Are good managers born or made? I firmly believe a good manager can be made, but as with most things in corporate life it’s not as simple as that.
A new manager is born…
She joins the company and does her “thing”. At some point in doing her “thing” her boss begins to take notice that she does her “thing” quite well, so he gives her more “things” to do.
As she continues to develop in her role, it is almost inevitable that one of her “things” involves telling other people what to do. Whether anyone mentions the word at that point or not is almost irrelevant because once she tells someone what to do, she is then “a manager”.
This isn’t what she signed up for!
She was quite happy doing her “thing” and doing it well, but now she is a victim of her own success and she finds she must direct the work load of a bunch of other people. Very frequently the work she is delegating is work she used to do herself but no longer has time for. She’s been promoted! Moved to a loftier plain.
Now consider things from the other side of this workload transaction.
On the other end we have the employee who was happily getting his work from that person he knew and was used to. Now, suddenly, we have this rookie manager telling him what to do, someone he doesn’t know and will have to spend time getting to know that he really can’t spare. This can lead to frustration, resentment and a relationship that could be fatally wounded before it ever really gets a chance.
This is a situation that arises countless times in countless companies every single day of the week.
What’s the new manager to do?
How does the manager actually manage her new charge, particularly when questions and possible conflicts arise?
The answer, I believe, lies in coaching.
Coaching can conjure up images of a very formal meeting between the lofty coach and lowly employee. But does it need to be like this? No! Not even close!
When you’re truly coaching, the client “has the answers” themselves, they don’t need to be told, they just need the space to work it out for themselves.
The keyword here is “space”. This is a hell of a lot more difficult than it sounds.
It is oh so tempting for the new manager to just do it for them. After all, she’s been doing the job for years so it would be quicker and easier to just do it.
We’re on a roll with keywords so the two to pick out here are “quicker” and “easier”. When those two words flash through the mind of any new manager, alarm bells need to start ringing. Rarely does doing something because it’s quicker and easier end up with anyone benefitting long term.
So, what’s the answer?
The answer lies in Water Cooler Coaching. These are effectively informal chats between manager and employee where no direct instruction is given to the employee on the issue up for discussion.
Managers must believe in their charge’s capacity to figure it out for themselves. They CAN do this. They might just need a little push, but what the hell is a little “push”?
That can come in the form of open-ended questions, such as.
“What would happen if…”
“Why do you think that is…”
“What are the options…”
Essentially any question that can’t be answered Yes or No.
If it’s a confidence issue, the manager can employ a tool know as “The Success Bank” or “The Cookie Jar” as David Goggins put it in his book “Can’t Hurt Me”. This is essentially asking the subordinate to make a list of any and every success they have had in their entire life. This might take a while, but the very act of doing it is living proof that the subordinate is “capable,” and pointing that out to them may be all that’s needed to give them the boost required.
With a bit of careful consideration by new managers, problems can be stopped before they even start, and a close and harmonious relationship can be built between the manager and her team. Those conversations build trust, confidence and a bond between teams that can rarely be matched by expensive consultants being hired.
Every single one of us, manager or otherwise has the ability and responsibility to bring out the best in others. If that’s called coaching, then so be it.
Try it next time you’re at the water cooler.