During the interview, I was so sure of myself. Confident I could handle the challenge. But then I started. And try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to get my arms around the job.
I created this vision of a perfect manager. And I couldn’t live up to it. So every day I came into work and felt like the fraud that I knew myself to be. Waiting for someone to call me out on it.
Which was ridiculous, when I think about it now. Not because I wasn’t struggling. I was. And it showed. But it was ridiculous to expect perfection when I was just starting.
I should have replaced this vision with something more realistic. Something more attainable. Something that didn’t make me want to lock the door and hide under my desk.
Don’t Listen to the “Experts”
There’s a lot of wonderful management books out there. Most offer great advice. All sorts of difficult situations seem to melt away with their magic touch.
There’s just two problems: (1) acting on that advice is often easier said than done, and (2) the situation is rarely as straight-forward as the books make it out to be.
I know that I’m supposed to give constructive feedback for sub-par work, but it’s much easier to give someone a pass, just this once. I know I’m not supposed to micromanage, but my boss is breathing down my neck to get immediate results. I know I’m supposed to uphold a high work standard, but it’s difficult when someone is crying in my office.
An Unrealistic Standard
I was told that I can either delegate or drown. That if I don’t delegate, I don’t trust my people. I read articles on delegation that said the manager who doesn’t delegate views ambitious employees as a threat. Or has unhealthy control issues.
It’s like delegation fear mongering. I was left with the belief that if I don’t immediately start delegating everything possible, I’ll be digging myself into an early grave.
I wanted to motivate everyone with a few inspirational words. Give moving speeches that would make Tony Robbins proud. Motivate people to do work to the highest quality. Except this was a foreign concept. I wasn’t very charismatic at giving rousing speeches. And I didn’t have an unlimited supply of cash bonuses to hand out.
I heard statements like, “If you see it, say it.” Or received terrible advice about sandwiching constructive feedback between compliments. Or equally terrible advice about ending positive feedback with an idea for further improvement.
Management books and articles often over-simplify it with extreme examples. They give black and white instances that offer little room for interpretation. Anyone can confront someone who habitually shows up late. Or the employee who simply refuses to do his work.
But most of my issues didn’t fit within these convenient examples. There’s usually some complicating factor or an added constraint that takes it from black and white to very, very gray.
My Ego Built this Prison
What was the turning point?
I’m forever grateful to the girl that snapped me out of this mindset. She watched me come through my first month on the job. Then told me to stop being so full of myself.
What? Full of myself? Are you kidding me? I’m busting my ass to keep my head above water and you think I’m full of myself.
And her response was, “or maybe it’s just your ego.”
And she was right. No one told me to be perfect on day one. Or even day 30. Or even now (day 3,395 and counting).
These unrealistic standards were a prison of my own making.
A More Realistic Expectation
Delegation, feedback, and motivation all take time. Each one requires a certain level of trust. And trust isn’t built immediately. Or given based on a new title.
So I focused on developing connections with people. Learning their values. And most importantly, just listening to them.
Delegation opportunities came. Once I had made connections and better understood people, those opportunities became more obvious. People saw them as an investments in their development as opposed to a way for me to offload my work.
Motivation became clear. No rousing speeches required. No promises of extravagant raises and dream vacations. Motivation is just consequences. And once I connected with people, I had a much better understanding of what would motivate each person. It could be the opportunity for more autonomy or responsibility going forward. Or the knowledge of how their contributions affect the overall success of the organization. Or increased flexibility that comes with greater trust. Regardless, I couldn’t know which consequences fit each person until I developed these connections.
Feedback became easier. Once people understood that I genuinely cared about their future, they were more willing to listen to my suggestions. Once I had that credibility, people understood that I wanted to help them. And in turn, they wanted to help me.
Relax – We’ll Get There
I usually believe that I’m fully prepared for a new challenge. And I’m usually proven wrong.
Mistakes are unavoidable. But when people see that we’re trying to help them as opposed to just helping ourselves, they’re usually willing to forgive those mistakes.
But if they believe we’re just out for ourselves, second chances are tough to come by.
Whenever we start a new position, there’s always a lot of new responsibilities. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with a mental model that we’ve created of the perfect leader. But through multiple management positions, the key thing I’ve learned is that without the credibility that comes with making connections, every other aspect of the job is more difficult. This needs to be our core focus, especially initially. Everything else can wait.
If you’re new to your position, I hope that this will help you ease up on yourself. And if you’ve got a new manager, maybe it will help you cut them some slack.