Burt was knowledgeable and precise. He always was on time, always accurate.
Cove was commanding and demanding. You knew he was in charge, and he brooked no disrespect.
Dick was reliable and supportive, respectful of people’s ideas.
If you were going to assemble a pretty good manager, you could do worse than start by combining those four guys. Putting them all together would have been impossible, of course, not least because none of them would have put up with the others for very long. Independent judgment was a common characteristic of their management style.
Each of them had his limitations, too.
Don didn’t communicate well. Burt couldn’t manage larger issues. Cove was thin-skinned and prickly. Dick was poor at strategic thinking.
How about you and me?
In evaluating your own management expertise, it’s best to NOT start with the standard lists of strengths and weaknesses. That automatically establishes tendencies and closes some doors.
You first work on something more basic and more general: Self-awareness and its practical partner, preparedness.
The poor performance of self-awareness is signaled by the too-frequent occurrence of the “Oops!” syndrome: You find yourself unequipped in a present circumstance because, you now realize, you should have thought ahead and done some homework.
Homework could mean actually looking stuff up and organizing. Or it could be thinking about the person you will be working with – recent exchanges that may need tidying up, or fulfillment of an agreement to provide information or some minor item.
You don’t want to get used to that feeling of having blown little things. It could encourage sloppy habits on your part and low expectations of you by those you work with.
The habit of self-awareness is a fundamental managerial characteristic that requires consistent and permanent attention. Developing the initial habit is a big deal. You know it’s working when you find yourself regularly acting in ways consistent with the management self-image you want.
The image itself should be a conscious construction. Think about it. How did you get the idea of what you do as a manager?
Well, you’ve had managers all your adult life. What did they do? It may surprise you when you look closely, but you may have adopted some of the bad behaviors you suffered from as a subordinate. Why? Probably the same reasons those bad role models did: You didn’t know any better, and responded in self-defense to the unexpected pressures of management.
Now that you’re self-aware, you’re going to detect and root out those behaviors. Survival skills are not management skills. However natural it was to build defenses and adopt tactics when you were flailing about in a sea of unexpected demands, those are not the things grown-up managers do.
For one thing, managers must expect to be misunderst00d. No matter how well you explain, and how thoughtful your manner is, there will be people who think the worst of you, and show it. Sometimes they will be the people you value the most. It can hurt.
Over time, your associates and staff people will forget the injustices they committed against you, but your reaction will stick in their memories. If you snarled or snapped at someone – however much they deserved it at the time – that will be held against you. You’re supposed to be bigger than that.
You, as a manager, do need to learn from people’s actions and reactions what works and what doesn’t. So your SWOT analysis should be built on your assessment of the dynamics in your workplace relationships.
What is it that is most and least effective in the way you handle yourself and your interchanges with people? That’s the SW of SWOT: Strengths and weaknesses.
What are the circumstances that are most and least favorable to getting things done in your management realm? That’s the OT sector – opportunities and threats.
The good manager will be alert to the constant flow of signals and suggestions in the surrounding circumstances and relationships. This is the outward-facing complement to self-awareness, and it constitutes the greater field in which the manager acts.
While moral and ethical issues are inviolable, most of what the manager deals with and must do is in the arena of decisions, tactics and relationships. You’re surrounded by choices.
The manager must never forget that the essence of the job is getting things done through other people.
Your directions must not only account for the necessary actions and desired results. If you are to be fully effective, you have to know your people, understand and respond to their interests, needs and motivations.
You must make your leadership and support present to them.
Don, Burt, Cove and Dick each had a piece of all that.
You can have it all.
TRY THIS: Think over your management behavior, and sort out why you think and behave as you do. Make sure the basics are really your own. Tinker. Then track what works and what doesn’t in the workplace.
SEE ALSO: Project Attitude