One of my blind spots as a manager is that I project my ambitions and work ethic on others. I work pretty hard–not sure if it’s genetics or growing up on a farm that caused it. And I have always been motivated to succeed quickly. As a result, I have always jumped at any opportunity to learn and grow. If a company offered up a book club, I was there. If they gave me a chance to go to a seminar or training, I was on it. I felt like these opportunities were my chance to propel myself ahead and I didn’t want to miss a single one of them.
But, throughout my management career, I’ve managed far fewer people who felt this same way than those who would happily skip a training session so they don’t get behind on a day of work. This made me crazy. I felt like I was failing as a manager when my teams wouldn’t get as excited about reading a book together as I did. I just didn’t understand how someone could pass up an opportunity to learn and propel their career ahead.
Now, I know that projecting my ambitions on to others isn’t a healthy way to manage. I don’t do it on purpose. I also know that not everyone is a careerist who is trying to climb the ladder as quickly as possible. But, despite knowing this, I still struggled with this issue. And then, one day, I finally realized why this bothered me so much.
The issue wasn’t really that these people wasn’t interested in development opportunities. If they don’t want to learn, that’s their choice. The problem was that they weren’t understanding and embracing the consequences of that choice. In many cases, their intentions for their career–what they wanted out of their work–wasn’t aligned with what they were doing to move themselves along.
In career discovery conversations with individuals, I’d hear about how they wanted to move up into bigger jobs with bigger salaries and more responsibilities. They were focused on getting more, but the disconnect was that they weren’t willing to do more. What they wanted was out of alignment with what they were willing to do to get it. This is where my frustration really came from.
Want ≠ Do
The learning moment for me was that I needed to do a far better job of being transparent with those who I managed about how they would get ahead in my team. They had to learn, to grow, and to prove through their actions that they were ready for more. It’s on the leader to lay out what it takes to get ahead, what that investment of time and energy looks like, so that when someone does want to climb that ladder, they know the path (and the consequences of not choosing that path).
I also had to learned that so long as I was making this clear to my people, I needed to quit worrying about those who weren’t taking advantage of the learning opportunities in front of them. The accountability for their career was now squarely on their shoulders. I would provide opportunities but it was up to them to capitalize on them.
This is also a good reminder for us as individuals. We need to be in a regular conversation with ourselves about our intentions versus our actions. Are you doing what is required to get where you want to go? Do you know what is required to make it happen? Results follow from our actions and we will never get the results we desire without putting the right time and investment into getting them.
Let’s make it happen.