The Most Difficult Thing In Management

What is the most difficult thing when you decide to get into management? I was recently having a mentoring conversation with one junior manager and we got talking about some of the pitfalls in management. Ultimately, I was asked, “What is the most difficult thing in management?” This gave me a pause. Where do you start with a question like this? So I decided to analyze it a bit and at the end I will share with you the answer I gave to him.

Completely new career path

One of the biggest challenges when getting into management is the realization that this is simply a different career path. The popular view is that you get promoted to management and that it is sort of a natural evolution of your previous technical job. It is not. When you got to management, you just started a new career from scratch and you need to learn totally new set of skills and even change your mindset. I talked about this topic more in this article.

Leaving your old job behind

Another daunting aspect of moving to management is to learn the skill of letting go of your previous job. Very often new managers tend to keep themselves involved in the old job since it is a familiar ground and they can more easily get a sense of job satisfaction. Management is new, confusing, and it takes time to get your head around it. You do things, but you may not immediately identify results of your work. Being able to leave your old job behind and fully commit to your new career is important for fast and successful transition. There is a huge amount of things to learn and you can’t be distracted by your old job. I talked about this aspect in The Art Of Letting Go.

Changing relationship with the team

If you were promoted to lead your old team chances are that there are relationships you have with your former team mates, there is a certain team dynamics, and obviously all this changes. It would be wrong to deny that things are different now. It is equally wrong to start suddenly acting like a big boss. It is important to find the right balance for a smooth transition so you keep good relationship with the team, while being respected as a good manager and a leader.

People are not boxes

I was recently interviewing a person for HR position and when we talked about the mission of his life and what drives him he started talking about his previous career in logistics. “In logistics you put a bar code on a box and you can be 99.9% sure it reaches the proper destination. With people, you advice them to do something and you can be 99.9% sure they will do something different. That’s what is so exciting about working with people. It is never boring.”

I find this a great summary of another difficult aspect of people management. People are not things. In reality you can’t really manage them. The approaches you used to manage things are no longer working and that may lead to frustration. You need to learn completely different strategies on how to get your job done. This article can give you some ideas where to start.

Continuous education

Your education is never done. Every person is different, every situation is different and that means you need to constantly learn new tricks on how to do your job. What makes it even more complicated is that the world and society evolves and so the expectations of people and management practices. We know more about how our brains work, there is more and more research in the area of psychology, sociology, and human behavior and it is good to keep in touch to expand the toolset available to you as a manager. What you must never allow is to believe you know everything about managing people or to try to use one management approach to any situation regardless whether it fits.

The answer

So what is the most difficult thing in people management? One of the key aspects of being a good people manager is the inherent need to care about people. You are in management because you want to do good, you want to help others, you want to impact their lives in a positive way. Like a doctor, your first priority should be “do no harm”. So unless you are a psychopath, the most difficult thing in management is the fact that you are basically experimenting on people. You might have gone through some theoretical education, but nothing replaces the hands-on experience.

The lessons you are learning, are on backs of people you manage. Unfortunately, the best and most memorable lessons are usually learned when you hurt someone in the process. You know, after the fact, that you should have done something differently, you learn the lesson, but it is often too late to fix the situation for the one individual that was the unwilling participant in your education.

“The most difficult thing in management is the realization that others suffer so you can get better.”

The typical example that illustrates this point is not providing enough feedback to your team members. Only when they don’t perform and are on a verge of getting fired you talk to them about their performance and they are surprised and confused, “but you never said anything, I thought I was doing a great job!” This is the moment, when you know you screwed up and they are paying the price.

Sometimes you can salvage the situation and turn things around, but sometimes the reputation of the individual or the relationships he has with others are so damaged that there is nothing to do but to apologize to the person you hurt with your inaction and start over with someone else and this time learn from the mistakes you made previously.

So what does it mean for you? Being humble and able to acknowledge that this is going on is the first step to make sure you minimize the negative impact your learning has on lives of other people.

