In a previous blog I discussed the value of an appreciative workplace. It is important to understand the responsibility for creating this goes in both directions. Not only do employers benefit from recognizing their employees as human beings, so too do the employees benefit from recognizing their bosses as human.
It’s true that not everyone is humble enough or earnest enough or curious enough to learn to be the very best kind of manager, but everyone has the potential to go a considerable distance from wherever they start. But if someone’s going to improve at anything then we can be certain that there are better ways to do many of the things they’re doing now. If a manager’s always only stating what should be done and not asking what could be done, we’re only making use of the manager’s brain rather than the entire staff’s.
Employees will benefit from seeing the workplace for what it is: a growing, changing organism. Part of those changes will include the fact that most managers travel very similar, predictable routes that build on their progressive experiences. The route for every single manager will include much trial and error. Employees should respect that the error portions of the journey are just as important to the growth of the manager as the successful choices. Yes it can be frustrating to encounter. But your own growth might be frustrating from the manager’s perspective at times as well, so patience on both sides is useful. Despite what employees most often think, management is a much more challenging job than can be seen from below. The bottom line is, new managers will get a lot wrong simply because they don’t have any experience and we learn from experience.
The first problem arises with the idea of who is promoted. Very few companies recognize Management as an independent area of expertise. This means it is seen more like a ladder that mirrors salary, rather than an area where there should be a distinct skill set. So rather than management being above production accounting and sales, it’s healthiest when it’s management alongside production, accounting, and sales, with the management facilitating the work of the other departments. But the reason the top-down, quasi-military, performer-based system still operates is simply because the people currently doing the choosing were chosen on the same incorrect basis that they will base their choices on. Etc.
How this starts is that, for most companies, when someone first gets promoted it will usually be because they did very good work. But if an accounting firm promotes its best forensic accountant, then it will immediately get worse at forensic accounting because their top guy will now be managing people rather than looking for patterns in numbers. Now if that guy also happens to be excellent at teaching others how to spot those patterns, then he is the man for the job because he can expand the company’s success by increasing its overall capabilities. But without that ability to teach he’s better to be heading projects rather than managing people.
So that’s where most managers start; they manage the work. They got promoted because they were good at the work, so it does sort of make sense that their first idea is to show you how they did that work. But they’re them and you’re you, so a lot of that won’t really work. The better managers realize that it’s not working and they ask why. Then they either learn it from a book or someone like me, or they learn from unpleasant direct experience. But eventually they figure out that everyone approaches things from their own unique angle. And you can’t force that angle through authority. You have to learn how to get to know it. So rather than telling someone how to be, a good boss can help you grow by learning about who you are, and then by showing you how to apply your nature to your work.
While all of this is going on, it is important to remember that your boss is feeling pressure from their boss. So they’re not at 0dds with you. They’re genuinely trying to get good results. But you can’t blame them for innocence. If they’ve never done it before, just because they have the title doesn’t mean all of the knowledge gets downloaded into their head like some scene from The Matrix. When I’m meeting with a manager I’m sharing 30 years worth of management experience. 30 years worth of hiring people, firing them, disciplining them, motivating them etc. etc. etc. And I made a ton of mistakes. To expect them to know what I discovered over that much time is as unreasonable as the manager expecting the employees to be entirely consistent despite the ups and downs of life. It’s obviously impossible.
Good managers generally move from managing the work, to managing the company’s interests, to realizing that the employees are the actual generators of the income, and so there is then a focus on the employees. The final step is taken when there is an understanding that each employee requires individualized management based on their personality and learning type. Some people are auditory learners some are visual learners some are kinetic learners. Some are philosophical about their work, others see it in basic steps. No one is wrong but they all must be addressed accordingly. In the end it’s not like commanding dogs, it’s more like herding cats.
As Managers learn to herd their cats, they must take a journey to experience and expertise. To get there, the employees must be the forgiving lot that travels along with them. Just as we needed to learn our jobs, they need to learn theirs. They can’t just know it because someone gave them a title. That’s just not how it works.
It takes experience and awareness to hone an effective manager. But when you get one—or if you see one that has that potential—stick with them. Because you know those really inspiring school teachers you’ll never forget? Well a really good manager is just like that. They’ll bring out the best in you. So if you don’t have one now, see if you can be patient enough to help yours become one. Because a good boss can make work an enjoyable place to be. And that would be better for both of you.
Enjoy your day.