“Being a manager would be easy if it wasn’t for my staff: They take up so much of my working hours, I don’t have time to do my job!” Did that thought ever cross your mind? Especially when we are under pressure, when stress levels go up we tend to think “I might as well do it myself, I’m the only one who knows how to do it properly anyway!”. We go back to doing things that feel secure, stuff that we know how to do well. In crisis management this is called regression. This specific self-defense mechanism is often thought of as “going back to being a child”, but it just means “going back to a safe place”.
How did you end up in management? Some deliberately look for those positions, others get there by being very good at what they do and getting promoted. Either way, when you enter a role of management you are frequently expected to be better than your staff. But is that actually a good thing, being better than the people you have working for you? Better at what? As a manager, do you have to know it all?
In parts it’s a cultural thing. Different countries and cultures look at skills and power in different ways around the globe. When I was teaching in Ethiopia, the biggest cultural difficulty to me was convincing my management students that if you wanted to make things better, sometimes you had to find out what was not working and change that. But doing so could mean telling your boss that you knew better than him or her – and that was absolutely out of the question. So no-go. “Could we please be more efficient in another way, Ms Ravnskov?” And it doesn’t have to be Africa; there are clear cultural differences in Europe just going from north to south, east to west. If you want to look at it from a cultural perspective, go look at the work of people like Geert Hofstede and the five dimensions of human behaviour in this aspect. There’s even an app for it.
Being able to admit that you don’t know everything and that someone else even knows better is a strong advantage as a manager. Yet a lot of managers struggle with letting go. You might have been the best in your field at what you did, and to keep that position you spent a lot of time keeping up your expertise. But as a manager that is no longer your job. You cannot keep track with evolution in your field, all the nitty-gritty details, in your new job. Because if you do, then you are probably not allowing for the time you need to spend with your staff! And if you always have to be the best, does that mean you cannot recruit someone who is better than you? That should make your manager wonder what the company is missing…
As a manager, how do you achieve your goals? One of the perks of being a manager is the possibility to achieve so much more through your staff, then just going solo. You are no longer the lone ranger, or even the best team player - you are in charge. You are in charge of other people and it's through them that you will achieve.
If your staff is stuck because of unresolved issues such as unclear goals, the ways to achieve them or even a structured work flow - and you are the only key, the one they have to ask all the time... Then you are stuck in your old role as a specialist, while your employee is just frustrated. And it’s actually you who is wasting their time. Every hour spent with someone under your leadership, is a chance to double the time spent on reaching your target, by improving their skills and motivation. If you spend your time coaching or even teaching, the person you are guiding should be able to perform his or her task better and more efficient, thanks to your efforts, thus helping the team to achieve your joint goals. Every time you do this, there will be more people working in the right direction, doing the right thing. And that is your job, isn’t it?
If you have done this, then there are two more things you need to do to be successful – configure the rest of your time and work with feedback. But that’s stuff for another couple of blogs.