 

What do you think? What is the most difficult thing in management? How would you answer this question when you started your management path and how would you answer the question after couple of years or even decades of experience?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

7 Ways To Deal With Abusive Boss

Over the last couple of weeks, I talked about How To Manage Your Manager, Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers, and What Excuses Turn Us Into Jerks. What remains, is to talk about what you can do when your manager really is an abusive jerk and difficult to work for. As with anything in management, there are no easy answers but let me outline couple of options and what their pros and cons are. It is up to you to figure out what fits your specific circumstances, and what the best course of action is.

1.  Suck it up – doing nothing is the easiest thing you can do. However, you need to be aware that it won’t change anything and you will continue to feel unnecessary stressed, have a low job satisfaction, experience depressions, and at the end will feel miserable about your life. The psychology behind this is that you will continue to feel like a victim of your bad boss. Chances are that in time, it will show up on your performance that will degrade and ultimately you may end up being the one who gets fired. I guess, not the best strategy.

2.  Fight back – this tactics really depends on your personality and whether you can pull it off. For those who are generally outspoken and don’t avoid conflicts this may do a lot of good to their stress levels. Just yell back at the boss, when he is yelling at you. Ok, maybe don’t yell, but definitely speak up and stay your ground. Give him taste of his own medicine and you will feel good. The positive side is that you won’t feel like a victim. You will feel like equal partner in the argument. The negative side is, that with some exceptions, this is not a strategy that will lead to career success and can make situation even worse and ultimately get you fired.

The fact that you may get admiration of your co-workers who won’t speak up may help you feeling good about yourself but may not save your job. In my time in corporate environment I’ve seen couple of instances where this worked and when the boss realized he has over-reached and started to treat the employee who stood up to him as equal. Sounds good, but probability of this happening is not that great.

3.  Passive-aggressive play – it is a particularly nasty way to fight back. You do it by ignoring your boss, talking behind his back, badmouthing, not giving your full efforts to the job, or even sabotaging his efforts. Curiously enough, according to a study carried out by Bennett Tepper, a professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, it seems that being passive aggressive with your bad boss will work just fine for you personally. It will remove the stress and you will feel like you are doing something about the situation.

However, it will have a negative impact on effectiveness of the team and ultimately it will wear you down. In other words, you may survive, you may feel well, and even enjoy what you do, but there will be lots of collateral damage. The toxic environment this will create may lead to other people losing respect for you, for the boss, and for the organization. They will either perform on lower levels or leave altogether.

4.  Accept – this option is very similar to the first one with one significant change. You can’t change your boss and how he acts but you can change the way you react and feel about it. It is very difficult thing to do, especially if you are already feeling as a victim and have been it that position for a very long time. However, if you have generally positive view of life you can accept the boss for who he is, limit your interactions, and look at it as an opportunity to learn.

What will you learn? For starters, how to deal with difficult people, how to keep cool under pressure, or how to remove your emotions from conversations. You may even start coaching and mentoring other people on the team and essentially become the team leader instead of the boss. If you love your job and the team, and the only thing you hate is the boss, this may be pretty viable strategy. Remember, bosses come and go. It would be shame to ruin your life only because a jerk boss who may leave in couple of months anyway.

5.  Speak up – having a face to face conversation as two adults is the right thing to do in most cultures. You need to realize that you won’t be able to change who the boss is, but it can be a good idea to let him know what impact his actions have on you and the team. Don’t attack his character (or lack of thereof) but rather describe impact of his actions.

I would suggest that this is the best first step you should take. Unless the boss is total psychopath, he will listen and may even hear it for the first time in his life. As long as you keep your emotions in check, focus on hard facts and not feelings, don’t attack him, don’t threaten in any way, and you may get good result. There is a chance that you will be able to build a good professional relationship with your boss. You may still not like him, but you will feel good about yourself for pulling it off, you will be more confident in future interactions, you can even get more respect from the rest of the team. And if it doesn’t work you can always take the second step on this particular journey and escalate.

6.  Escalate – there are very few organizations that embrace abusive behavior. Chances are that the boss is abusive because he can. Simply, no one in power slapped his hand yet. Chances also are, that no one in power knows what’s going on or takes it seriously until it gets escalated. Too often organizations learn about bad apples on their management teams only when multiple people leave the company. Being able to escalate abusive behavior to your HR department in a professional manner is a sign of mature adult who cares about the success of the organization.

