I’ve talked before about some of the bad managers I have had during my career… like Teflon, or the manager who threatened to throw her laptop at me (and I haven’t even written about “the aggressor” yet). But mostly, I have had the pleasure of working under some pretty amazing, influential and inspiring managers.
I believe Managers are the single biggest influence in your workplace. Doesn’t matter where you work or what you do, the person you work for has the power to truly engage you in what you do, or make you walk away from an awesome project. And it is not easy. When I was a Manager, I suddenly realised how hard the job is (I spent so many years thinking “I’m going to be such a good boss, just give me the reigns and I’ll run this joint”), then you realise just how different every employee is, the bureaucracy that Managers often have to deal with and how many ridiculous curve balls Managers are thrown on a daily basis. And in the social age… the manager role is becoming even more complex, as businesses become more open and collaborative.
So what has bubbled to the top in my experience?
My personal favourite leaders are calm and collected (to counter my sometimes passionate rollercoaster riding), they listen way more than they speak (they need to, with me on their team!), they empower and trust me (let me loose with an objective and the freedom to achieve it) and most of all, they make me feel like I’m amazeballs.
That last point is often the most important for me. That regular reassurance that I’m on the right track. The constructive suggestions to support my momentum. The faith that I can do it, even when I don’t believe that I can. The willingness to overlook some of my weaknesses because they can see my strengths. Like your own personal cheerleader.
And it can’t all be about work. A great Manager knows when to ask how things are going outside of work, is tuned into your tone on a bad day and gives you the support and space when you need it. This has happened to me recently and I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, and the commitment I gave back to work in return was ten fold.
Just like everything in life, it doesn’t always happen this way. And, as I’ve said before, working under some bad Managers gave me skills I may never have learnt if I hadn’t been forced into it sometimes. So I try to see it as a win:win situation, bad manager = great, what can I learn from this experience, what new skills can I develop from turning this challenge into an opportunity?..and when a great Manager comes along, I take every opportunity to learn from them, grow and hopefully progress.
If you’re a Manager, are you helping your team to thrive the hard way or the easy way today?
Early in my career, I was moved into a team with a boss who was a talented and credible marketer. I couldn’t wait to work in her team and I knew that I would learn a lot. The first few weeks seemed to be going fine, she was paying attention to what I was contributing in meetings and watching my work intently. Soon, she pulled me aside for “a chat”. She started to reel off the things that she thought I needed to work on, she mentioned everything I had done “wrong” and she finished by telling me that I talk so much she found it “really annoying” and just sits in meetings feeling like she wants to throw her lap top at my head.
I was gutted, I couldn’t believe it….well actually no, I believed every single word she told me. She was right, I was useless. I know I have issues with talking too much sometimes, especially when I am passionate and excited and engaged. She made it personal, and her words cut me like a knife. I went home dejected and upset. I didn’t want to go back into work. How could I keep going?
But after 24hrs, I came back determined to improve. I decided to take the personal out of what she was saying, and tackle the issue head on. I went back to her and asked her for MORE feedback. Was I crazy!?! No, I just thought having it all on the table would help me to understand her position. It was hard to take, I had to bite my cheeks to stop from getting upset. I made notes. I took those notes and stripped away all the personal comments. If she doesn’t like me as a person, it doesn’t matter, but I want to be good at my job so I am going to take this as an opportunity to learn and grow. I asked other Managers if they had ideas on how i could improve some of the things she mentioned. I spoke to my colleagues and apologised if they felt “talked over” like she told me they did. I reminded them I would not be offended if they cut me off or made other suggestions in meetings…I would prefer this than they suffer in silence. Incredibly, they all looked at me like I was bonkers and told me they enjoyed working with me on teams because I was so engaged…even if I was a bit over exuberant some times. I didn’t believe them but I forged through. My Manager continued to point out my flaws, she rang me after meetings (it was apparently important to provide feedback in real time) and in our annual business reviews, she reeled off everything that I hadn’t done to perfection.
Amazingly, I was soon promoted.
I couldn’t believe it. Not only was I getting a new job but I was moving away from this Manager…YIPPPEEEE!!! I survived this period in my career by staying resilient, by not trying not to take things personally and looking at where I could grow and learn from the experience. But it wasn’t easy and it was also the start of many many wasted years of my career, where I focused all my attention on what I was doing wrong. She had taught me to look for my weaknesses and try to fix them. That anything less than perfect meant that I hadn’t succeeded and I needed to change. Don’t get me wrong, I had great fun and lots of growth, learning and opportunity at work, but underpinning it all was a constant voice that kept reminding me of what I should be…not what I was. Never truly believing that I was good at what I was doing, even when I was promoted and praised. I was just waiting for the house of cards to fall down around me, and my new Managers to realise how many flaws I was trying to patch.
