How do people learn to be good managers? For most of my working life, I’ve received terrible advice about management. All of it came from bosses who felt that becoming an effective leader necessarily meant sacrificing part of your humanity.
But one comment 19 years ago made me start looking at things differently. Since then, I’ve had some of the best management training possible.
The 3 worst pieces of advice
After a few years in my first job, I was inquiring about a promotion. My supervisor at the time said that while he appreciated my friendly, sociable nature, supervisors needed to be “more serious.” So I tried to change how I appeared.
In a later job when I was managing a large group, my boss cautioned me in a feedback session that I was “of the people.” The clear implication was that senior management was above “them” and I should choose which side I was on. I chose to be on management’s side.
In a similar vein, I was told not to get too close to people who reported to me. That would prevent me from making the tough decisions that senior people must make. I resolved to be tougher.
Looking back, a lot of management advice seemed to focus on putting people in their place – to let them know who’s boss. Doing so made it easier for me to rate people I barely knew or to lay off people. But being inauthentic and impersonal made me miserable and made my teams less than they might have been.
A different kind of management training program
19 years ago, when I had my first child, a mentor told me that raising kids is the best way to learn about management. At the time, I had no idea what he meant. But I reflected on those words this week as my youngest child turned 4 years old. For me, raising children has taught me more about management than any corporate program or any advice from the boss.
I’ve learned about motivation, how applying the carrot and stick only works for the short-term and undermines the relationship in the long-term.
I’ve seen how my crude attempts attempts at controlling someone’s behavior only leads to detachment and cynicism.
I’ve learned that trying to fit people into my own concept of what they should be leads only to frustration and a squandering of potential.
It’s true that I could live another 100 years and still not be the kind of parent or leader I’d like to be. But I can be better. I know now that a manager’s job, like a parent’s job, is intensely personal. The best thing I can do is to genuinely care about the individual and provide an environment that helps them be the best they can be.