You shouldn’t worry about being marked as the troublemaker. We are all adult human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. It is important to realize that the moment you set in this direction it will make you an enemy of your boss. Any jerk would immediately take this personally and would fight back by trying to smear your reputation. At the end only one of you keeps standing. If the HR team, or the organization does nothing, or even worse, if they punish you for bringing this up, then you better get out since they don’t deserve you.

7.  Get out – realizing that life is too short to work for a jerk boss can be a very liberating experience. Yes, you may need to find another job, but it may be the best thing for your mental health and for getting more balanced, happy life. If you work for a boss who is a jerk, you need to see that you are getting something in return. It might be a great career opportunity, a huge paycheck you won’t get elsewhere (assuming money is more important than peace of mind to you), or just the fact that you learn how to deal with difficult people.

If there is nothing you are gaining, then you shouldn’t willingly submit yourself to that sort of treatment and just be elsewhere. But the same as before, even in this case, be professional. Be open with the organization on why you are leaving, keep emotions out of it, and don’t burn bridges. Sooner or later the bad boss gets fired or leaves on his own and you may be asked if you want to come back under better conditions.

So what is the magical formula to deal with a bad boss? There isn’t one. So much depends on particular personalities of you, the boss, the company culture, and your unique circumstances that no one can really tell you what to do. Only you can decide what you want to do, how you want to feel about it, and take the necessary steps. Remember, you are an adult human being, and you do have options!

 

What are your tips on how to deal with a jerk? Do you prefer a direct approach, Machiavellian machinations, or a retreat?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Excuses That Turn Us Into Jerks

Most of us worked with people or reported to managers who acted as jerks. Most of us hated these interactions and couldn’t understand why would anyone act in such antisocial, immoral, or abusive ways. In Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers I talked about how great employees can turn into bad managers. I talked about the most common causes and some tricks how to prevent such situations. But when we are moralizing about others have we looked into mirror lately? Are we sure that we ourselves don’t act as jerks?

Recently, I found myself in couple of situations that made me consider some of my own actions that could be seen by others in rather bad light and it made me realize that each of us can turn bad rather easily. So what are the things to watch for in your daily interaction to make sure you don’t act as a jerk?

1. Bias

Sometimes we act unjustly without wanting to or without even realizing. Very often the culprit is called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a great tool our brain shields us from too much confusion and from coping with being wrong by allowing us to see only the evidence which proves that we are right. That is what makes it so different form other biases. It is always here and totally invisible to the outside world and to big extent even to us. There are several aspects of this particular bias:

  • Search – the brain accepts only data that supports our view and ignores the ones that could contradict it
  • Interpretation – the brain interprets any given data through the lenses of us being right in the first place
  • Memory – the brain will let us remember things that support our argument and forgets those that don’t

This all in the name of our need of being right. It is a useful tool for helping us cope with cognitive dissonance and reconcile any disharmony between our thoughts, words, actions, and environment. However, it is a killer when we are in the business of managing and leading people. Why? Because it prevents us from seeing all points of views, all sides of arguments, all options without taking pre-set sides. It prevents us from really listening and generally makes jerks of us. The way to fight this bias is to force ourselves to listen. Truly listen.

2. Busyness

I today’s world we are busy all the time. In the heat of our daily busyness, we may forget some of the basics that makes us decent human beings. Have you ever thought or even said aloud some of these sentences?

  • I don’t have time to notice – we are being too busy not notice how we impact other people around us
  • I don’t have time to be nice – many people are often proud of their “brutal honesty”, direct and even accusatory approach. In fact, we are acting as jerks who don’t take the time to understand others
  • I don’t have time to take care of you – this is a particularly prevalent in management when you try to be as efficient as possible. Unfortunately, being efficient in human interactions doesn’t work. You can be effective but you should never try to be efficient when managing people or in communication of any kind. Check out Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient for some thoughts on the topic.

