I review what I see as important as a manager.
I reflect on what I could have done better to serve my teams and I challenge others to do the same.
Who was I as a manager during my corporate career? It is something I have reflected on a bit since leaving Rolls-Royce and I share it now to provoke others to reflect on who they are in their role in business. Firstly I see that a people manager is responsible for employees within an organisation whereas a leader is someone people follow irrelevant if they are their manager or not. Often these terms are used interchangeably and hence I think it is important to distinguish why I use the term manager when often in business I was referred to as a leader. This article does not reflect on which box I put myself into but more how I wanted to behave in service of my team.
I think it is important to understand ones values in order to be able to know who you are when managing others. I have always been interested in other people but long held the understanding that everyone had the same core values as me. Hence I could not understand when taking on my first team why there were so many ‘complications’.
I was told from the offset ‘you manage your people how you would want to be managed’ but actually what I have learnt over the years is not to manage them how I want to be managed but to manage them how they want to be managed. This can be quite difficult for a lot of people to get their heads around and certainly took me a long time to understand. Everyone is different. Everyone is unique. Each and every manager and each and every employee are different and what makes it more complicated is that we all change constantly. The life we have led up until this point forms us into who we are and shapes our values (or the lens in which we see the world) and therefore evolves as we experience life each day.
Each and every single one of us also have slightly different needs. Lets take feedback as an example: some might need daily feedback from their manager; others feel claustrophobic and stifled by daily contact. Some people may need to have their smallest achievement praised whereas others will run a mile if you try to even say thank you to them in front of the team for something they have done. If you can get to know your team as people you can go long way to understanding not only their needs but also their strengths.
Everyone has strengths, or talents and these are things which we find fun and easy and give us energy. For one person it can be organising events or another may thrive by standing up in front of a large audience to tell a story; for others it is delving into data and finding the one anomaly day after day after day. It is my belief that we all have a part to play in life and we can and should all contribute in our own way. However how aligned what you do on a day to day basis is with your strengths and your personal values deeply influences how fulfilled or happy we are with our lives. This is not just at work but can be just as prevalent in the many elements of our private lives too. I use the term life balance to describe this as it resonates with me that different elements in ones life should be in some type of balance to lead a fulfilling life. It is worth recognising work as just one element.
So who was I as a manager?
I tried to know my team personally as well as professionally. It was important to me to understand what was going on in their lives which may impact on their work but also to be able to share in their joys and sorrows and even sometimes, where appropriate their health issues. It was about trust. But trust is a complex thing which can take a long time to earn but can be destroyed in an instant.
My belief was that I was in a management role to support and serve others in making their working lives as simple as possible to help them deliver to the best of their ability. I was there to remove blockers and manage stakeholders and support them in their development. My job was to develop the team and create synergies through having a team of motivated employees. It was also important to me to lead by example and would not ask my team to do something that I was not prepared to do myself.
Of course this all sounds quite straightforward but life always is known to get in the way or throw a side ball when you least expect it and this is the inevitability of the changing word in which we live. As the saying goes ‘the only consistent thing is change’. But it is how we deal with change as managers that is important and how we help our employees deal with change. We are all human beings and I believe we should encourage ourselves be human even as a manager or leader in business.
I know I struggled to show my vulnerabilities sometimes at work but actually on reflection when I did, I never received negative feedback. I can reflect that I sometimes also used my own vulnerabilities to build trust with my team and others because in sharing those bits of myself I allowed others to share their fears or vulnerabilities with me. As a manager this gives you a different insight into a person’s strengths and abilities and how this is changing over time. If you know your team well then you also have the opportunities to play to your teams’ strengths.
For example, I am not good with details so I would often ask one of my team to review or cross check details of my work to ensure it was correct. This gave them an opportunity to see what I was doing and that I trusted them to review it and provide me with honest feedback. However, this can also just be within the team itself one person using their strengths (the things they find easy and enjoy doing) to help other team members who potentially find that task difficult and doing it on their own would take them longer to complete. This builds the team working together and the trust within the team.
It can be important to develop an employee’s ability to do something they have not done before or have little experience in to help broaden knowledge and your toolbox through learning. This is especially true at the beginning of your career where everything is new however I feel that probably there is too much focus put on trying to improve some skills which are more difficult to learn to do well. I am not convinced this always provides a good return on investment for an organisation and needs careful consideration on a case by case basis of what an individual would benefit from in order to develop.
On the flip side I definitely think there is a role to play from the employees about being open to a relationship with their manager and being able to tell people what they are good at and what they enjoy doing. This may sound a little strange and generally this comes in time as trust is built but it makes a managers job a lot easier if the employees are reflective enough to know what they do well and share it.
In summary I really enjoyed managing people. I enjoyed the diversity of the interactions and being able to help others develop and succeed. There were obviously times when we did not succeed and from this I learnt a lot, so did my team. I think the learning effect of not succeeding is probably still under valued in business but I hope my support for the team helped soften the impact and use it as a learning experience when something did not go to plan. Of course I am sure I could have been a better manager and certainly used more coaching conversations in support of my team. However once I stepped outside my role and looked back, the distance has made it easier to reflect more pragmatically.
Looking back if I could change two things what would they be:
So I challenge anyone who is a manager of people or is seen as a leader in an organisation how can you own your unique strengths better to improve your organisations culture; to engage, motivate and serve your employees?