, and studying their careers. What steps could you emulate to achieve what they’ve done?

Steer clear of dead ends

“Managers don’t just get you work, they say, ‘If you go on that TV show, your career is over,’” says Samit. Likewise, you want to avoid getting typecast. “If you’re the manager of your own career, you want to make sure you’re marketable to a wider field than just the industry you’re in.” Take a look at your skills, and figure out which can transfer. Build connections outside your industry. Do a hard-nosed assessment of your current job, too. A good manager can help you figure out when it’s time to move on.

Coach your performance

A good manager is always looking for ways to nurture the talent’s, well, talent. Ask yourself what would help you do your job better. Even the kind of self-talk you use can help coax out your best work. Ashley Merryman, who studied the literature on performance as the co-author with Po Bronson of Top Dog: The Science Of Winning And Losing, says to consider talking to yourself using your own name. “Saying ‘Laura, you should do this’ is more effective than ‘I should do this,’” she says. “It sounds like someone else has analyzed the situation and given you perspective.”

Promote yourself

Nadya Kohl, CMO and SVP of business development at mobile intelligence company PlaceIQ, says that “Being your own manager means promoting your outcomes, much as your manager would promote your stats if you were an athlete. Finding your own authentic style of self-promotion can be done, and doing so is what keeps the value of your contribution to the team visible, and puts you in line for the next great—and deserved—trade.”

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About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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