Calm, empathetic and endlessly patient
You can have a lot of fun when your job is to make something or do something all by yourself, or maybe with a competent, compatible partner. If it’s not just you, it’s just the two of you.
Either way, you get to put your hands, and your attention, right on the work. You earn the joy of personal accomplishment; you can contribute mightily to the quality of your own result. It’s right out there, with no mistake – you’re the one who did it.
It’s hard to duplicate the level of satisfaction you feel. But that’s not all.
When you make it your business to turn out quality results, other people notice. You earn admiration, and you build an enviable reputation.
In management, not so much. When you’re a manager, you operate in a different universe. Management’s job is to equip and help the people who make things and do things.
You’re the process person, the teacher, the supervisor; sometimes the disciplinarian. You set things up for your people, and you run interference for them. You get them what they need to do the job, and you deal with the problems they can’t solve on their own.
When you’re doing this managerial thing properly, you’re generally invisible, often even to the people you’re supervising. They see you all the time, of course, but the real meaning and extent of your work is beyond their perception . . . or their concern.
The place hums right along, the stars shine and the good results pop out right on schedule. There might be occasional, random recognition that you’re a good manager, but the spotlight shines elsewhere.
And that’s the way you want it. Whenever credit is to be assigned, the smart thing for you is to make sure it goes to one of your people rather than yourself.
If there were such a thing as a perfect manager, that person would be like the beloved parents in the old family shows on TV – like Ozzie & Harriet, or Robert Young of Father Knows Best. These people were all-knowing, always calm, empathetic and endlessly patient.
The implication was, of course, that they were internally perfect, too: deeply serene, solid in their self-confidence, never bothered, never troubled.
The best managers I have known are a very small group, capable of some of those behaviors most of the time and all of those behaviors rarely, if at all.
In short, they were exemplary human beings, but they were human beings after all – a few blips short of perfection.
And, unlike the scripted superparent actors of old-time TV, real-world managers aren’t paid for part-time perfection. They live full time in their human personalities, often severely challenged by the demands and frequent unfairness in their work.
A manager’s lot is to experience more blame and criticism than explicit appreciation, even from those who benefit the most from the manager’s efforts.
In the world of work, that self-assured manner can mask inner turmoil – worry over decisions made amid uncertainty, the feeling of being alone out there in the open, occasional understandable resentment at unfair treatment.
And stress. Stress often seems to be the name of the game. Most people in positions of responsibility suffer from anxiety, at times severely. It’s not easy to be consistently decisive, thoughtful and empathetic when negative emotion clouds your judgment; but they’re ever-conscious that they must control the stress, and can never let it show.
So what’s the answer for us mere mortals?
Do-it-yourself job satisfaction, that’s what.
You’re a manager now, and it’s up to you to look to the work, deriving value from your daily investment of professionalism, imagination and leadership. Your bosses and your reports will never provide enough of the psychological rewards that make your work worthwhile.
Start with stress. When you take a good look at it, the active ingredient is negative emotion, aroused by a perception of vulnerability. The perception is the trigger, not what is going on around you. Your response: I will not be vulnerable.
When you feel confident that you can handle a situation, it’s not a serious problem. Addressing it successfully will instead reinforce your sense of competence as you settle whatever it is.
And you know you can handle it because you routinely practice the signature behaviors of a good manager: anticipation, engagement and flexibility. Your abilities in those three areas underlie your excellence across the range of managerial skills.
Anticipation means looking ahead, establishing concrete goals, objectives and benchmarks. You identify potential problems and prepare for them. You have an effective process for detection and management of the unexpected. You train and equip your people for best use and development of their abilities.
Over-all, you have few unpleasant surprises, because you thoroughly implement experience and knowledge – your own and that of others.
Engagement is your continuous attention to and involvement in whatever of importance is going on in your organization, particularly in the detection and resolution of problems. Good managers do not have a gear for autopilot. Their staff people and associates know that the boss is in direct contact with the ongoing realities in their areas of responsibility.
Flexibility is the essential counterpart to anticipation. Those first-rate estimates and preparations produced by effective anticipation need guidance in execution.
Flexibility, in fact, is always consciously built in: There are specific provisions for interim measurement of progress and detection of developing shortfalls, and contingency plans are in place.
All of that might be taken for granted by the general body of people who do the hands-on implementation. But devising the actions, assigning them, tending their execution and viewing the success they ensure . . . is what is most meaningful to the true manager. It couldn’t have been done without you.
You can’t beat that sense of satisfaction.
SEE ALSO: Project Management on Autopilot