It’s often said that people leave managers, not companies. I would argue that both are equally important. I would never stay at a company whose culture was so misaligned and dysfunctional, even if I loved the one person to whom I reported. At the same time, I would never stay at a great company if my boss was making my life miserable.
However, while one person alone can rarely change a company, a company can influence and change one person. Books, mentoring, training, seminars… all of these are readily available and yet rarely taken advantage of by the firm on behalf of the employee.
I don’t think bad managers are bad people… they are just individuals promoted into managerial positions without the benefit of management training. Just because they are extraordinary at their previous desk job does not ensure they will be great team leaders in their next role. Previous excellence does not always translate. So most of us end up thrown into the proverbial fire with lackadaisical support and emergency on-the-job training, and I will tell you from personal experience, I failed miserably at this when I was given the opportunity to manage an amazingly talented team of 6 when I was 32 years old. It wasn’t from lack of intelligence, passion, effort, or sheer will power. I just didn’t have the tool kit to cope with the one new, ever changing, and remarkably unstable variable in the equation… people! And several of them!
Data shows that 60% of new managers fail within the first few years – what a dismal and depressing statistic (especially at a time when recruiting and retention is more important than ever!). Knowing that, what if your firm proactively incorporated a management and leadership development program before they promoted someone to a supervisory position? Simple and revolutionary.
Here’s my confession. I am not a naturally good or great manager. However, I recognize that managing my staff of 14 is the single most important responsibility I have every day, and I take it very seriously. I need help to be successful. And lucky for me, I have a secret weapon.
Her name is Edie Harrison of LJA Engineering.
What I love most about really powerful seminars is when I walk away with specific and relatable changes I can make to my day or behavior to have the most immediate impact. Here are Edie’s top five items that are easy, actionable, and can be done right now. They all relate to “how” we can communicate better in order to lead, follow, and delegate to ensure our entire team succeeds.
Simple and revolutionary. Exactly!
Action 1: Stop by your direct report’s (DR) work area early each morning and ask them, “What’s the most helpful thing I can do for you today?”
Result: This lets them know you are in it with them, have their back, and understand their challenges. For them, it has the added benefit of thinking through their day and prioritizing. It helps them determine what is important when you say “most helpful.” How many times have you asked a DR, “What can I do for you?” – and they do not have much to say, but then you see them struggling? Often it is because the question is too vague... ”most helpful” makes the question more specific and will drive clearer answers and results.
Action 2: Set aside 15 minutes at the end of each week and ask your DRs four questions: What went well for you this week? What was a challenge this week? What small thing did you learn this week (about anything)? What are the three big things that need to be taken care of next week?
Result: By asking these questions, it gives you a chance to praise them specifically about what went well, coach them through a challenge, reinforce lifelong learning – for you and them – and teach them to prioritize tasks while keeping you keyed in to what is going on with projects… fewer things slip through the cracks, and you will not be blindsided later on. It also helps you to keep track of all their successes for their annual review/performance appraisal!
Action 3: Delegate!!! It often seems easier not to delegate, as we think we can do the “thing” quicker and better… but if we don’t delegate, we wear ourselves out and do not help our DRs grow their skills. When you delegate, lay out the parameters of what you want to delegate to the person: what needs to be done – big picture, timelines, costs allowed, resources they can use, expected quality of the product. Set up a schedule to meet with that person often and consistently to ask them the same questions you would ask in the 15-minute weekly meetings, but this time, relate those questions directly to the project you delegated.
Result: You help ensure they know what good looks like and how they are doing compared to what you need; they grow individually in their critical thinking skills; and together the team succeeds!
Action 4: Take the words “why” and “caused” out of your vocabulary and replace them with “what led” when you want to know what went wrong with something one of your DRs may have messed up or what went right with something they did well. The minute we say “why” it builds a little wall that makes people defensive, and when they are defensive, it keeps them from listening and exploring. Instead of, “Why did you do that?” ask, “What specific step do you think may have led to that”? or “What part of the process may have unintentionally created the issue?” or “What one thing do you think led us to this success?
Result: This depersonalizes the conversation in a good way because it leads the DR to discover where in the process the breakdown occurred or where in the process the success emerged. Words matter! This small change in your vocabulary helps your DR grow and learn from both mistakes and successes.
Action 5: Encourage conflict. To get the best product, we need our DRs to poke holes in our work. At the beginning of a project, ask your team the following questions to stay ahead of the game: What would good look like for this project? What might get in our way as we try to make that happen? What parts can you help me with? What parts should I take on? What might I (the manager) do or not do that could cause this to go wrong? FYI – this also works great when things do go wrong. Ask… what would good have looked like? What got in the way? What did I do or not do that may have caused this to happen? What can each of us do to get it back on track?
Result: This helps your DRs hone real decision-making skills. It also allows them to see, in action, that you trust them and are looking for honest feedback, which always ensures a better product in the end and a better process the next time.
I love managing my team, and I am committed to putting in the effort it takes to be a better leader – for them and for me.
As a manager yourself, focus on your own education and improvement. It is crucial. The next generation is the future of your company and legacy, and you have a hand in that. Leading them is a great privilege.
As a firm, invest in your managers – potential, new, and established. Make them better and stronger, and they will move your company and culture in the right direction.