There is a widespread myth among leaders, managers and supervisors that goes like this: Some people are natural leaders and therefore the best managers, whereas others are not natural leaders and are destined to be not-so-great managers. I call it, “The Myth of the Natural Leader.”
What is the reality? The best managers are people—natural or not—who learn proven techniques, practice those techniques diligently until they become skills, and continue practicing them until they become habits.
Is there such a thing as natural leadership ability? Yes. Some people are visionary, charismatic, articulate, filled with ideas, and unusually energetic. They are motivators. They inspire. People want to follow them. But that doesn’t necessarily make them good managers. More often, these great leaders succeed precisely when they are smart enough to hire great managers and let them do the crucial management part of leadership. Indeed, one of the most common stories I hear from managers in this scenario is how the natural leader often whirls into the workplace, distracting employees, exhilarating them, patting people on the back, making random decisions, building personal loyalty among the employees, spreading ideas and thoughts that create hopes and fears . . . and then disappears, leaving the manager to clean up the mess.
I emphasize the importance of back to basics management, precisely to focus on the more mundane, but absolutely crucial, aspects of leadership: providing direction and guidance, holding people accountable, dealing with failure, and rewarding success. These are the basic elements of management that are way too often missing from leadership today. And these are the elements that are by far the most important when it comes to getting more work and better work out of employees and helping them earn more of what they need.
I’ve learned from training tens of thousands of individuals that almost anyone can become a much better manager. How? Learn proven techniques. Then practice, practice, practice those techniques until they become skills (and then habits).
Effective managing is a lot like being in good physical shape: the hardest part is getting in the habit of doing it every day no matter what obstacles come up. So stop letting yourself off the hook. Stay in touch with your true priorities. Make yourself do it every day, as if your health depended on it.
What if you don’t have much experience? You have to start somewhere.
What if you don’t enjoy managing people in a hands-on manner? Do it anyway.
What if you don’t think that you are skilled at managing? Practice, practice, practice until you become good at it.
What if it makes you uncomfortable? Live with the discomfort; the more you manage people, the more comfortable you will become.
Taking those first steps toward effective managing takes discipline and guts. New behaviors, no matter how good they are, often don’t feel comfortable until they become habits. It is likely that you will feel the loss of your old comfortable habits, of your former role in the workplace, and of your current relationships with your employees. The transition period will be difficult and painful. But if you do it right, it is good pain. Like exercise pain, it makes you stronger. After you’ve built more effective management habits, you’ll still have to deal with unexpected problems, but they won’t be the kinds of problems that could have been avoided. And you’ll still have to face plenty of difficult challenges when managing your employees. But you’ll be so much better able to handle them effectively with confidence and skill.
The fundamental activity of managing is communication. Talk about the work when things are going right, wrong, or average. Maintain an ongoing dialogue with every employee: “Here’s what I need from you. What do you need from me?” Here’s the drill:
• Concentrate on four or five people a day.
• Make your meetings quick, no more than fifteen minutes.
• Consider holding meetings standing up, with a clipboard in hand (to keep them quick and focused).
• Don’t let anybody go more than two weeks without a meeting.
• If you manage people working other shifts, stay late or come in early to meet with them.
• If you manage people in remote locations, communicate via telephone and e-mail regularly and consistently in between one-on-one meetings.
Check in regularly to ensure that there are no obstacles in the employee’s way that will prevent her from getting lots of work done very well, very fast, all day long. You should ask yourself: Are there problems that haven’t been spotted yet? Problems that need to be solved? Resources that need to be obtained? Are there any instructions or goals that are not clear? Has anything happened since we last talked that I should know about? Answer employees’ questions as they come up. Get input from your employees throughout the process. Learn from what your employees are learning on the front line. Strategize together. Provide advice, support, motivation, and, yes, even inspiration once in a while.
Bruce Tulgan is the author of numerous books including the bestseller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (2007) and the classic Managing Generation X (1995), as well as Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009) and It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (2010). To find out more, visit www.rainmakerthinking.com/blog/ or www.talkaboutthework.com. Follow Bruce on Twitter @brucetulgan.