According to Gallup, only one in 10 people have the natural talent to be a great manager. Ouch. If you’re a manager, that stat can sting a bit. Are we part of the 10 percent or the other 90?
While this research can be discouraging, it doesn’t mean that those of us in the 90 percent are unable to manage well. The behaviours and attitudes that define great managers can be learned and honed by the rest of us mere mortals through intentional development.
If you’re a new manager, you may be tempted to improve your ability to lead by focusing on skills and behaviours. This is important, but it may lead to a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach, which isn’t sustainable.
Ultimately, the road to great management starts in the mind – to behave like great managers, we need to think like great managers.
The road to great management starts in the mind – to behave like great managers, we need to think like great managers.
The mindset of a manager is fundamentally different than that of a technician or individual contributor. From how we derive meaning from our work to our relationship with time and how we measure success – it all changes. Our intuitive gauge of Was I productive today? no longer works in the same way.
This shift in mindset represents a change in values and often trips up new managers. As a result, we continue many of the same work habits we had before, and we never become the leader that our teams need.
What follows are five shifts in mindset that need to occur for new leaders. This isn’t an exhaustive list, so consider what you might add.
Working Through Others
As technicians, there’s a satisfying release of biochemicals that occurs when we check an item off our task list. As a manager, your focus is now on helping others check things off their lists. At first this can leave you feeling dissatisfied and disconnected.
It can take a minute to reorient yourself and find new ways to experience that sense of accomplishment and contribution. The best managers learn to find satisfaction in empowering their teams and removing hurdles that stand between them and their goals.
“On the Work” vs. “In the Work”
As a manager, you immediately become an organizational developer. You’re no longer buried in doing the work and now need to focus on building, developing, and improving the systems, processes, and structures in which your team operates.
As W. Edwards Deming famously noted, 94 percent of problems belong to the system, not people – a manager’s focus should be on improving the system.
“The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.” — W. Edwards Deming
Long Term vs. Short Term
As technicians, our schedule was consumed with daily, weekly, and monthly deadlines. As managers, we need to have a plan that extends beyond the current calendar page.
We regularly need to carve out space to focus our eyes on the horizon, clarify the vision of where we’re going, and think strategically about how to get there. This isn’t a once-a-year event but an ongoing process of monitoring the environment, anticipating problems, and adjusting goals.
We regularly need to carve out space to focus our eyes on the horizon, clarify the vision of where we’re going, and think strategically about how to get there.
Team One vs. Team Two
To borrow Patrick Lencioni’s terms, you now have a new primary team. While you now have your own team to lead, you are also contributing to another – your fellow managers. What most managers mistakenly do is continue to prioritize and fight for the team they’re leading (Team Two), rather than the management team they now joined (Team One).
When we prioritize Team Two, we create silos and encourage division and territorialism. By prioritizing Team One, we emphasize alignment and collaboration. The paradox here is that both teams are better served when we make this shift. Team Two relies on you to focus on the bigger picture and address the broken systems and processes that are slowing them down – this work lives at your Team One level.
After years of functioning as an individual contributor, it’s easy to slowly lose our sense of agency and independence. We rely on managers to make decisions, help us solve problems, clarify priorities, and even tell us if we’re doing a good enough job. The shift into management can be jarring, then, as we realize that much of what we relied on from others now needs to come from within ourselves.
Sure, you’ll likely still have a manager even when you’re one yourself, but in most contexts, the level of control and oversight (and support) drops off pretty quickly. While this increased autonomy will feel motivating and freeing in the long run, initially it may feel as if a large weight has been put on your shoulders. It’s important to have patience with yourself as your mind and body adjust to this weight. Be intentional with forming a new support network and prioritize your own growth, learning, and mental health.
The transition to becoming a manager takes time and needs to be tackled with intention. This is more than a new title and pay scale – it’s a different type of work that requires a new mindset.
The transition to becoming a manager takes time and needs to be tackled with intention.
Those who can successfully make the shift and get this position right create waves of positive effects across the organization. Employee engagement, job satisfaction, productivity, safety, revenue – it all goes up.
We may not all be in the top 10 percent of natural managerial rockstars, but we all have the ability to be better tomorrow than we are today.
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