Leadership has a funny way of exposing your shortcomings and glaring inadequacies. Traits that were once fairly easy to mask – temperament, procrastination, lack of technical knowledge – are no longer so easy to wrap up in a witty phrase and charming personality. If you lack self-awareness regarding your deficiencies don’t worry, eventually the pressure of being in the spotlight will make those deficiencies available for all to see. You are alone and everybody is looking at you as the end of the line for direction, guidance and resolution … so what happens now?
Many of us who take on management positions enter into those roles with high hopes. We think about how we are going to improve the systems, the flow of information, increase transparency into the work place – at least those are the things I am aiming to improve. In my new office, I am technically responsible for just about everything and everyone and I have been thinking about how to step in and be “the guy”. A recent client, once he learned that I was leaving my old job, gave me these words of wisdom: “just don’t f*ck it up.”
No Pressure right?
A few weeks ago I wrote an article titled “How to be the Best Employee Ever” because I felt like was in a position to actually write on that subject. I received some interesting feedback on that article that was really insightful and some of the comments deluded me to believe that it would be interesting to write a post on “How to be the Best Manager Ever”. Problem is, that one is a bit trickier because, despite the “management” role I have had in past jobs, I didn’t really manage people. I had the expectation that people go about their business in the same manner that I did, and as a result, everything typically worked out pretty well. Now that part of my actual job description is to manage (I prefer the word “shepherd”) the younger people who work here at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects along in performing their duties while advancing their careers in a linear manner, I’ve begun to think about my “management” style. Since I don’t really think that I am the one to spew out management or leadership advice, the point of this post is really to establish a benchmark for what I think it means to be a good manager, and hopefully a leader, to younger less experienced interns and architects.
I tend to manage people the way I like to be managed; tell me the objective and let me go about determining the best path to get there. This method works pretty well when you have nothing but rising superstars working for you, but it’s probably more common that people need a tad bit more guidance. Here are the practices I consciously have put in place to help me be an effective “manager”
Lead by Example
Don’t ask people to do things that you yourself aren’t prepare to do. My drafting skills in the past have always been good, but this office is on Revit and I don’t know much about how this drafting software works. Despite the fact that it doesn’t make sense with my billing rate to have me spending too much time drafting, I am in the process of learning this new software so I can “speak the language” of everyone else who reports to me. In the meantime, when we have deadlines and people are staying up at the office late drafting, you will typically find me sitting up there with them. If they’re working, I’m working … or telling stories about working.
Build on your Strengths
I like to talk and I’m a funny guy (or so I’d like to think). As a result, I use these traits probably more than any others. Using my time sheet as the example, over the last two months my days have been composed of seemingly endless 15 minute increments of sitting with almost every employee and working through design and construction document processes. As soon as I finish with one person, I immediately get asked to come work on another question by someone else. Despite the fact that I feel like I haven’t gotten anything done all day, I’m actually doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. In my last job, I had a private office that was approximately 144 square feet (12’x12′) whereas my current work space is 216 square feet (12’x18′) but I share this new space with 4 other people. That is a small space to put 5 people in and there is a lot of chatter that goes on throughout the day – which I have discovered that I like quite a bit. I can literally tun my head left or right and see what everybody’s working on. If I see or hear something that makes me go “hmmmm” I can get to it before someone has spent all day working on details that require that gravity be redefined in order to work properly.
Transparency breeds Collaboration
A recurring theme on my site is transparency – I will tell almost anybody anything when it comes to all things “Bob”. I’m substantially more guarded when it comes to other people’s information but there is a synergy that is created when everybody has a voice and gets to chime in with a thought or observation about a process or design. In our office, the people here collaborate at a level that I have never seen before in 20+ years of working. I have been wondering if this is just the mixture of people in place or is there something in the water. When everything is open for discussion and opportunities for involvement are as close as the person sitting next to you, people tend to get together and synergies are created.
Meet with your people individually
I feel strongly about the importance of finding time to meet with the people you are responsible for in a one-on-one environment. This gives both parties the opportunity to have frank conversations in a sheltered manner. I have always believed that employer and employee are both mutually responsible for making sure that the employee is happy and productive. Employees should feel comfortable coming forward and asking for additional roles and responsibilities, it’s important to their development as skilled individuals. I can’t read their minds so I want to foster this uphill dialog, it’s something that I always wanted.
Don’t Be Too Available
There is a phrase that I worry about saying too often – “I can’t tell you how to solve this problem because I haven’t already solved it”. In my mind when I say this, I am trying to tell that person that they need to try to work outside their current knowledge base and make an effort to solve the problem they’ve just been tasked with solving. If I have to tell them how to do it, I would have to do it and why do I need them? Years ago my wife had to get this incredibly intense training – it was like professional bootcamp that she left home and went to another city for 8 weeks to complete. When she was done, they asked her to stay another 8 weeks so she could help teach the next class (because she’s that smart and that’s how she rolls). She told me later that she implemented a system where the students who had questions had to write their name and the time on the whiteboard and after 20 minutes, she would come and check in on them. Most of the time, the students were able to solve their own problem during that 20 minute delay. People give up too quickly when there is a ready source for answers at hand and in the end, that’s not really helping anybody.
Rewarding Ownership in the End Product
It is important to this firm that we cultivate a design culture – that means rewarding people for taking risks and not always following the rules. That’s all fine and well when things go well but it’s harder to execute when the product doesn’t reflect the effort. This is something that tends to get dealt with by either shutting the perpetrator down (which is contrary to the goals of the firm) or we buckle down on the time I spend with those people to help them refine the process at which they go about solving their problems. We’ve all been through a spot in our careers when some manager or boss-type person gives you a task with little to no direction only to tell you what they actually wanted you to do after you’ve done it all wrong. It’s completely defeating as the employee to go through this process and I think it eventually turns the employees into mindless drones who stop thinking for themselves and only try to figure out what their boss wants. I didn’t like when it happened to me and I am trying hard to not do it to the people in my office. Occasionally that means that management needs to separate themselves from the end product and focus more on the process. Allowing people to have ownership in the final product generally means that they are more invested in that products success … how is that not a good thing?
There is a famous quote from Margaret Thatcher that is particularly fitting in this instance:
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
If you have to tell people you’re the leader, you aren’t. “Leadership” and “Management” are inextricably linked to one another but management is a role you are hired into while leadership is thrust upon you by others. I’m quite sure that I am in store for some growing pains as I transition into my new role. It is my expectation that there will be more steps forward than backward but heading into the process, I know that I’m not the only one working through the process as I go along.
Wish everyone luck. Cheers,