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close this bookManagement Self-Development - A Guide for Managers, Organisations and Institutions (ILO, 1985, 282 p.)
close this folderAppendices
View the documentAppendix 1. Obtaining information for self-assessment
View the documentAppendix 2. Questionnaire based on the qualities of an effective manager
View the documentAppendix 3. Questionnaire based on the outcome of self-development
View the documentAppendix 4. Feedback from your whole life: Biography work
View the documentAppendix 5. Summary of selected methods of data collection for organisational analysis
View the documentAppendix 6. Developmental relationships questionnaire
View the documentAppendix 7. Guidelines for running development groups
View the documentAppendix 8. Questionnaire to identify development needs
View the documentAppendix 9. Outline of short introductory courses on self-development

Appendix 4. Feedback from your whole life: Biography work

So far, then, we have looked at three methods of obtaining feedback - namely, from other people, by looking at critical incidents, and by using special questionnaires.

The fourth method that we will consider uses your whole life as its focus. We often refer to this as "biography work" even though, since it is your own life, perhaps we might call it "autobiography". The purpose of this approach is to try to link your past, present and future in a way that makes sense to you.

As before, we are only interested in the first stage or two of the self-assessment process (figure 6) - getting information. We will look at what to do with the information later in this appendix.

The biography approach involves four steps in obtaining information - namely,

- life events;
- periods or phases;
- themes;
- questions coming your way.

We will now go through these four steps in turn. As with all the methods described in this chapter, you can either do this by yourself, or work with a partner on it.

Life events

First, you need to decide which aspects of your life you want to look at. By this we mean which component, not which part time-wise, since the method involves looking back in time over all your life, or at least as far back as you can remember.

So what do we mean by aspect or component? Well, it may be that you want to concentrate on your work life; that is, looking back in time, concentrating on aspects of your life that are to do with work.

On the other hand, you very well might want to look at all aspects of your life - work, family, friends and so on.

Obviously, it is up to you to decide whether to look at everything, or to concentrate on your work life. However, we would tend to suggest that if you are undecided you might find it helpful to look at the broader picture, by including all aspects of your life.

Once you have made your decision, you should then start to go back over your life, identifying key events that happened. It is often best to do this going backwards - that is, by starting now and remembering events in reverse order.

If you are considering all aspects of your life, then any key events will be relevant. On the other hand, if you are concentrating on your work life, then you should focus only on events that are related in some important way to your work.

There are other aspects of your life you might wish to concentrate on, such as interpersonal events (that is, to do with how you relate to other people), and learning events. However, you will probably find that these provide too narrow a focus to be particularly helpful at this stage. You could also come back and concentrate on these at a later time.

What is an event? Although difficult to define precisely, you should be looking for particular things that happened, that stick in your memory. Events might have occupied only a very short time, or they might have lasted quite a long time. Whichever it is, they should be recognisable as definite, separate happenings.

There are various ways of noting down the events. You can, of course, just list them. Alternatively, you might draw a straight line, as a time scale, with events marked at the right (time) points. Figure 27 shows this idea. In this particular example, the work events are on the top of the line, the other events below, although this need not be the case. Another possible way is to draw the line as a graph, with time along the bottom axis, and your happiness or morale, up the vertical axis, as shown in the second part of the figure.

Figure 27. Life-line (1)

Figure 27. Life-line (2)

Periods or phases

Having sorted out your main life events, the next step is to try to characterise the periods, or phases, in between the events, giving these appropriate titles. Obviously, these will totally depend on you and your events. In the example of figure 27(2), perhaps one might call 1976-77 a "period of mourning"; 1977-79 as "picking myself up"; 1979-81 as "on top of the world"; 1981-82 "things fall apart". It is very much up to you to identify your own phases, and either write these down or mark them on your diagram.


The next step in this biographical approach is to look over your life - its events and phases - and try to identify any themes, or patterns, that emerge.

All sorts of things might form themes. In case you find it helpful to be given some examples, a number are listed below. However, it is very important to look for your own themes, and not to be influenced by others. So it might be better if you look for your own, and then refer to the examples only if you are stuck.

In general, a theme can be:

- a recurring pattern of behaviour or feelings;
- a constant feature of you or your life;
- certain tendencies to behave in particular ways;
- particular personality characteristics making themselves apparent.

