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Raising the Bar on How We Think as Managers

By Randy Hall

Sometimes as managers we find ourselves working for the lowest bar possible.  Getting the work done.  I have lots of conversations with managers where you will hear them, as they talk, define their success as, “the people on my team got their work done.”  It’s not incorrect to believe that the work needs to get done. Not doing the work is probably not a good long term option, but it is at the very bottom of the ladder of what success should look like.

It might be part of the reason that, according to INC. Magazine, 75% of employees say their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job.

Let’s say two managers show up to lead their team and one has the mindset that, “I have to make sure that my people get their work done.”  And the other one shows up thinking, “I want my team to develop, become more capable, and grow in their ability to do the work well.”  It’s easy to think that, "after I can get them to just get it all done, then I can focus on helping them develop and grow and all that stuff."  But the work expands to fill all the time and as soon as someone has capacity for more, we hand them more work rather than using the capacity for development or growth.

It’s a reasonable notion, let’s get our work done and then we can work on improvement in the way we do the work, but it never seems to play out that way.

What’s more important is that the manager focused on capability in addition to execution, approaches the job differently.  They often figure out that growth and work don’t have to be separate things.  I learn to do better work while I’m doing work anyway, not after I got all the work done.  The difference is the focus, where the importance is placed, what managers talk about with their teams, and how they help prepare their people for their BEST work, not their fastest.

If they have a capability mindset they are more likely to work with people before they do a new thing or tackle a project, to talk with them about how they want to do it, what success would look like, what they want others to notice about their work, how they might learn some of the parts they are unsure about, or what their plan is for doing it at an exceptional level.  The metric isn’t just completion, it’s quality of work and increase in team capability because of the work.

The questions after the work for a leader like this sound more like: “what did you learn? What were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them? What do you feel more capable of because of this project?”

This kind of approach does two things, it makes your team better and it also increases the level of engagement on your team at the same time.  My level of employee engagement is driven in part by my ability to develop and increase my level of contribution to an organization or team.  It supports my belief about the value I bring to a group of people and it also increases that value as I go because I learn new skills and can succeed at a higher level.

If I could work with a team as a manager and along the way I could improve their performance, their capability, and their engagement just by thinking and acting differently while I do my job, why would I settle for being a manager who just got his or her team to do the work?

The reality is, when I can change my thinking and actions in that way, I get to do more than manage others, I get to lead them. 

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