For most of us, the towering challenge in building management competence is at the very beginning. There is a fundamental contradiction imprinted on our workplace behavior by our beginner experience. It makes Square One so difficult that some people never fully get through it. And, for those who do, applying its lessons can block further growth.
This is how it works:
We first must learn the skills and practices of personal productivity. That means we work on how to order our days through time and priority management while we're learning how to do the job. If you don't get this right, you can never do anything well -- especially leadership.
But, at the same time we must learn as managers when and how to suspend certain of the personal skills in order to handle responsibility for the output and skills development of others. That requires concentrating our attention outwards, working to understand and influence others. For example, building effective working relationships is not at base a matter of efficiency.
So, we must focus intensely on identifying, defining and perfecting our own personal activities at the same time as we're doing the same for others. Contradictory activities.
The first step, personal productivity, is very difficult to even understand, then to learn. It requires a lot of practice, and trial and error.
Once you're nailed that, you may well be considered for a promotion to a responsible position in supervision or management. This new role demands selective suspension of key parts of what you learned before, plus entry into a whole new world of perception.
The tight focus and self discipline you developed back then to support your personal productivity can, if you're not careful, block the listening and interpersonal sensitivity you need now to relate well to those around you. You can't just DO things -- you've got to convince others to learn and do them. And they learn and do differently from you.
As we assess the typical workplace, we see how broadly the first step is fumbled, and how much worse many do with the second.
Why? Too few of our mentors drill into us the three interlocking practices that underly everything in productive managerial behavior: attention, patience and tolerance.
When you're serious about career development, you need to consciously resist the very human tendency to ride along in autopilot.
As the situation becomes familiar, the days slip along and you can enjoy the freedom from uncertainty and anxiety. You and the people you work with and work for can relax in the comfort of the same old same old. You may not realize how much you're adjusting your workstyle to the situation and to the expectations of your colleagues and your managers.
To counter that very natural development, you need to devote time to clarifying and developing your career and life goals. At the same time, pay attention to how you're conducting yourself each day in the workplace. Trim your behavior and your conversations to be consistent with personal goals and the specific opportunities and barriers in the ongoing circumstances.
Rally the group for action when appropriate. Be the organization's progress organizer and process fixer. Be the one to figure out how to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Be the one who engages problems with solution ideas and actions.
While you're retaining the time management and priority control of your early days, you are a knowledgeable colleague, a dependable coworker, an imaginative problem solver and a pleasant conversationalist.
Keep argument at bay, and never let uncomfortable incidents and situations fester. Be direct, be firm. Seek and enrich personal relationships throughout your contacts.