3. Fear

All of us have various fears that are with us every waking moment. The more we worry especially about us being wrong or failing, the more we try to prevent that, and the more we act as jerks. Just consider these statements many of us are making in our heads:

  • I will not fail – some of us worry excessively about failing. We just have the need of constant success. We are worried about how our failure will be seen by others and how it will feel. Because of that worry, we act in ways that more relaxed person can’t understand and may label negatively.
  • I want to know what you are doing – when we work in a team or managing others we may turn the “I will not fail,” fear into “My team will not fail.” This may lead to us questioning what everyone is doing, second guess every step and decision done by others, micromanaging and generally acting in ways that destroys the team’s morale and ultimately leads to failure or to us acting as jerks.
  • I want to see more data – very frequent fear of making a wrong decision leads us to not being able to make a decision at all. It may be a simple thing of deciding what cellphone to buy or it can be more insidious in workplace when we are constantly trying to get more data, more opinions, and ultimately get to a position that the decision is done by others (so we can fault them) or it is so bulletproof that we are safe. Ultimately, this leads to company culture that is prone to decision paralysis and us being seen as incompetent jerks who shouldn’t be in the management roles at all.
  • I will try – this is a beautiful statement we use all the time. It has a build-in safety valve. It allows us to fail without much fuss, since we admitted at the beginning that we will do our best but the outcome is not ensured. Most of us use it without realizing and without thinking about it. At the end, it shows low self-confidence and may act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When it leads to jerkiness is the moment we employ it as a way to make halfhearted effort to help others.
  • You broke it, you fix it – have you ever had a boss, a coworker, or a partner who used these words? Have you ever used that sentence yourself? Behind all the bravado of making statements like this are in fact the opposite feelings. People often use it when they simply don’t know what to do, are scared, and don’t want others to see it. Again, they act as jerks.
  • I’m not at fault here, it was the other guy – this is a very obvious form of jerkiness. Let’s blame someone else for our mistakes, or even shared mistakes. In fact, you can make it even stronger by blaming the other person while showing yourself as a saint “I told him it won’t work and he didn’t listen”.

4. Pride

Pride is very often cause of many bad behaviors, though you need to have at least some predisposition to fall prey to it. However, not much is needed and even someone with healthy dose of humility can find himself thinking along these lines:

  • I know what I’m doing – very often it is a pride that causes us to be overconfident and ultimately leads us to treating others as lesser beings who don’t have a clue. Pride can then easily turn into fear when things don’t go as we planned and we finally realize we are failing.
  • I’m successful therefore I’m right – it is a variation of previous point. This one suggests that past successes elevate us above others and are making us infallible. This can be even true about whole teams or companies who are super successful and thus blind to changing world and new harsh realities where past successes means nothing.
  • I’m the boss here – this one is usually invoke by those with insecurities that just don’t know about any other way how to push through their goals. It is also often employed in situations where we feel that we are wrong, but pride doesn’t allow us to admit it so we resort to brute force – with my position comes entitlement to be right.

5. Ambition

Ambition can be a very useful tool in your road to success but there is a danger of overdoing it. Excessive ambition can lead to rather jerky behavior that will manifest in some of these ways:

  • I will get what I want at any cost – you can easily turn from good to bad when you lose your humility and start acting like your goals and desires are more important than the goals of others. Your own ambition can hurt people around you and turn you into a jerk.
  • I will help you – as long as it helps me. In ideal world, this is a win-win situation. You are helping others and getting something in return. The problem comes when you are willing to help only when it benefits you. If you are not willing to help others without considering “what is in it for me” you are most likely acting as a selfish jerk.
  • I want to make sure we look good – another one that sounds great but has a hidden side. If you want everyone to look good in front of the boss regardless whether we deserve it chances are that those who deserve it more than you do will see it as a sign of your jerkiness. It is always better to give credit where credit is due and don’t try to pry on success of others.
  • I want it now – in the fast-paced world we live in this one is more and more frequent. We are so set for success and want to so badly and so fast that we are willing to build it on shaky legs and even by immoral means to get it. If you have no patience to do do things properly and reach success in its due time you may be cutting corners in the way you act towards others and ultimately be seen as a selfish jerk.

So what is the main lesson you learned today? Don’t judge others without first understanding their circumstances and more importantly review the topics mentioned in this article regularly to make sure you don’t turn into a jerk yourself.

 

What is your experience with jerks? Have you ever caught yourself acting in ways that you find unacceptable in others? Have you ever considered that others might think you are a jerk? What can you do to make sure these things don’t happen to you?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.