Are You People Smart Enough?
Success is usually thought to be built on a combination of personal attributes such as intelligence, technical knowledge, street smarts, hard won experience built on failure from pushing hard, guts and tenacity. Our varsity halls offer a vast array of academic knowledge, information, insights, concepts, theories, tomes, technology and debate. Company education is usually focused on producing detailed product knowledge and navigation clarity around the organisational labyrinth.
Tick the boxes on all of these and you are off to the races for career progression. Trouble usually starts when they recognize your ability and start to expect leverage from your personal abilities. Leverage means not just what you can individually contribute, but your capacity to get contribution from others they have placed in your charge. As the old saw goes "all of our troubles in life walk on two legs and talk back". Welcome to management!
Even if you are a powerhouse, a total workaholic, pounding out 100 hours every week, your 5 staff working 40 hours a week are doing twice as much as you are. By the way, if you are putting in 100 hours a week, we need to talk!
The tricky part though is you got recognized for your personal qualities, which quite frankly, you are depressed to discover are not universal within your team. You might even become a Theory X manager, who sees the glass as very much half full. You have become a legend at finding faults and shortcomings in your team. You perceive them as useless. They can’t be trusted, they are lazy, they make mistakes all the time, they don't take responsibility, they don’t have the required commitment, etc . Theory Y managers, on the other hand, see the glass as half full. They see their people as decent, capable, honest, doing their best, wanting to succeed, etc. McGregor, who termed Theory X and Y, concluded that how you see them is what you will create for yourself. Uh oh!
This means we really have to be careful about our own attitude, more than worried about our staff’s attitude. We have to be walking around looking for the ten things people are doing well rather than the one thing they are not doing well. Leveraging strengths is more effective than trying minimise weaknesses.
"Gotcha" however is a popular pursuit for bosses. They really enjoy finding fault and spend their time whining into their beers about what a pitiful deck they have been dealt back at the office. Could they themselves be part of the problem? Impossible they believe, why they are in this position of leadership, accountability and responsibility because they are superior! If this is you get ready for 200 hour work weeks, because you will have no leverage and will have to do all the work. "Delegation" will be a distant dream.
Here is a simple hint for looking for the good – when wandering around, tell your team what they are doing now that is "good" in your opinion and then ask them what they think they could do "better".
Here is another idea: "make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest". Sounds simple, but how does that actually work? Normally everyone thinks they are busy enough already thank you very much or they are deep in their comfort zone around the way things are done around here. Usually the boss’s suggestion represents more work or doing things differently – neither considered particularly attractive prospects. So how do we get people to engage? Instead of giving orders we could ask questions. This "self discovery" process leads to greater ownership and commitment to the execution of the task.
We could break the task down to smaller pieces (eat an elephant one bite at a time) and "praise the slightest improvement and praise very improvement". It is too late to wait until completion to tell people they did a good job. We need to be intervening part the way through to recognise and appreciate their efforts.
We could follow Theory Y and "give the other person a fine reputation to live up to". That means we assume they are good, serious, capable and treat them and communicate with them in that way. They feel it and won’t let our expectations down.
We could also "talk about our own mistakes before criticizing the other person". If we reflect that we are asking people to step out of their comfort zone to do new things or things in a new way, how smart is it to whack them whenever they make a mistake? There is always going to be differences in performance between doing something well practiced and something new – that is the innovation process.
We are also the embodiment of all of our own mistakes. We gained experience by being able to discern what works and what doesn’t, mainly by finding out the hard way. We have to appreciate that our own team can’t be expected to be perfect at the beginning. Shock, horror - they will be just like we were at their level or stage! So we should share the mistakes we made to show it is part of the learning process. We then plumb the depths of what was good and explore what we need to do better.
Being smart is not enough. We have to be "people smart" and that is a learned skill available to all, regardless of rank or stage. Congratulations on becoming smarter!