One of the advantages of moving jobs frequently early in your career (like I did) is that you get to experience a lot of different workplaces and management styles.
A few of my first couple of jobs out of college were case studies in bad management.
I had the “I want you to be successful, just not more successful than me” manager. And, the passive-aggressive manager who tells you one thing and but does another. I also had the shrinking violet manager who could talk about managing but never actually do any of the real work with the people.
And, the thing I remember about all of them is how it felt to work for them.
Not the type of emotions that create a work experience where you can be your best.
This reminded me of the great Maya Angelou quote.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Managing people is not an easy job. And, if you think it’s easy, you probably aren’t doing right. Humans are complex creatures with an often confusing mix of needs and emotions. Managing that complexity to create an environment where the best work can happen is challenging.
There’s no shortage of management training programs out there that promise to help you succeed by giving you the right tools and approaches. But, I think most of them are missing a really vital step.
Declaring your intentions as a manager. Can you answer this question?
- How do I want the people I manage to feel at and about work?
Too often, the wake we create as managers is unintended. We say something flippantly in a few seconds that our people will stew about for days. As a manager, we must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others, particularly those who depend on us for leadership.
So, how do you want people to feel? Safe? Motivated? Happy? Put a stake in the ground. Make a commitment.
This leads to the next question.
- What can I do to ensure my people feel this way?
Once you are clear on your intentions, you can start aligning your behavior to that intention. If you want your people to feel safe to make mistakes and to speak up when they disagree with you, it’s on you to take the actions to make it so. What does that mean for you? How do you have to change your own behavior and decisions? It starts with you.
Pretty straightforward so far, right? Now we get to the complicated part.
Since we are trying to impact how people feel, it can be hard to know if we are succeeding. After all, humans don’t always project their emotions and particularly not at work. So this leads to a third question.
- How will you know how your people are feeling about work?
The answer is obvious. You ask them. And yet, so few managers do this well and consistently. Creating meaningful conversations with your employees about their experiences at work is the most powerful tool you have as a manager. It is the most direct path you have towards creating an engaging work experience that unlocks great performance.
But, this is the hard work. You have to ask scary questions of your people like:
- How are you feeling about work?
- How would you like to feel about work and what can we do to get you there?
- What’s not working for you these days?
- How can I be a better manager for you?
This is the work of management. It is not easy. It will be messy. It will be uncomfortable at times.
But, if you get clear on your intentions, align your actions to that intention, and then be in ongoing conversation with your people to get feedback, you might just create some magic with your team.