I began managing people almost four decades ago when I was in my mid -the 20s. I probably wasn’t quite ready for it. But then again, you’re never quite ready to lead until you do it, are you?
Henry Mintzberg once observed, “The great myth is the manager as an orchestra conductor.
It’s this idea of standing on a pedestal, and you wave your baton and accounting come in, and you wave it somewhere else, and marketing chimes in with accounting, and they all sound very glorious.”
“But,” he continues, “management is more like orchestra conducting during rehearsals when everything is going wrong.”
In other words, leading people never turn out like you think it will. People, events and other factors often surprise you. That’s why the most important thing you do as a manager is to learn.
In judging other people, we need to pay attention not to what they promise but to how they behave.
Past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.
The three components of happiness are:
* something to do
* someone to love
* something to look forward to
We love someone when the importance of his or her needs and desires rises to the level of our own.
Management is not about building and executing plans but, as Mintzberg suggests, the art of guiding teams through plans going awry.
Here’s what I’ve learned about this interesting topic.
Managing people … a tough task
Managing a staff of employees – with their diverse personalities, responsibilities, ambitions and pet peeves – can sometimes feel a bit like nailing Jell-O to the wall.
And at small companies, where every single employee needs to pull their weight to move the business along, it can feel like nailing Jell-O to a wall and then try to balance a cat on it.
Hire For Curiosity And Temperament
One of the most crucial things a business leader does is hire people. So when I started out as a manager, I sought out candidates with impressive credentials, hard working people who went to top schools, scored high on aptitude tests and had impressive resumes.
I also designed compensation schemes and retention practices to motivate individual performance.
However, recent studies show that high-value work is increasingly done not by individuals, but teams and those teams are increasing in size.
Moreover, other research demonstrates that diverse teams outperform those that are more homogenous even if the more uniform units are made up of people with higher ability.
The truth is, you don’t need the best people, you need the best teams. That’s why I eventually realized that the best attributes to look for are curiosity and temperament.
A curious person can learn just about anything they set their minds to, and if they have the temperament to work within a team, they can achieve far more than a high powered arrogant jerk.
Getting out of the way
The best advice I have received and believed in is to hire great people, share your vision for the company, provide clear direction and expectations, then get out of the way so they can do their best work.
Always be available to support each person on your team but encourage autonomy, creativity, and risk-taking.
Rehabilitate all micromanagers … or replace them if you can’t save them……because they will kill all autonomy, creativity, and risk-taking and force your best people to leave.
Learn to get rid of the ‘bad’ apples
Once you begin to understand that performance relies on teams rather than individuals, it becomes clear that you need to change not only how you hire, but how you fire.
After about five years of managing people, I began to suspect that I should fire nasty people, even if they seemed to be high performers.
The prime motivator
Many managers spend a lot of time and energy designing compensation schemes to incentivize performance.
As Daniel Pink explains in Drive, decades of studies show incentive pay often decreases productivity, especially for tasks that require creative thinking.
He argues that the best way to motivate them is to give them opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Some very successful companies have put dignity at the center of how they run their business. Zappos pays its employees a bonus to leave after a training period because the firm realizes how important it is that people want to work there. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman suggests that managers treat staff as allies, rather than underlings.
Be happy but never complacent. A key driver of our success has been a constant improvement. Each day, we improve some aspect of the business.
When you take daily improvement steps, you end up covering a lot of ground over time.
Taking a different viewpoint
Easier said than done, I know. But there may be reasons why a certain person is hard to manage.
Has he or she always been this way, or may new external factors be contributing? Is there anything in your management style (hard to imagine, I know!) that could be triggering an oppositional response?
There were times, for example, I was unnecessarily micromanaging people and was completely unaware I was doing it… until it was (entirely accurately) pointed out to me.
If you can look at a problematic situation holistically and gain insights into why someone is acting the way he or she is, that can lead you to a constructive solution.
Being wrong is OK
Probably the most important thing a manager does is make decisions. When I was leading an organization of 800 people, I routinely had to make decisions that not one of those 800 people — many of whom were extremely talented and intelligent — could answer on their own. I didn’t necessarily know any better than they did, but it was my job to make the decision.
I like to think that I got it right more than I got it wrong, but the truth is that when you have to make tough decisions about complex issues, you are going to come up short a certain percentage of the time. When that happens, you are going to get a lot of blame, and you’re going to have to clean up the mess.
What makes these mistakes even more painful is that, whatever choice you make, there will always be people who were pushing for another course of action. In fact, the lack of consensus about what to do is often the reason you had to make the decision in the first place. Making mistakes with substantial consequences is simply part of your job.
Let me give an example.
On one occasion I was struggling to engage the audience. Maybe I was having an off day. Maybe they were having an off day.
Or maybe the fact every one of the 100 people in attendance was a CEO, an executive, or the owner of a medium to large business meant they were way more accustomed to being listened to than they were in listening.
So I took a different approach. “In one sentence, what is the key to leading people?” I asked.
Throwaway question? Absolutely. I knew no one would answer.
That was the point.
So I asked the question and then paused to read the room. Some people looked down. Some looked away. As I expected, no one was going to answer. Cool.
I was about to speak when a voice broke the silence.
“I think I know,” a man sitting in the back corner said, somewhat hesitantly.
A few heads turned in his direction.
Mine did too because I was a little surprised and a lot concerned. Shoot, I thought, now I’ve stepped in it.
He’s about to whip out some leadership cliché or channel his inner John Maxwell or Stephen Covey. I started scrambling to figure out how to recover from the dead end I had created.
So I was only half-listening as he said, fairly quietly, “No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them.”
“Can you repeat that?” I said.
Some heads slowly turned in his direction.
“We think we have all the answers, and maybe we do, but that doesn’t matter. No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them,” he repeated.
I stared. More heads turned in his direction.
He took the silence in the auditorium as disagreement.
“No, really,” he said, starting to sound more confident.
“Yeah we’re in charge and yeah we talk about targets and goals and visions, but our employees don’t care about any of that stuff for very long. We can communicate and engage and connect all we want, but no one listens to us.
They just smile and nod and go back to doing their jobs the way they always do.
“Our employees don’t care about what we want them to do until they know how much we care about them.
When an employee knows–truly knows–that you care about them, then they care about you. And when they know you care, they will listen to you… and they will do anything for you.”
The best answer I ever received, hands down.
The bottom line
Human beings are hardwired to connect. While some creativity is achieved in moments of isolation, managers are well-advised to create a socially smart workplace.
They can do so by making an investment in the people who work for them. Managers should have a vested interest in taking a vested interest in their employees.
Part of that is creating a team environment. People are more driven when they are a part of a team and tend to feel a more personal investment in the company’s success.
As a group, they often express an elevated level of intelligence.
As a manager, you should be encouraging a team environment; you should also be regarding of your employees as individuals.
Instead of seeing them as cogs in a machine, you are far better off looking at what each person offers and how you can maximize the quality of that person’s work life.
As managers, we can learn to be mindful in our decisions, policies, and practices. The best way to start is by thinking about what our values are and choosing to live by them.
If all of us were to do this in each of our interactions, we would find that our attitude is contagious. Amazingly so, yes?
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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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