Many years later, I had the absolute pleasure to be invited to a Positive Leadership workshop run by Michelle McQuaid. One of the things we did in the workshop was complete a VIA Strengths survey. Michelle talked about the importance of focusing on your strengths instead of trying to fix your weaknesses. To have a mindset of growth and to build on your strengths and the things that energise and engage you, letting your true self shine. This was a revolutionary moment for me. I took my top 5 strengths and put them up at my desk to remind me each day to search for those things in my work. My number 1 character Strength is Teamwork, so instead of seeing my need to work with others as a weaknesses because I’m hopeless at working on my own, I realised it was a strength to be able to work effectively with teams, to be energised by others, to show kindness to their needs…this is why I love being a Manager. Now I could seek out those opportunities which let my strengths shine.
And a funny thing happened
You know what, I stopped talking quite so much (Ok…so I didn’t exactly become quiet). The more confident I grew by reminding myself of my strengths, I stopped trying to over explain myself. And without the little voice in my head saying “stop stop talking, just stop, you’re talking too much”, I found more clarity in my words. I also realised that writing (like this blog!) and mentoring others gave me a channel for my thoughts, helping to get them out of my head and reduce my need to speak all the time in meetings.
I did meet up with that old Manager at a conference once (she had long since moved away from my company), and when I told her what I was doing, she said she wasn’t surprised. She always saw the potential in me, and that is why she was so hard on me, she thought pointing out the things I could improve would help me. And she believed she did help me. Noble intention, shocking execution. If only she knew the damage she did.
I’m just glad she never actually did throw her laptop at my head, although in hindsight, it would have been kinda funny if she tried…
(want to read more about my experiences with bosses, check out the story of Teflon!)
This post is the first in a series of posts I hope to do , sharing some of the good and bad manager experiences I have had over the years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic leaders who have been paramount in my success. But recently I’ve also come to appreciate how the bad Managers I have worked for also taught me a lot and could also be credited for some serious growth I’ve made in business. That said, working for these Managers was not fun, it was frustrating, de-motivating and hard. I found myself often wishing that my circumstances were different (why did I have to deal with this crappy manager when other people had great managers and seemed to be going onto better things) and crying in the toilets was not unusual for me (I know, not good form, but sometimes you just have to let it out)
Teflon is great for pans but terrible for managers.
When I look back, one of the most significant manager stories comes from several years working under a leader whom we nicknamed “Teflon”. She earnt this name because nothing would “stick” to her. She delegated with such success that she literally did nothing herself. When I approached her with challenges in my team she would simply say “what do you think needs to happen” and when I was at a loss, she just left me to figure it out. When I did create solutions which needed her support, she failed to support them across the leadership teams and many projects fell to nothing under her leadership. Not only that but she was dis-engaged and disconnected from what was happening in our business, she was literally absent from the office a lot and would not return phone calls or emails.
I was managing a team of my own at the time, through times of change and pressure. They expected my action and delivery, yet I felt stunted and unable to drive the things required. I just wanted to curl into a ball and give up.
Bring in the cavalry…
But I wasn’t willing to give up…just yet… So I started talking to the other managers in our team and I soon realised I wasn’t the only one in this situation, all my colleagues under the same leader were suffering the same challenges and frustrations. So we united, we collaborated and we promised to support each other. We set up regular meetings across our manager team (yep, without our leader, I’m sure we probably invited her but …surprise…she didn’t come). We talked about our challenges and helped each other figure them out. We started to understand each persons unique expertise and were able to call on different team members to help with certain issues. We made strategies, plans and we implemented them successfully by working around our leader.
And we laughed…oh how we laughed…
In coming together as a team, we started to feel like “we got this” and our perspective on the situation started to change. We were able to laugh at the circumstances and find humour in the challenges we faced.
Those were some of the toughest years in my career and yet I still look back at them as also some of the best years of my career. I learnt so much from those around me, I was forced to grow tremendously as a leader and became far more self sufficient. And now, in the new age of social technologies, I realise that many of the skills we used, around collaboration, sharing of expertise across silo’s and not relying on heirachy, are becoming the new way of working and my previous experience has opened me up to see the possibilities it holds.
So, thank you “Teflon” for forcing me to look deeper and in doing so, working with some of the most amazing people I have been able to learn from and helping shape the person that I have become today.
What strengths does your current Manager bring out in you? what can you learn from your experience …even if that experience may not feel ideal today?