Don't Be A Manager

I used to work for a Manager that wanted to be involved in every detail of every task I completed. I had no authority to make any design or technical decisions without running my ideas by him first. Any time I presented a status update in a meeting and even the most minute details of a task had changed, I would be berated after the meeting for not previously informing him. If he had an idea how a task should be completed, that was how it had to be done. This left no room for my creative side to shine through and allowed him to take credit for any work I completed. It very quickly became clear to me that this person was a Manager, not a Leader.

Having a boss like this was frustrating on the best of days. There were times I had to walk out the front door of our office building so no one could see my tears. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Something great did come out of this experience - it taught me to reflect on myself, seeing the type of colleague that I am and the type of Leader I want to be (or don't want to be). I did what I could to take these negative experiences and use them for the good.

There were three main lessons that I learned from this: 

1. Hire people who are smarter than you
Subject Matter Experts (SME) are experts for a reason - They love to dive into the details of a topic and figure out the best way to resolve an issue. They have a thorough understanding of a topic or process, and they are the people you want on your team when you run into an issue or are looking to make improvements (so you always want them ;)). I have found, more often than not, that these individuals thoroughly enjoy getting lost in the details of the technical aspects of an issue. They need time and authority to be creative to help build upon or deconstruct a process or topic.  Most of all, they want to do their job, do it well, and be pushed to the next level. So what does that mean for you as a leader?

Before we dive into that, there is one thing we need to get off the table: Just because your team members are skilled in a different area than you, does not mean that they want your job. In fact, most people (SME or not), do not want to manage others. They do not want to deal with emotions, the administrative requirements that come with managing a team, or having to help resolve other people's problems. Take your ego out of the room and take a deep breath.

What most managers fail to realize is that hiring a diverse set of skillsets and personalities can only strengthen your team as a whole. A happy, well-rounded team who is pushed to step outside of their comfort zone to grow in new ways will always be more successful than one that is micromanaged in every aspect of their work life. Learn what makes your team members tick, what motivates them, where they want to grow, and work to help them get there. And the best part about hiring people who are smarter than you? They make you look realllyyyyy good as a manager. 

2. Give credit where credit is due

We can all agree that it is infuriating when someone takes credit for our work. You slave for hours to complete a project only to see that your boss or one colleague gets the praise ... and they don't have the confidence to comment that they had a very capable team working together with them. Let's talk about what we can do to highlight this issue and prevent it in the future.

First and foremost, do not call them out in the meeting. This will only shed negative light on you. I would encourage you to take a deep breath and, when you have calmed down, talk to them about it. Take a moment to ask them why they took all the credit for a project that four people worked on. While it shouldn't be an excuse, most people tend to freeze up in large groups especially when they are being praised. If this was the case, give them the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to do better next time. Either way, it's ok to remind them that this was a group effort and people tend to be hesitant to work with others when they alone celebrate all of the successes in front of Management.

Another approach you can take is to be proactive. Tell your boss that you would like to present the next project findings or send out the project status to the team. That way, at the beginning or end, you can highlight the fact that this was a team effort and list out the names of the people supporting (if it is an entire department, you might want to refrain from listing the exact names of 20+ people ;) ). Learn as an employee and colleague to give credit to others for their hard work - I guarantee you it will make it that much easier when you are a boss.

As a Manager it is important to remember that people take pride in their work. When they are praised in front of upper management and their peers, that is a motivational tool. When one person assumes all credit for work completed, that is disheartening and does not give the team confidence that teamwork is a core value in the organization. 

I personally like to speak up for those that can't speak up for themselves. I think the main reason is that I have very little respect for colleagues that take credit for other people's work. If I am sitting in a meeting and see one individual taking credit then I will praise that individual for their contributions, highlight the names of others I know worked on the project, congratulate them on their teamwork, then look at the Manager and tell them how proud they must be to have such a great team. I find it is a softer approach than when someone directly in the team speaks up and says, "What about me?".

A great leader doesn't get into the habit of taking credit for others. They don't care about the praise of their peers, because they care more about the happiness and motivation of their employees. What most Managers fail to realize is that when their team is successful, that makes them look good. I have so much respect for a Leader that can put their ego aside and hand the credit to others. It is one of the things that separates a Manager from a Leader - that and being able to take the blame.

3. Take the Blame

There is an acronym that I often have to remind myself of: FAIL. It stands for first attempt ilearning. This means that every experience, whether I am successful or fall flat on my face, is an opportunity to learn. Though this may be a positive mindset, it is not always easy to think in this way. And it certainly isn't easy to sit in room full of executives and peers and confess that something went wrong due to an oversight or poor decision on your part. So what is the right way to handle these types of situations?

I sit in many cross-departmental meetings. I sit and listen as issues get raised but rarely resolved. I watch fingers point from one person (or department) to another, placing blame so that no one has to assume responsibility for an issue. Production blames Supply Chain, Supply Chain blames Engineering, Engineering blames the Test Group, and so on. Why? People tend to feel weak when they admit to their faults. What they fail to realize is that, by passing the blame, you are weaker in everyone's eyes and destroy relationships in the process.

I can tell you right now your stomach will tighten and twist itself into knots, but you will feel so much better when you assume responsibility for your mistakes. Admitting your [department's] faults prevents the project from remaining at a standstill and allows them to move towards a solution. And it's a helluva lot more respectable than cowardly passing the blame to someone else. My personal experiences have taught me, the moment you admit your faults and address what you need to change for the future, you take all of the wind out of your colleague's sails. They typically do not continue to put pressure on you but rather work together with you to resolve the issue at hand.

I have learned how to react by watching a true leader in action. When she was confronted with the harsh reality that her department had an issue, she would sit up tall, look her colleagues in the eyes and directly tell them where she made a mistake. But she didn't just stop there. She would talk about the measures that she would be putting in place to ensure a similar issue does not happen again. She talked about the support that she needed from the various departments in order to move forward and prayed that they give her the resources she needs. 

The message here is to be confident in your capabilities as a manager. When you start to doubt yourself that is when the insecurities set in and you start to react in ways that make you look weak within the organization. Whatever you do, always remember:
1. It is important to hold yourself and your team accountable for your actions
2. Give credit to the employees who are busting their butts for the organization.
3. Build a great team by hiring employees with a diverse set of skills whom you allow to shine bright 
4. Don't be a manager, always strive to be a Leader.