Here then, are some examples, taken from a number of manager's biographies:

- recurring difficulties with authority;

- a tendency to undervalue myself;

- a pattern of changing jobs whenever things started to get difficult;

- a pattern such that whenever I was faced with a real challenge, I felt I was not good enough to succeed so I gave up without trying;

- recurring difficulties when working with a colleague of the opposite sex;

- always giving way when my ideas disagreed with somebody else's;

- a pattern of avoiding responsibility;

- a pattern of seeking responsibility;

- constantly being impatient for quick results;

- a pattern of seeming to seek out aggressive conflict, as though I am "looking for trouble";

- conflict between my responsibilities as a mother and as a manager;

- often feeling that my strengths and contribution to the organisation are being undervalued;

- frustration because of the difficulties that women managers have in my organisation.


You might find patterns amongst the themes themselves. For example:

- are there some themes that used to be there in your life, but which now seem to have finished, to have gone away?

- are there some themes that have always been there in your life?

- are there some new themes just emerging?

- are there any themes that emerge, then disappear for a time, then reappear?

Personal issues and questions coming your way

In the biography approach, there are three main sources of questions coming your way. These are:

- the general picture of your life so far;
- themes;
- other people.

The third - other people - is of course one of the sources already considered in this appendix, but we will look at it again here, albeit briefly.

First, though, let us consider the general picture of your life so far. Imagine that someone else is telling you about their life, which contains your events and phases. In other words, look at your life objectively, as though it were someone else's.

What would you say to that person, about that life?

- What would you think about it?
- How would you feel about it?
- What would you want that person to do about it - what would you recommend they do?

You will probably find that this is not as easy as it sounds. By its very nature, something as central to us as our own life inevitably arouses strong feelings. It is very hard to remain objective.

Nevertheless, this technique of trying to step back a bit and having a calm, objective look at ourselves is a very useful one. It can certainly help in a number of aspects of your self-development (see various methods in chapters 4 and 7).

So, try to take a detached view - as though you were an observer, or as if you were listening to someone else's biography. This will very probably highlight some questions coming your way from the general picture of your life so far.

Having done this, you can then examine the themes from your biography. These can be a fruitful source of feedback, questions and issues. In particular, ask yourself

- are there some themes in my life that I would like to remove, or at least lessen?

- are there some themes which although "nice", "useful" or "good" at the time, have now outlived their usefulness and should be encouraged to fade away?

- are there some themes in my life that I would like to strengthen, or to have more of?

- are there some absent themes, that are not there although I would like them to be?

Looking at your life themes in this way will very probably raise some questions and issues for you.

Finally, questions can come from other people. We have already examined this earlier in the appendix. If you have already worked through that method, then perhaps you do not really need to do it again - although you may get a fresh view of it having looked at your whole life, particularly as we are suggesting here a different way of approaching this. For example, you might have thought of other people who are important to you - not only people in your present, but people in your past, who are still very much in your consciousness, even if not there physically. These people might well in effect, be saying something to you, or be asking you questions.

As an example of this, one manager on a self-development group could not forget something his previous boss had said. This was still unresolved, and was causing him considerable difficulty. Once he had realised this he was able, in effect to say "Go away, I am no longer at your beck and call", thereby clearing up this "unfinished business". Another common example is if you are carrying, in your consciousness, somebody who has died such as a parent, or child, or friend. Very often there is unfinished business, in the form of some sort of statement to that person's memory, that needs to be carried out. Often this is associated with guilt, which needs to be dissolved. A very useful book in this context is P. Krystal: Cutting the ties that bind (Wellingborough, Turnstone Press, 1982).

In the biography approach, then, questions and statements from other people can be identified by:

(1) noting all the people in your consciousness, which therefore includes people who are important to you, even if they are not there physically;

(2) looking at the nature of your relationship with them:

- how did the relationship get like this?
- was it always like this?
- what do you think about the relationship?
- how do you feel about it?
- what would you like to do about it?

(3) asking yourself:

- what are these people saying to me?
- what are they asking me?

possibly checking this out with the people concerned, if you are not sure;

(4) asking yourself:

- is there anything I want to say to them?
- is there anything I want to ask them?

After going though this sequence - events, phases, themes, questions and issues coming your way, you are then ready to move to the next part of the self-assessment process (chapter 2).

At first sight the biography approach to self-assessment is one of those which you would not be likely to do often, or continuously. In a way this is true, but you will very probably find that having done it once, you will gain a lot by coming back to it from time to time. For example, you may well suddenly start remembering different events, or recognising other phases.

Over a period of time you will probably spot new themes, too. These might be quite new ones, or you might see old ones in a new light, changing their character.

Also, of course, other peoples' questions might change - both different questions from the same people, and new questions from new people who, you realise, are now in your consciousness.

Incidentally, you might want to compare your own biography with the developmental issues typically faced during different age-phases, as shown in chapter 9.