I started preparing to be a manager and true leader three years ago. Unfortunately, I started my career as a manager years before that.
In the years before my management maturity, I was called some nasty names! I was a nice person. I cared about our people. I loved getting an after work drink with the team. I also had impossible expectations. I managed from my stress level. I was emotionally illiterate and I could not see that I was raising a team to be as unhappy as me. We were marginal. We were stressed. We were on a path that focused on struggling instead of seizing opportunity.
Things are very different now. Most of our team success is because we have cultivated a collection of amazing individuals; but some of our success can be attributed to a few things I learned along the path to management maturity.
Communication Is Not on Your Terms
The start of my maturity came with a Kolbe evaluation that measured my natural instincts. It confirmed what most already knew to be true about me, but the real gem of this evaluation was what I learned about communication. When talking about an issue or a dilemma I want all of the facts. I don’t need a face-to-face interaction, but I do need information. On the other hand, a risk taker or quick decision maker will shut down the minute you start droning on about the details. They may do a silent choke at hearing “Let me think about that and get back with you.”
I realized this most when I kept feeling rubbed the wrong way by a new hire. I thought about the personality traits she was presenting and the style in which she was communicating and I realized she was just like me! She wasn’t questioning my authority; she just needed all the facts for her own comfort level!
I began altering the way I approached each team member based on the way they approached me. In meeting them at their instinctual style, we gelled and understood each other’s needs better.
It may not feel kind, but I quickly learned you couldn’t keep everyone. The people you keep on your team need to be capable and open to learning; but most important is that they need to believe in and fully invest in your team’s goals. I learned that when every team member believes the others are working equally and diligently, they would do whatever they could to help each other to achieve team success. As soon as any single team member started to fall off track, the entire team’s production and supportive attitude started falling apart. For the good of the team, clean house and keep it clean.
Your Time is About Their Goals
I used to take pride in being the best at whatever measure of success we had. I believed the true way to manage was to set a superior example. If I can do it, you can do it.
A leader’s job is not to perform the work; it is to facilitate the work. Now I spend my time checking in with the team. I ask how I can help and where they are stuck. I ask what tools they need or I share my experience to help them break through a problem. I give them the projects that I would really like to do. I research tools and solutions, or just offer to do the boring tasks. They began learning from me because we were working together. This made me their ally and not their competitor. Most surprisingly is that once I established this as our culture, they started helping each other in the same ways.
Take the Hit for Them
It is inevitable that each of us will make a mistake at some point. My manager used to pass along complaints and leave me to deal with it alone. It made me gun shy to make decisions on gray areas and I never felt as if I could trust her completely. I will admit, in my early management days I would do the same thing when I was already feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Things are different now. I ask that all complaints, from within and outside the company, be delivered to me first. I let clients vent their concerns and I use that time to mend fences with them. Ultimately, any error is my responsibility. I accept the problem and I relay the information to each team member as needed in a kind and constructive manner.
The team has expressed gratitude in not having to deal with difficult clients and that I support their actions when the correct path was not clear. It makes them more willing to take risks and they spend their time working instead of apologizing.
Unless it truly isn’t appropriate, an employee gets bad news first. If they have to be downgraded on a metric or evaluation, I will have that difficult conversation before it makes any company reports. If things get bad enough that I have to report problems up the line, that team member will already know exactly what is happening and what will be conveyed.
If our team is facing abnormal challenges, we talk about it before it can become gossip. If someone has been fired, the team will know as soon as appropriate and they will be told why so that they can either be at ease or know where to sharpen their commitment.
Your Attitude is Their Attitude
A rather smart business coach, ahem…from this site, pointed out that my level of personal perfectionism was certainly being interpreted as my expectation for everyone. Further, my stress level was certainly setting the tone for the team.
I made a huge effort to chill out for myself and for my team. It did not happen overnight. I still have to remind myself daily that we are not an emergency room and that the decisions we make are not life and death. Sometimes deadlines are arbitrary. Sometimes we have to alter our expectations in favor of reasonableness. My new motto is: “Have faith that focusing on the important things and staying committed are enough to get the job done.”
And it is! We produce more than we ever have in the past and the team is more relaxed and happier than ever.
Our team does well because we have great members. Our team works exceptionally because we have been gelled under a supportive and trusting environment. This is the type of management maturity that drives good teams and team members.