I am a somewhat new manager in the law office of a large government agency. I stepped into my new role after my boss left. The pay raise was negligible and my workload has tripled, but I figure it’s good experience.
Here’s my question. I had an epiphany last week: my new direct reports—there are seven of them—are not like me. I have been managing them the way I like to be managed, and it’s not working at all. I think I know why it isn’t working, but maybe you could help me to understand how I can make it work.
After the Epiphany
Dear After the Epiphany,
First of all, thanks for making me laugh out loud. I am not laughing at you—well, wait; I might be, but just a little. It’s only because so many managers never have your epiphany and because it is such a wonder when someone does get it. And for you to get it at the beginning of your management career is such a gift. My husband calls your pre-epiphany state BLMS: “Be Like Me Syndrome.” Because, generally, we all tend to see everyone through the lens of our own experience, temperament, and skills. So just the fact that you have had this epiphany gets you halfway there. I am actually dying to know how it came to you. What caused the insight?
Now to answer your question. Most people are promoted to a management role because they are very good at their jobs. And most of those new managers get no training on how to manage. Here is a fun if somewhat terrifying infographic on that research. It’s a great mystery to me how anyone thinks being good at a job will make you good at managing people. And yet, I’ve made the mistake myself. One possible reason is that we all tend to engage in magical or wishful thinking. We think “Oh, Ben is so competent and such a hard worker, he would be a great manager!” Some people, like you, get the memo and figure it out for themselves. But many don’t, as seen in the research and certainly in my inbox.
So. You were obviously great at your former job and your bosses clearly had faith that you were able to handle a crushing workload, which is probably why they promoted you. Capacity for hard work is certainly a reasonable ante to be considered for promotion, but it shouldn’t the only one. Regardless, you are in the job and you’re right, the experience will be invaluable. So let’s get you set up to win.
To be a great manager, you must become a student of human nature and the human condition. It is a lifelong course of study. One consolation for the additional study on top of the already crushing workload is that you will hopefully be the wiser, more patient, and generous for it.
Where to start to become a student of your people? I have four tips. You don’t have to tackle all of these in order, but they are in the order of the stuff I wish someone had told me before I started managing people (and to all of those folks who worked for me 30 years ago, I am sorry). This is going to be a lot, so I would recommend that you set up your course of study over a long period of time. Break it down into small chunks and take it slow. As you go, you will find new topics to add to your list—so it will never end—but you will get the fundamentals first.
Temperament: You realize that your people are not like you. Great. The next step is to understand exactly how they are not like you, and to use that insight to modify your communication and style with each person. There are a ton of different models to help you do this. I have learned Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Enneagram, and Temperaments. To me, the simplest and easiest to apply is Temperaments—specifically, the work of Linda Berens. You can identify your own style, how it is different from each of your direct reports’ styles, why it matters, and what to do about it. If you do only this, you will be ahead of the game. It will help you understand specifically what drives and motivates each of your employees, and that will vastly increase your understanding of what they need from you and what rubs them the wrong way.
Don’t try to read minds: Do you know what each of your people is best at? And what they love to do? And how they like to be managed? It doesn’t have to be a big mystery—you can ask them. Create a questionnaire for each of your people to fill out; possibly something like this:
- If you could organize your ideal workday, what would that look like? What would you spend the most time on? What would you not have to do at all if you had a choice?
- How do you think you add the most value to the team and the organization?Tell me about the best boss you ever had—what did they do/not do? What qualities did they have that made them the best boss?
- Tell me about the worst boss you ever had—what made them so terrible? What did they do/not do?
- What is the best job you ever had? What did you love about it?
- What are your pet peeves—the dumb little things other people do that drive you nuts?
- How do you like to be recognized/rewarded?
- What is your superpower? What can you do blindfolded, walking backwards, with your hands tied behind your back? Are you able to use it in your job currently? If not, do you have ideas about how you might be able to?
- Would you be willing to give me feedback on my leadership style? If not, what might I do to change that?
- Do you have short-term or long-term career goals I should know about?
- Is there anything else you want me to know?
The key is to make sure people understand that you won’t be able to give them exactly what they want/need all the time, but that you’ll make an effort to keep what they tell you in mind. You also need to be sure that you’ll never, ever use what someone tells you against them.
SLII®: Learn and use a management model that is simple, straightforward, and foolproof. Honestly, I cannot fathom how I managed people before I learned SLII®. Here is an e-book that will walk you through it. Here is the gist of it:
- Every employee has tasks and goals they are expected to work on.
- For each task and goal, each employee has achieved a certain level of development. Development is a combination of competence to accomplish the task and confidence in their ability to do the task.
- The manager’s job is to flex their leadership style according to each employee’s development level on each task. Style is a mix of direction and support.
- Manager and employee have regular 1×1 meetings to go over tasks and goals, to assess their development levels on each one, and to make it easy for the employee to ask for more direction if needed, or more support if needed.
Simple, right? Yes, and it does suppose that everyone is crystal clear about exactly what tasks and goals they are supposed to be focused on. This first step alone is a stumbling block for so many. It is absolutely staggering how many people are not at all clear about what is expected of them or how to prioritize, so you might want to start there. Ask each of your people to list their tasks and goals in order of priority. You might be surprised to see some things on the list that don’t belong there, and others (that you see as mission critical) that are MIA. Once both of you are on the same page about each task, it is important that you paint the picture of exactly what a good job looks like to you. You can’t read their minds and they definitely can’t read yours. Then, if you have evidence that your employee has done the task before, you can let them go do it. If it is the first time they have ever done it, you will need checkpoints so you can assess understanding and provide redirection before it is too late.
It does take time to set things up at the beginning—but as Ken Blanchard says, if you set things up correctly in the beginning, the end takes care of itself. The beauty of SLII® is that it will keep you from micromanaging when you don’t need to, or letting people flounder when they think they know what to do, but don’t. It is hard for most people to ask for help, especially from a whippersnapper new kid. If you have a training budget, I encourage you to take an SLII® class if you can. It will make a huge difference to your life as a boss.
Communicate your expectations: Finally, you need to be clear with your people about your expectations. If you can’t stand for people to be late, tell them. If you need to see a certain number of work hours a day, tell them. If you expect work with no errors, tell them. Whatever your standards are, tell them. Choose your battles but do draw the lines clearly. Remember that your people are not you, and they will probably not hold themselves to the standards you hold yourself to. That’s OK. If they did, they would be making the big bucks, hahaha. So choose the things that really matter to you, and tell them.
The first job of a manager is to make sure the work gets done while doing no harm to the people doing it. Your people really need to know that you are paying attention, that you care, and that you have their backs. It will take you a while to weave all of this into the job—but if you take it one step at a time, it is doable. And worth it.
Aren’t you glad you asked?
About the Author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 16,000 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.