There are a lot of rules for first-time managers. For example, never hold a meeting without an agenda, because if you don’t know what you’re going to do, then no one else will know what you’re doing, either. That rule about agendas is a great example, because, like most rules for good management, it is about being courteous.
Your job as a manager is to make sure your employees are growing and learning and enjoying their time at work. Bringing them to a meeting without an agenda is wasting their time, and that is disrespectful. A meeting without an agenda is like saying, "My time is so much more important than yours that instead of taking time to prepare, I’m going to figure out what we’re doing in real time, and you can just sit there and watch me."
Start with Respect
So the first rule, and probably the only rule of management, is to be respectful. A lot of questions I get from managers can be answered the same way: Ask yourself if you are really being respectful.
Manager: My employees are totally unmotivated. What can I do?
Me: Do you give them work that respects their intelligence or is the work you give them crappy?
Manager: There’s nothing I can do. Someone has to do the low-level work.
Me: People are much more motivated to do totally boring work (as a favor to you) if they feel respected by you in other ways. So give them good mentoring and pay attention to building their skills. In return, they will want to help you, even if it means sending 400 faxes.
I receive lots of email from people who have just become managers but who are still figuring out what their new role really means. One of my favorites comes from Kristy, in Canada:
"I got promoted to being a manager last year. I have really struggled with trying to teach others, because coming from a background of life really being about myself, my own learning, and satisfying my own personal growth, making the switch to [doing] that for others almost feels like you are giving something of yourself away. It has only been in the past few months that I have really come to recognize that providing others with the opportunities that I have been given actually feels good . . . and that I am still growing, just in a different way."
Kristy admits what most people won’t: that management requires giving so much of yourself that it’s disconcerting. Most people who are new managers just sort of disappear. They pop out of their office from time to time to tell people they are doing stuff wrong, or to let people know about new goals or new procedures. But that is not managing. That is being a human memo. A piece of paper could be that kind of manager.
Manage to Nurture
Real managing is about growth and caring. It’s about taking time to see what skills people need to move in the direction they want to move, and then helping them develop those skills. This means that you need to sit with the person and find out what matters to them. And then you need to sit with yourself and figure out how you can help the person. Most people don’t see management as listening and thinking, but that’s what it is. Because that’s what caring about someone looks like.
A good manager pops up all the time, just to check in. Not because you are micromanaging and you don’t trust anyone around you. But because you can’t know how to help people if you don’t know how they are doing. And take time to chat when things are going fine, because that’s when it’s clear that you’re just talking because you care as much about the person as the work they’re doing.
Once you get to the point where you are connecting with the people you manage, and you are helping them get what they want from their job, you are in a position to change the world. Really.
I had a big moment in my own career as a manager when I realized that I could change the world, in a small way, just by being more open-minded and generous to the people around me. I was a very young manager, and found myself interviewing people much older than I was. Seeing those people from the point of view of my mom, who was working for someone my age, made me change how I approached my job as a manager. And I know that people today are trying to do this as well, because this post is four years old, and it was one of the most popular on my blog last month.
Go Beyond Basic Needs
All this reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As a psychologist, he developed a theory to describe the path people take to address first their core needs, and then eventually to achieve their ultimate need for a life of self-actualization. Maslow broke it down into five levels:
- Physiological – food, water, sleep.
- Safety – security of body, health, resources.
- Love and belonging – family, friends, sexual intimacy.
- Esteem – self-confidence, respect of others, respect by others.
- Self-actualization – morality, creativity, problem solving.
I think this pyramid applies to work as well. You start off just making sure you can get a job, and you figure out, eventually, how to use your job to make the world a better place.
Pseudo-Maslow Hierarchy of Job Needs
- Physiological – You can afford food and clothing.
- Safety – You are confident you can keep yourself employed.
- Love and belonging – You get along with co-workers and have a job that respects your personal life.
- Esteem – You are respected at work and you are good at your job.
Self-actualization – You can achieve your full potential and help others reach theirs through creative and moral problem-solving.
So really, management is an opportunity to self-actualize. Some people accomplish this by being artists or writing code, some do it by effectively managing others. For most of us, self-actualization comes from a patchwork of proud achievements.
But the point here is that being in management is an opportunity to grow spiritually and give back to the world in a way that is enormously fulfilling. If you allow it. You will need to set aside real time to make this happen. And you need to give generously. No big surprise there, though, because why else are we here, on this planet, except to give to each other?