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Confessions of a Reformed Manager: Seven principles for becoming a good manager
Few are born great managers. But these seven principles -- know yourself, share yourself, practice servant leadership, manage the whole person, thrive on feedback, check in with your intentions, and correct mistakes fast -- helped me to become a better one.
Another one walked out the door. With him, $25,000 in recruitment fees, $3,000 in relocation expenses and a $31,000 learning curve went down the drain. Clients became uneasy, employee morale suffered and my firm's ability to recruit top talent was negatively impacted. My management style was costing my firm money and it was exacting an emotional toll on me. Taking each departure personally, I was beginning to feel like a failure. Like so many young managers, I had been bumped up into management because I was a good producer. No one had considered that production and management require two different skill sets, and that those skill sets are often at odds with one another. I wanted to be a good manager. I took management courses, read a plethora of self-help books and hired a management coach, but I still hadn't hit on the right formula for management. Totally ill equipped for my new role, I continued to make mistake after mistake. It wasn't until I looked at myself that I got it. First, I had tried to control my employees. Then, I had tried to motivate them, but only when I sought to inspire them did I become a good manager. It was a principle so simple that I had missed it. Good management is not built upon behavior modification, manipulation or motivation; it is grounded in intention. Instead of searching for the right combination of words and actions to produce desired behaviors, I began to put my employees' needs first and truly care about them as people. Together we worked toward the company's goals while meeting our individual needs. Good management is not linear. Like the imagination, it is fluid, flexible and creative. While I found no set rules to becoming a good manager, I did discover seven principles that helped me grow into management. Good managers know themselves. Good managers know their strengths and weaknesses, and they understand their management styles. A clue to identifying our management styles can be found by examining our relationships with our parents. Once I looked at my relationship with my father, I discovered why my employees were unhappy. I had adopted his impersonal, authoritarian style. Good managers share themselves, as well as their knowledge. When I train executives in presentation skills, I encourage them to be themselves. The best presenters are those who share their souls with their audiences, and good managers are no different. Sharing our souls does not mean becoming close intimate friends with those we manage. It does mean, however, allowing employees access to our lives. Employees want to know their managers as people, too. Share yourself, but don't share your moods. Employees crave consistency and calm from managers, especially in crises. At no time do managers show their true colors more than in crisis. I ran red. Adrenaline surged through my blood when faced with crisis. While I was super-productive, I put the office in a hyper-frenzy. By staying grounded, I could get as much done without electrifying the office. Good management is servant leadership. At its simplest, servant leadership recognizes great leaders are humble servants. Servant leaders manage from the soul and not the ego. My job was not to do the job, but to get the job done right and that meant ensuring my people had the tools, training, encouragement and trust they needed. By serving them, I met my goals. Good managers manage the whole person. I used to look on my employees as machines, seeing them only as a means to get the job done instead of the people they were. When I began to look at the whole person, I began to become a good manager. Being a good manager doesn't mean liking every employee. While I have not liked every person I have managed, I have cared about each one. As managers, it is important to recognize we cannot separate our employees' work lives from their personal ones anymore than we can separate our own. I also learned how to utilize employees' strengths and support their weaknesses. No employee has it all. Our job as managers is to create personalized environments for employees in which they can thrive. Years ago, I hired a senior consultant who was one of the most creative people I knew and had a Rolodex as large as a car tire. Still, she could not manage traditional public relations accounts. After trial and error, she became "a marketing matchmaker" setting up strategic meetings between companies sharing similar marketing objectives. Her division quickly became one of the agency's most profitable, and she remained a loyal employee. Good managers thrive on feedback. Key to becoming a good manager is 360-degree feedback. Good managers put ego aside, ask for constructive feedback and act upon it. One of the worse things a manager can do is ask for feedback and not act upon it. At my old firm, employees filled out "How Am I Doing?" surveys on their managers. To encourage candid feedback, responses were confidential and compiled by an outside source. From the feedback, managers were encouraged to select no more than three areas for improvement, develop a plan, and share that plan with their employees. Good managers constantly check in with their intentions. Good managers focus on intentions over outcomes. One employee had been with the firm for close to seven years. We changed her job description several times to present new challenges and capitalize on her strengths. But as the agency matured, it became apparent we no longer had a place for her. Over lunch, I learned she was unhappy, and although she wanted to move on, she was afraid. That afternoon, we mapped out a plan that made sense for her and for the agency, set a completion goal of three months, and agreed to meet periodically. Today, she is the director of marketing for a large professional service firm. She is happy and challenged and looks back on her agency days fondly. When good managers make mistakes, they correct them fast. Even with the right intentions, we all make hiring mistakes. When we do, we need to correct them fast. Again, if our intention is pure, we can make this transition humanely and with a minimum of disruption to the operation. Few are born great managers. But these seven principles -- know yourself, share yourself, practice servant leadership, manage the whole person, thrive on feedback, check in with your intentions, and correct mistakes fast -- helped me to become a better one.