Many years ago, when I was promoted to my first management position, I thought the new role was just a case of telling people what to do and making sure the numbers added up. Pretty soon I was swamped with insecure staff asking my advice, poor performing staff taking up 80% of my time, high staff turnover, and so the list goes on. It was all so confusing to me. If they just did the job the way I used to it would be fine. After all, I had been promoted on the basis of my performance.
Outside of work, I had been forced to take professional advice on some personal issues. Most of my problems were resolved by downsizing my ego and reducing my own sense of importance. A great friend and mentor of mine, having listened to a couple of hours of my whinging, recommended that I apply the same principles to management and passed on a technique for doing this. He suggested that when I was commuting to work in the morning, I visualised my role as being at the bottom of the pile. That my function was to enable staff to achieve their potential, not get them to do everything my way. He also suggested that I learn to not react immediately (because my instincts were clearly not working at the moment) so I needed a few minutes to think things through rather than “wing it”.
Those of you that know me, will understand how hard I found it to take that advice!
By taking this route, I discovered the most powerful question I could ask when I was being asked for advice was, “What would you do about this?”. I also found that if I received the answer “I don’t know that’s why I’m asking you”, the best response was to give them my advice and then ask them to complete another task for me that I had been unable to finish. This avoided the problem of making people think they couldn’t come to me with problems but they didn’t bother me with trivia.
The results were immediate and made my life substantially more satisfying. I also found that by giving all the credit for work done well to my staff, they enjoyed the experience much more.
I also had to learn that no technique would work for every member of staff. So I had to adapt my approach to the personality in front of me. Not all of my staff we’re natural problem solvers. Give them a piece of detailed work to do with clear instructions and they could plough through and get it right the first time, but you couldn’t rely on them to solve any problems.
I can’t say I managed to maintain this behaviour as much as I should, but I managed to do it enough to realise it was a goal worth working for. So with a certain smugness, I started to pass on this new “wisdom”, only to find that John Timpson’s excellent book “Upside Down Management” was already doing so, in a far more eloquent way.
Sometimes my ego is my worst enemy!