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Self-Management as a Substitute for Leadership

The article “Self-Management as a Substitute for Leadership: A Social Learning Theory Perspective,” written by Manz and Sims in 1980 for The Academy of Management Review, explores self-management as a viable substitute for leadership. The article aims at evaluating the importance of subordinates’ self-management, strategies of enhancing self-management and the role organizational leaders play in employees’ self-management process. The information in the article is significant to both employees as well as managers because it highlights the importance of subordinates’ self-organization process and clarifies its role in empowering workers to improve productivity through behavioral self-regulation.

Article Summary

Manz & Sims (1980) define self-management as a process through which people choose low probability responses when they are presented by response alternatives together with varied consequences. The characteristics of self-management include two or more alternatives, varying consequences for each alternative and long-term external consequences for maintenance of self-controlling actions.

According to the authors, the process of self-management involves such steps as personal goal-setting, self-instruction, planning of behavioral patterns and analysis of self-administered consequences. The authors argue that that there are several reasons why self-management should be encouraged in nowadays society. Firstly, there is a need to eliminate observer bias when evaluating performance. Secondly, self-organization reduces the cost of operations as it allows managers to focus on long-term pressing issues. Thirdly, corporations cannot afford to ignore its aspects because all employees participate in some form of self-management. Manz and Sims claim that ignoring the concept can leave employees vulnerable to dysfunctional self-management, in this way reducing their morale and discouraging motivation.

The scholars state that general strategies for development self-management include both behavioral programming and environmental planning. The procedures that individuals can use to develop self-management include such actions as goal specification, self observation, incentive modification, cueing strategies application and rehearsals. In fact, organizational leaders can use several approaches to encourage subordinates’ self-management. For example, supervisors can act as role models to provide ideal examples to the subordinates. Moreover, observing leaders who practice exemplary self-management can have a significant impact on employees’ self-management development. In addition, there are several factors that determine when leaders should promote employees’ self-management. The factors include such facets as nature of tasks, availability of time, and type of the problem.

Key Points of the Article

The main points of the article include reasons for self-management as well as variety of strategies people use to create self-organizational capabilities. Additionally, the article emphasizes the role of leaders in subordinates’ self-management and the kind of situation when employers are advised to encourage self-management.

Regarding professional motivation, the article highlights some of the compelling reasons self-management should be encouraged. For instance, the first reason for promoting self-management is to eliminate observer bias when evaluating the factors that influence performance. Over-attribution is the tendency to describe others using internal personal characteristics. When a manager or a supervisor engages in over-attribution, he/she loses objectivity and may fail to identify situational factors causing reduced performance. When employees practice self-management, they decrease bias because they are unlikely to attribute poor performance caused by external factors to their personal weaknesses. The second reason self-management is ideal way for persuasive motivation is its cost-effectiveness. For example, self-management empowers workers to regulate their behaviors and thus reduce their need for supervision. The third reason self-management is essential is that ignoring it can have negative consequences. Therefore, regardless of whether self-management is encouraged or not, employees practice it in one way or another. However, without organizational support, employees may adopt dysfunctional self-management approach that is likely to damage an entire firm due to reduced morale of its workers.

Apart from listing reasons why self-supervision should be encouraged, the authors distinguish its organizational tactics. According to Manz and Sims, environmental planning and behavioral programming are the two broad strategies for self-management while specific procedures include self observation, goal specification, incentive modification, rehearsals and cueing strategies. Environmental planning is the removal of factors that can hinder a person from attaining targeted behavior because external environment tends to affect people before they perform such behavior. Behavioral programming is considered to be self-administration of consequences done after the performance of desired response. The consequences serve to reward, punish or reinforce expected behavior while discouraging undesired one. Self observation entails the collection of data and information that serve to form the basis for evaluation and self reinforcement. Specification of goals is also critical because it leads to performance improvement. Incentive modification is either self-reward or a punishment with the help of which a person conducts self-regulation. Concerning rehearsal, it is a systematic covert and overt practice of desired performance. Covert rehearsing can improve confidence and success of desired performance when paired together with appropriate consequences. Cueing strategies involve regulation of the rate of occurrence regarding certain behaviors by manipulating stimulus conditions.

