As someone who has been a manager and also someone who has been managed, I can safely say with no reservations that we need stronger leadership in companies all over, and I’m looking to you to help. I recently wrote about what I wish I knew as a young manager, and a lot of it (and then some) is relevant here.
And it doesn’t end with my experience. In fact, that’s only the beginning. The work I do on a daily basis with my clients is largely comprised of navigating situations where weak, inconsistent, head-in-the-sand or just plain bad management is at play.
I’ll provide two examples for your consideration. One: A client of mine is responsible for making sure her work gets done, but because she is not a strategy person but instead an ‘implementer’ she relies on the guidance and framing of senior leadership. As a result, she’s less engaged, less invested in her company and she feels adrift and like there’s not a place for her at the organization.
Second: Back when I was a manager, I remember feeling so pressed for time and so all over the place because of pressures my direct reports weren’t aware of. I reacted not always in the best way: by canceling or consistently moving our one-on-one meetings. Think about what that must have done to their level of engagement and confidence at doing their jobs!
Management is not simple, and I’m not writing this letter to portend that it is. There is no magic formula or ‘follow these five steps and your team will love you and stay at the firm forever!’ Nope, none of that.
Instead here are the 4 critical things to do (or in some cases to not do) in order to establish even the baseline of good management.
- Don’t Cancel That Meeting. I bet you were waiting for that. Don’t do it. Obviously, if there’s a huge emergency that absolutely can’t wait or the company will spontaneously combust, deal with that, but in all other cases, do not do it. Being busy, a prior meeting going over time, being pressed for a deadline- all of those are no fly zones: don’t do it. And similarly, don’t request meetings you won’t keep! I’ve worked with several senior managers who have asked me to set up meetings only to ‘no-show’ or look at me like I was crazy when I asked 5 minutes into the meeting whether or not they are coming to said meeting. Manage your calendar and communicate what you will and will not attend. If you’re not attending, providing a way for people to ask you questions that concern you afterward and ensure you respond to those.
- Communicate! This is touched upon in the above, but it’s more than that. Communicate the strategy, enlist your team for various aspects of the strategy where they can have impact. One of my clients worked on a project team where her impact was directly affected by her knowledge of the strategy. Without it, she was stumbling around in the dark making wild guesses in an attempt to be proactive and a team player, but she received feedback that she was coming off as a bit clueless and out of touch. Be aware of how you communicate (or in this case, how you don’t communicate) can have ramifications on not only how engaged your employees are, but also on how they are perceived by others on the team.
- Mentorship. Mentor the heck out of your team as they stumble and learn and grow within the organization. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it never will be if people are truly learning, but providing the opportunity to grow and learn- and asking each individual what will help them grow- is vital to an engaged team who wants to be at work.
- Admit When You Don’t Know. I think a lot of managers, myself included back in the day, think they need to know everything. You don’t! It’s dangerous to portend you know it all, thus potentially giving misinformation out. It’s also refreshing for the employee to know you need to look into something and get back to him or her. It humanizes you and makes you less of a robot-like creature, if you had that reputation to begin with. (Caveat: There ARE times when not knowing is not a good thing, but that’s another post.). Also, doesn’t it give you a sense of relief to know you don’t always have to know?
So, Manager, thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope you’ll take into consideration some of the points I made. What I challenge or ask you to do in the next week is print this list out and bring it to your office. Be aware as the week progresses of times when you naturally might be inclined to cancel that meeting, for example, or be purposefully or accidentally vague when an employee asks a direct question. Get in touch with your habits and see how you might consciously or unconsciously be doing some of these things. That is truly the first step to changing and becoming a more inspirational leader- a leader whose employees are engaged and excited to be involved and growing.