failing as a manager

I was an HR leader for eons.

I spent a lot of time talking with managers about their “people issues.”

There are always “people issues” in any organization. It takes patience and empathy to work through them. Managers and their employees don’t always see things the same way and it’s helpful to have a sounding board to brainstorm with when communication breaks down.

I always told my fellow managers that I would be happy to help them think through their “people issues” as long as we came to an understanding about one thing.

I said:

I will brainstorm with you about your challenges with one of your employees who is frustrating you right now. We only need to agree as we begin the conversation that our focus is on figuring out what’s not working and solving it, versus disciplining the employee or putting them on probation. If we can agree on that, we can come up with lots of good ideas.

Most of the time, my fellow managers would say “Great, that’s what I want!” — but not always.

Some managers were too mired in fear to see a discussion of their “people issues” as a problem-solving meeting.

They had a different agenda. They wanted my help making their problem disappear by pushing the employee out the door.

They had grown up in the business world managing through fear and they didn’t know any other way to lead. Sometimes they said “I need to start a paper trail so I can fire Cecilia later this summer.”

Then I would have to say “I understand your frustration. We’re not going to start a paper trail, though — there are lots of other things we can do to figure out why Cecilia seems to be struggling.”

Managers who get frustrated and upset with their employees on a regular basis don’t see their part in the drama.

They think they are just unlucky — that the gods simply decided to saddle them with the world’s worst employees!

Of course, when managers and employees struggle to communicate, there can be learning on both sides. It takes two to tango, as they say.

Managers win when they find a way to grow personally and professionally through every challenge. They win when they stop and reflect on their circumstances and ask “How can I overcome the obstacle in front of me?”

Managers lose when they blame other people — the employees who report to them, in particular — for their frustrations. Nobody learns anything when managers can’t get altitude on themselves!

Here are ten signs you’re failing as a manager:

If these signs look familiar, that’s your signal to stop and reflect on what’s really holding you back.

  1. You lose your temper on a regular basis.
  2. You always have least one employee who is in danger of getting fired.
  3. When things go wrong, your first question is “Which employee screwed up?”
  4. You hear some good ideas from your team members, but you’re afraid to bring those ideas to your manager because they might not like them.
  5. The question that repeats over and over in your mind is “What can I do or say today at work that will make me look good?”
  6. You are keenly aware of your fellow managers and their standing on the company’s internal stock index. You always know who’s in and who’s out with your higher-up managers.
  7. When you are frustrated about your job, it’s often because you have an employee (or more than one) who’s not doing as well as you want them to. You keep careful track of your teammates’ infractions and missteps.
  8. You are well aware of the weaknesses and training needs of your team members, but cannot pinpoint any training or development needs of your own.
  9. You often tell your employees “That’s not my decision to make — it’s out of my hands.”
  10. You don’t feel it’s important to praise your employees — after all, they’re paid to work!

A poor manager is nothing more than a person who is fearful of bringing themselves to work all the way.

They speak from an imaginary script instead of speaking with their own voice. They are afraid to put down the managerial script and simply say what they think and feel.

They blame their employees so that mistakes in their department don’t tarnish their reputation.

They don’t understand that the whole point of being a manager is that you are responsible for everything that happens in your department.

If your employees do a great job, it’s your triumph too! If your employees goof up, it’s your failure. You are the manager. The buck stops with you.

Any manager can take steps toward moving out of fear and into trust.

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Be ready for the next time there’s a breakdown or a crisis at work. Be ready to say “That’s fine — we’ll handle it” and to avoid looking for someone to blame. Blame and shame have no place in a high-trust workplace like the one you are building!
  2. Go out of your way to notice the extra effort your employees put into their work and to acknowledge it. You can acknowledge tiny things. The more you notice and reinforce tiny, good things your teammates do, the more good things will happen! You can say “Jackson, the email summary you sent to the team laid out the issues perfectly and invited everybody to be part of the solution. Well done!”
  3. Notice your own fear. We all have fear at work and it’s time we started owning up to it. When you feel fear in your body, don’t react to it right away by dashing off a nasty email reply or pulling an employee into your office for a tongue-lashing. Take a breath instead, and take a walk around your building. We will all be dead in 150 years. Does today’s crisis really matter? Who benefits when you berate an employee for making a mistake? No one!
  4. Make a list of the top ten things you would like your boss to know but are currently afraid to tell them. Acknowledge that it’s not easy to speak your truth at work. Pick one item from your list to bring up the next time you are with your boss and the time seems right. Don’t put pressure on yourself to address your top ten issues. The perfect time to speak will present itself when you least expect it!

We all grow as people and as professionals when we are aware of our emotions — and of our actions under stress.

Notice the way fear operates in your workplace, on your team and in your own body and you will get stronger every day!

Author: Liz Ryan


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