In terms of supervision, leaders play a vital role in encouraging employees’ self-management since they act as role models and mentors to guide the rest of the workers. When the latter ones gain more self-management capabilities, leaders are advised to reinforce self-management process, not individual behaviors.

Several factors determine when and why managers should encourage subordinates to develop self-management competencies. For example, the nature of the task at the workplace can determine the attractiveness of self-management. Employees expected to carry out creative, analytical and intellectually-challenging tasks need self-management skills. As such, their managers should encourage them. Time availability is another factor. If the work environment does not have adequate time for problem solving, the managers may not be inclined to promote self-management. The importance of developing subordinates can also determine managers’ willingness to support employees’ self-management skills. Managers in companies that focus on long-term benefits are likely to encourage subordinates’ self-management compared to those in firms that focus on short-term gains. The nature of the problem can also influence managers’ willingness to support employees’ self-management. If problems in a firm require participative decision-making, managers are more likely to support self-management in comparison with supervisors from workplaces where employees do not participate in decision-making.

Individual Learning from the Article

The article has provided me with vital lessons because it evaluated a new and unfamiliar concept of sel-management. The first lesson I have learned is that there is a process which can significantly reduce a need for leadership in organizations. Before reading the article, I had placed great emphasis on leadership and its role in the organizational success. However, the article has provided an alternative perspective that will enrich my understanding of organizational processes and their effects on performance. Traditional leadership and organizational theories underscore the importance of leadership in providing structure and direction (McCleskey, 2014). However, the article has demonstrated that self-management can provide both structure and direction.

The second lesson relates to the possibility of individuals to self-administer negative consequences. It is understandable how people can reward themselves for achieving a particular performance level. However, self-administration of punishment is a new phenomenon to me. I have learned that when individuals are determined to achieve certain goals, they can become disciplined enough to punish themselves for failing to achieve their objectives.

The third lesson I have learned is that self-management is a fundamental concept that determines individual and organizational success. Since self-management is personal, it can motivate workers more than when external factors elicit their motivation. The individual achievement translates to organizational success because of the improved employee productivity.

Finally, I have learned that self-managing techniques do not function in all situations. To be specific, the article identified factors that may determine when managers can encourage self-management. Although self-management diminishes the need for leadership in an organization, it has similarities to leadership styles. The same way leadership styles are contingent on prevailing conditions, the appropriateness of self-management depends on situational factors.


Overall, self-management is critical to both managers and workers because it helps them to improve their self-organizational capabilities by viable strategies and procedures. The information about self-management helps supervisors to understand the importance of the concept, when it is ideal and how it can help them and employees to improve their output. The lesson that self-management can substitute leadership can address team management challenges identified in the leadership program. Promoting self-management can empower team members to gain competencies that can invalidate the need for supervision. The lesson that subordinates with self-management skills can self-administer negative consequences can assist team managers. Team members with self-management capabilities can regulate their behaviors though self administration of punishments to motivate them to improve performance, which eliminates the need for team leaders’ intervention. The lessons that self-management does not work in all situations is applicable in conditions that require situational leadership. Managers using situation leadership theory are best suited to implement self-management since it requires leaders to vary their reinforcement as subordinates gain self-management skills. Organizations experiencing unsatisfactory performance can utilize self-management because it can improve their performance similar to such approaches as trait, behavioral, charismatic and transformational leadership.


Manz, C. C., & Sims, H. P., Jr. (1980). Self-Management as a substitute for leadership: A social learning theory perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 5(3), 361-367.

McCleskey, J. A. (2014). Situational, transformational, and transactional leadership and leadership development. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 5(4), 117-130.