Let's start with your acceptance that you are either a little crappy or completely crappy. You realize that you have most likely lost accountability with your staff, maybe even with your supervisor, and feel like you are in a hole so deep you might never dig your way out. Have no fear. Every epic journey taken begins with one small step. This one is no different.
Before we get to the changing part, I should probably outline some basic qualities of a good manager so you know what ballpark you are going to be playing in. This will help you going forward with developing your own personal management style.
- Good managers understand that their success is dependent upon the success of their employees
- Good managers understand that they are at least 50% responsible for the success of their employees
- Good managers understand that they are at least 50% responsible for the failure of their employees
- Good managers know that it is better to manage individuals than to set policies for a team
- Good managers do not punish good performers by allowing bad performers to perform badly
- Good managers know that the time to address a problem is immediately
- Good managers understand that they must be accountable to their team for their mistakes
- Good managers mentor and direct their employees to improve and work toward career goals/promotions
Clearly, these are generalities because to get any more detailed, I would need to know industry, number of employees, how many people a specific manager supervises, etc. So let's just go with this general outline of these eight rules. I call them The Magic Eight.
I am not presently a manager, but I am in the midst of consulting several. An essential truth is that it is rarely important what industry you are in. Managing comes down to relationships. My management style is very direct. Frankly, for a lot of people, maybe a little too direct, but I rely upon my people to let me know when I am stepping over the line. That is the other great thing about being a manager. If you can accurately assess yourself, you can hire people who will compliment your skills beautifully.
For instance, at a management job that I held in Portland several years back I was able to hire two people to compliment me in different ways:
Employee number one, we'll call him Frank, had over fifteen years experience in a position very similar to the one that he was applying for. He knew the job inside and out, and I had no doubt that he had the skill set that I was looking for. There are two big reasons I hired Frank, and they both pertained directly to my own weaknesses.
- At that point I was very unorganized. Frank had spent many years managing a bead shop. This takes a high level of organization that I knew would make up for this specific weakness. It also turned out that I learned a lot from him about organization that greatly benefited my career.
- I am thick skinned and very assertive. Very often, I upset people and I have no idea that I have done so unless I am told. I have been called a "force of nature", a "bulldozer", even a "bull in a china shop". In his interview, he asked if a person interviewing with me was my boss. He happened not to be, but the fact that he had picked up on this gentleman's attitude and asked about it spoke to his boldness. I knew it would benefit me to have an employee who could be that direct.
Employee number two, we'll call her Mary, had over five years experience in the position she was applying for. She was incredibly well groomed, carried herself well, and was very proper. The job she was applying for was high-stress but social. There was one reason I hired Mary. Her sweetness. It came through in the interview, and I knew that her temperament would balance my, well, my propensity to be a bit harsh. I can vividly recall going to a meeting one day and hearing her call after me, "remember to be nice!" It was a wonderful way to go to a meeting, as well as a nice reminder, of which I was sorely in need.
So, there you go. I benefited from understanding my weaknesses because it put me in a position to address them in a constructive manner. Being a manager is not a destination, it is a process that you must constantly work on. There will always be challenges and opportunities. Most often it is a change in mindset that has to happen in order for you to truly manage like a badass. Here are five things I would start with. They take time, so make sure and allow for as much time as you need to work on them. Your whole life would be a good place to start.
One thing you might want to do before you begin working on improving is to recognize whether or not you even want to manage people. If you are not interested in having hard conversations with people about accountability, management is most likely not for you. If you feel like you do not have it in you to be honest about your failures to your staff and be responsible for improving, management is most likely not for you. It is very important to recognize whether or not you are manager material. Not everyone is, and that is okay. It is just time for you to move on to another profession. Make plans and do so. You will be so much happier if you choose to take care of yourself in this way.
Second, take a good look at your strengths and abilities. Make a list of what you do well and what you do not do well. Divide that list into things you can learn and things you can delegate. This is a huge part of management. As illustrated above, your employees are your teachers as much as you are theirs. Learn from them. Use them to make you better. They are your resource as much as you are theirs.
Next, find out what each employee needs from you. This conversation is best completed on an individual basis. This will be tough because it could lead to a bit of venting about your past failures. Do not to take it personally. This information is gold because it will help you grow as a manager and a person. Listen with an ear toward improvement, and stay out of the victim mindset. Your employees might need to vent. It is best to let them. Do not get defensive, do not argue. After they let off steam, ask them what it is they need from you. That is the sweet spot. If it is doable, make an action plan with a schedule for feedback and completion. Make sure to thank them for trusting you with the information they have provided. It takes courage to be honest with your boss about what you need, it is a risk that should be rewarded with authentic gratitude.
Number four, I suggest that you get to know each of your employee's strengths and weaknesses. While doing so, make sure to emphasize that weaknesses are not a bad thing, they are just an item to keep in mind when creating a team, much like strengths. Find out if they would like to improve their weaknesses or if they would rather learn a new skill. (Sometimes it is not worth it to improve on a person's weakness as it is due to disinterest.) Match employees up with people within your department and even in other departments if possible so that they can work together in complimentary ways and even learn from each other.
Number five, find a manager who is good at managing and develop a professional relationship with that person. Do this by offering help to them in some manner, offer them a free lunch or cup of coffee, anything that can give you an opportunity to talk with them about management style. It is usually best if this is not your boss, unless you have the kind of relationship that enables you to be completely honest with him about your management style. It is always good to get advice from someone who is less invested in your success, so that the advice is not emotional in nature.
That is it. I go much deeper into these suggestions in my upcoming book, Work like a Badass. In that book, I give step-by-step instructions for how to handle these types of interactions. The reality is that this type of thing takes practice and a bit of training. Requesting training on this type of communication will serve you no matter where you are in your career.
Stay tuned next Friday for the fourth and final installment of this management series. It will illustrate how great it is to be a manager and all of the ways your whole life can improve if you do it right.
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