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Managing for People Who Hate Managing

Monday, October 1, 2012
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You’re a manager.  Congratulations!  You have been bestowed with the spectacular opportunity to manage others while simultaneously managing yourself, your projects, and your deadlines.  Feel free to replace ‘spectacular’ with any plum word choice of your own.  Overwhelming, perhaps?  Annoying, frustrating, irksome, impossible, or exhausting?  Work life spiraling out of control, anyone?

Allow me to remove that burden from your weighted down shoulders.  Hand it over. 

Let’s resolve this together, shall we? 

Begin by taking solace in the fact that you are far, far from alone.  In fact, your predicament, as we could call the situation of being an overworked manager, is a global epidemic.  In a recent survey of 150 leaders, a whopping 68% of managers confessed they really don’t like being managers (Berrett-Koehler 2011).

And yet we don’t much discuss our managerial-related angst; wanting, perhaps, to avoid the perception of being weak, ineffective, complaining, or – drumroll please – incompetent. 

The result?  A sense of being alone and incapable on top of everything else.  From now on, keep in mind that the vast majority of managers struggle with managing others while managing themselves. 

Next hot ticket item.  Most managers did not sign up to be managers.  They pursued a career of interest, thrived, and – boom!  Got rewarded with a promotion to management.  Whole new set of rules, responsibilities, and expectations on top of whatever you were doing before.  Becoming a manager adds a facet to your job that, more likely than not, you were never trained to do.  Just to keep things interesting, managing requires that you become responsible for other people.  Of course you cannot directly control them, yet now you are mysteriously accountable for their output.  So exciting!

What’s a mere mortal to do?

The first step is understanding and accepting your natural strengths.  The surest way to burn out is by working really hard at assuming a style of management in inherent opposition to your core temperament.  Unfortunately, many managers have been brainwashed along the way – by a well meaning, misguided herd of consultants, writers, and trainers – to follow a singular set of ‘rules’ about how to Be a Manager.  After months or years of futilely attempting to squish yourself into a template that simply wasn’t designed for you, you are wiped out and more convinced than ever that you just aren’t cut out for management. 

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Hold it right there. 

You have all the raw materials needed to be a knock-out manager superstar.  I know this for a fact; from all the time we’ve spent together, bonding. 

You do, though.  Make a list of what energizes you.  What are your strengths?  Notice the correlation between what you enjoy and where you excel. Then make a list of what drags you down, what exhausts you.  That first list highlights your manager assets.  Identify ways to capitalize on your leadership forte, rather than forcing yourself into an ill-fitting mold that drains you.  Design a management style that enlivens you…and consequently, those around you.  Being authentic increases your effectiveness, energy level, and credibility.

Managing yourself means working with, rather than fighting against your natural strengths.  The only way to be a successful manager is by understanding, accepting, and capitalizing on your unique style. 

Managing others requires doing what I call flexing your style.  That means meeting others where they’re at.  Just to stave off boredom, each person you manage comes equipped with his or her own specific personality.  Such fun!  Go ahead and assume none of them are capable of meeting you where you’re at; few people are that gifted.  In fact, feel free to expand that assumption to your peers and supervisors as well.  Although we’ll save that Pandora’s box for another time. 

While we’re at it, drop any expectation that others will change their basic personality to suit your whims.  They won’t.  They may learn new skills, expand their reach, deepen their commitment, and increase their productivity – all with your expert guidance.  However, fundamental personality nuances are more or less here for the long haul.

This is where flexing your style kicks in.  Armed with a solid understanding of who you are, you now get to be on high alert for the subtle, yet constant bombardment, of cues and clues your staff sends out out about how they like to be treated, what motivates them, the type of language that resonates, and the way they process the world.  Naturally, these will vary from person to person, so get busy! 

Once you get a general handle on individuals’ styles – from a conglomeration of their professional style, favorite (and least favorite) projects, work habits, behavior, conversations, et al – you can fine-tune how you motivate and communicate with each team member.  Everyone remains equally accountable for the work product.  Yet how you contribute to their professional development varies.

The heightened attention you pay to your staff will more than pay off.  With reduced effort, you will be able to manage employees more efficiently with greater success.  You’ll form stronger rapport while increasing your team’s dedication and output.  You’ll feel better about yourself as a manager and may even start to believe you’re a pretty darn good manager after all. 

About the Author
Devora Zack is author of the internationally released, award-winning Networking for People Who Hate Networking (Berrett-Koehler/ASTD Press 2010) and Managing for People Who Hate Managing (Berrett-Koehler/ASTD Press 2012).  She is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, Inc., providing leadership programs to over 100 clients.    Ms. Zack has keynoted for Smithsonian, National Institute of Health, John Deere, U.S. Department of Energy, CapGemini, Urban Land Institute, National Association for Women Business Owners, Treasury Executive Institute, and Mensa International. She serves as visiting faculty for Cornell University’s business school, teaching leadership and networking to MBA students across the world. She recently toured Queensland by invitation of the Australian Institute of Management. Networking for People Who Hate Networking has been translated into 10 languages including Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, French, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, French Canadian, and German.
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