Have you heard the saying, “No love ever leaves you unchanged”? Well if not, there you have it. The title of this article is a play on that simple yet provocative quote. No manager leaves you unchanged. A great manager will lead to new career opportunities, successes, learnings, and even a deepened purpose. The truth is, being a manager is a big responsibility. It takes consistent effort, investment, curiosity, vulnerability, and frankly isn’t everyone’s calling. The rockstar individual contributor isn’t automatically a great manager and vice versa. The roles are just very different. I won’t attempt to distinguish between good and great, something I’ll leave to the Adam Grants or Jim Collins of the world. I also won’t dig into the perils of bad manager behaviors, a topic for another day. I will share my two cents from two decades of experiencing some greats.
So, what do the greats consistently do?
They publicly or privately celebrate your wins with you, respecting your preferences, so you’re clear what you’re doing well. They also humbly brag on you when you’re not in the room, having your back unequivocally! They advocate for you and sponsor your career progression. They intentionally talk about contributions you’ve made and work you’ve kicked ass on so others appreciate your work’s merits. They also never compete with you for the spotlight or credit, and quietly relish their influence from behind the scenes, kind of like stagehands in theater.
They are regularly available to offer guidance and advice, weekly or even bi-weekly. They name areas they’ll help you evolve, aligned with your aspirations. They tell you the truth with specificity and timeliness, while also making space to hear your perspectives on their management. You deserve clarity on how you’re doing! Only people who care bother to be honest, especially if it takes extra effort and pushes them into their discomfort zone. Think of the people in your life who wouldn’t let you walk around with spinach in your teeth, or something in your nose, or saliva dried on your face post-dentist-visit because they wish to see you at your best in the world. They don’t miss opportunities to be forces for good.
They encourage unplugging and set the example for you to model. They acknowledge the necessary and positive physiological responses in our bodies to allowing our brains to turn off. Hello, Default Mode Network–one of our brain’s modes of operating, wherein our deepest forms of creativity occur, as neuroscience explores. We return refreshed and rejuvenated, enabling the possibility of unleashing our most innovative work. A reset is a powerful tool to unlock original thought from each of our unique zones of genius!
They care. They show you empathy and compassion. They make it okay to be distracted by jarring events in the news, have a bad day where you’re not firing on all cylinders, make a mistake, and even need a mental wellness break. They get distracted too, they have bad days too, they make mistakes too and should vulnerably share them for others to learn, and they need breaks too. Their empathy extends to supporting time off for life outside of work including children, friends, family, continued education, passion projects, and travel for example.
They want you to show up genuinely, honoring whatever that means to you. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that “bringing your whole self” to work became a buzz phrase, even before the pandemic. However, many have found the recent celebration of authenticity at work to be emotionally and cognitively freeing. Space for sincerity fosters heightened psychological safety and enthusiasm in one’s environment which affects productivity.
They appreciate that composing teams is like baking a cake–it requires many unique ingredients. They think holistically about the team and their leadership role, assessing strengths and weaknesses to foster a well-balanced group. They don’t assemble a team of all Teresa Weatherspoons or Steph Currys. They understand how each team member’s role is a critical part to the whole, and ensure everyone on the team does too. They may know their successor is someone internal or will need to be hired if they win the lottery and resign. Keep in mind, succession planning (or lack of) will match the manager’s depth of experience. Naturally, a person early in their career will need advice to design the team and plan successors, but their appreciation for the big picture inspires their curiosity.
They relish crafting teams of diverse identities, experiences, perspectives–think baking a cake with only eggs. They invite people to challenge the status quo or share contrasting perspectives, and interrupt group think especially if delicate power dynamics are at play. They understand that diverse teams are smarter and ultimately drive success of a business. There is a wealth of research to make the case of diverse teams being right for every business. Beware of the team that is seemingly a mirror reflection of its manager.
Well, you have some thinking to do! With 2022 coming to a close, it’s the perfect time for reflection. While your manager is pretty darn critical to career success, other relationships matter too. Who is your HR contact? Who are your mentors and sponsors in your company? It’s also important to nurture external connections. Your skip-level aka manager’s manager is a relationship where you should expect to see the above mentioned behaviors modeled too. Interested in working cross-functionally or on a different team entirely? Be open to the possibilities of change.
As with love, there are many managers in the sea. Working is about match-making. Everyone and everything isn’t your perfect match. Resist settling, and also be prudent to assess all angles of your manager relationship. If you’re at a particular emotional high or low, your perception will be skewed. You’re human. Aim to make as many decisions as you can during peacetime. Your current role could clearly be “right now” and it could be “long-term.” You’ll know which it is based on how you and others observe you changing, hopefully for the better. If you need an ear and feel like you’re at a fork in the road, find your HR team, mentor, someone on your personal board of directors, or connect with me - [email protected].