I am a good manager. Mostly because I try to be. You can be too. The bar is lamentably low.
I am kind. I care about you as a person. I seek to find and nurture your best qualities. I see your weaknesses too. I don’t judge you for them. I also have weaknesses. And always will. I like to know how to manage around them, our weaknesses. I support your ambitions, even if they aren’t immediately aligned with what’s best for the company or me. I celebrate your birthday in a non-generic way and lend you books that I think you’ll like. I listen for the strain in your voice to get a sense of whether you feel overwhelmed, overworked, or tired. When I hear it, I ask about it. I ask if we can reshuffle the deck or get you support or just not do something on the list right now. When it’s worse than that, and you come to me in tears, I give you a hug and lend you my sunglasses. We can talk about it later. I do not judge you for being human and having feelings. I am so grateful when you do the same for me. When I hear enthusiasm in your voice instead, I match it with my own. Even if I just had a bad meeting with my boss. I drop that and try to be present for you. None of this is about mollycoddling. It’s about acknowledging that we work best when we feel whole and secure. It is about kindness.
I am a coach. At any moment in time, I like to have a sense of what you are capable of now, and what you’ll be capable of next. I am grateful for now and pay a lot of attention to next. This is day-to-day, maybe week-to-week, definitely not at the longer timespan of a formal learning plan. When I see glimmers of next, I praise it as quickly and specifically as possible. I avoid generic “thank you” emails just as I avoid “Happy birthday!” Facebook wall posts. They are nearly meaningless. I do send short, personal, specific emails acknowledging effort and growth. And then I try to show you how to take the next step better. This might be by asking questions and having you think it through. It might be through written feedback, informative and non-judgmental. It might be through my own example. It might be by having you get together with someone else who can do next better than me. We all want to grow, and I want to help you. In doing so, the team will get better faster and deliver more and better work that way.
I coach the team, not just you. How well we work together isn’t just about how well we work together. It’s about feeling like we share a common purpose. I try to make sure we all feel like we have one. And it’s the same one. It’s also about making sure that we have efficient team structures in place. That we have 1-1s, that these have a rhythm to them. That we have the right regular meetings to reflect the work we need to do. And it’s also about how well you work together, without me. You need to understand and value each other’s strengths. You need to develop rhythms for collaborating. I need to help you do these things. To put you in situations where you see for yourself your teammate’s “ness.” To create a place where you practice working together. To suggest better ways of working together. To encourage you when I see you collaborating effectively. You are the team.
I seek excellence. Done is better than perfect. But perfect is the goal. So the same effort I put into understanding what you are capable of now and next I put into being a discerning consumer of work. Is what you just did good or excellent? What would make it excellent? Do I understand this myself? Or do I need to talk to someone else in order to better understand this? If I don’t understand what excellent is, I cannot coach you, the team, or the organization in its direction. Nor can we achieve excellence without reflecting on what we do and how we can do it better. The closer we get to making this an everyday practice, the faster we will improve. If all we do is build or build and measure and we never pause to reflect and learn, we will never approach excellence. Learning is an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly practice. The more frequently you do it, the less clunky it is to do. The faster you approach excellence.
To manage is human. Long-term impact does not come from “managing for results.” It comes from being kind, from coaching, and from pursuing excellence. Without these things, you might get some results for some time. But your best people will leave. And the new ones you get won’t be the same caliber. And what you could have built will slip away. It will be done, not perfect.