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Be careful: manager at work

How do typical managers think?

For I while, I couldn’t get a satisfying answer to this question. Managers are people just like you and me, with the same diversity as we find in the real world. They have struggles, as we all do. And like us, they are putting a lot of effort in reconciling opposing ends in their (work)life.


In the case of managers this usually sounded like: care for my people and resources versus achieving the results imposed by the organisation. But these struggles just didn’t make them typically manager-like to me. The whole (working) world is struggling between resources and people on one side and achieving goals on the other.


Until recently…

I had just delivered a leadership workshop for a team, including their managers. The workshop ended with a 2-hour session with the managers on how to embed the learning within the team. Of course all team members had their responsibility in this, and we did discuss this extensively when everyone was still there. But being responsible for the team, it sounded wise to discuss this issue also separately with the managers.


And what I heard made me realise we need to rewire our managers.


During some 20 minutes the managers were only talking and talking and talking about how others should be applying the learning. It was their direct reports that needed to change. Needless to say, that the managers saw their responsibility in monitoring the new acquired leadership behaviours; not to themselves (of course not), but to the others.


For me the typical “manager think” suddenly was crystal clear: managers don’t own the problem. From the position they have, they organise the problems away from themselves. And it makes sense. Their position is not to deliver, but to let their teams deliver. And it has been working and still works for many production oriented tasks.


But when it comes to behaviour change, it doesn’t work. Behaviour is not something you control; it’s something you influence.


And where does influencing start?

It starts with you. You show and lead the way by doing it.


So I told them I was disappointed about how they were personally embedding the learning. I recaptured the gist of the workshop and reminded them that the only way to lead the learning initiative was to do it themselves as a team of managers. Just like their direct reports.


I also asked them what their direct reports would be thinking if they had had the chance to follow the discussion. Would they still be motivated to apply the learning? Would they view their managers as leaders?


Followed a long silence

And slowly a conversation emerged about their contribution as managers. It was a difficult conversation, as the reflex was to talk about their direct reports. But it was a conversation nevertheless. And they made some small progress; progress on how to change personally and how to embed that change within their own behaviour. The trick was to keep the progress small and tangible, as big steps would have a paralysing effect.


For me, this is the kind of talks that managers should be having. The rewiring happens with a mirror. Remind the managers that it’s not about the others, but about them. And for that they need you! They need your help in becoming leaders.


So let’s rewire our managers by asking them how they walk the talk!

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