How to be a good manager: Be generous
There are a lot of rules for first-time managers. For example, never hold a meeting without an agenda, because if you don’t know what you’re going to do there, then no one else will know what you’re doing, either. But the rule about agendas is a great example, because, like most rules for good management, it is about being kind.
Your job as a manager is to make sure your employees are growing and learning and enjoying their time at work. Bringing them to a meeting without an agenda is wasting their time, and that is disrespectful. A meeting without an agenda is like saying, “My time is so much more important than yours that instead of taking time to prepare, I’m going to figure out what we’re doing in real-time, and you will sit here and watch me.”
So the first rule, and probably the only rule of management, is to be respectful. A lot of questions I get from managers can be answered the same way: ask yourself if you are really being respectful.
Manager: My employees are totally unmotivated. What can I do?
Me: Do you give them work that respects their intelligence or is the work you give them crappy?
Manager:There’s nothing I can do. Someone has to do the low level work.
Me: People are much more motivated to do totally boring work (as a favor to you) if they feel respected by you in other ways. So give them good mentoring and pay attention to building their skills. In return, they will want to help you, even if it means sending 400 faxes.
I receive lots of email from people who have just become managers but who are still figuring out what their new role really means. One of my favorites comes from Kristy, in Canada:
I got promoted to being a manager last year. . . .. I have really struggled with trying to teach others, because coming from a background of life really being about myself, my own learning, and satisfying my own personal growth, making the switch to feeling like to have to now do that for others almost feels like you are giving something of yourself away. It has only been in the past few months that I have really come recognize that providing others with the opportunities that I have been given actually feels good. . . and that I am still growing, just in a different way.
Kristy admits what most people won’t: that management requires giving so much of yourself that it’s disconcerting. Most people who are new managers just sort of disappear. They pop out of their office from time to time to tell people they are doing stuff wrong, or to let people know about new goals or new procedures. But that is not managing. That is being a human memo. A piece of paper could be that kind of manager.
Real managing is about growth and caring. It’s about taking time to see what skills people need to develop to move in the direction they want to move, and then helping them get those skills. This means that you need to sit with the person and find out what matters to them. And then you need to sit with yourself and figure out how you can help the person. Most people don’t see management as listening and thinking, but that’s what it is. Because that’s what caring about someone looks like.
A good manager pops up all the time, just to check in. Not because you are micromanaging and you don’t trust anyone around you. But because you can’t know how to help people if you don’t know how they are doing. And take time to chat when things are going fine, because that’s when it’s clear that you’re just talking because you care as much about the person as the work they’re doing.
Once you get to the point where you are connecting with the people you manage, and you are helping them get what they want from their job, you are in a position to change the world. Really.
I had a big moment in my own career as a manager when I realized that I could change the world, in a small way, just by being more open-minded and generous to the people around me. I was a very young manager, and found myself interviewing people much older than I was. Seeing those people from the point of view of my mom, who was working for someone my age, made me change how I approached my job as a manager. And I know that people today are trying to do this as well, because this post is four years old, and it was one of the most popular on my blog last month.
All this reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As a psychologist, he developed a theory to describe the path people take to address first their core needs, and then eventually to achieve their ultimate need for a life of self-actualization:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
1. Physiological— food, water, sleep
2. Safety — security of body, health, resources
3. Love and belonging — family, friends, sexual intimacy
4. Esteem — self-confidence, respect of others, respect by others
5. Self-actualization — morality, creativity, problem solving
I think this pyramid applies to work as well. You start off just making sure you can get a job, and you figure out, eventually, how to use your job to make the world a better place.
Pseudo-Maslow Hierarchy of Job Needs
1. Physiological – Take care of keeping yourself fed and clothed.
2. Safety – Work on feeling secure that you can keep yourself employed, if something happens.
3. Love and belonging – Figure out how to get a job that respects your personal life.
4. Esteem — perform well at your job because you have the resources and the security to do so
5. Self-actualization — help other people reach their potential through creative and moral problem solving
So really, management is an opportunity to self-actualize. Some people will self-actualize by being artists, or writing code. Some people will self-actualize through management. Some, a combination.
But the point here is that being in management is an opportunity to grow spiritually and give back to the world in a way that is enormously fulfilling. If you allow it. You will need to set aside real time to make this happen. And you need to give generously.
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