The Bumpy Road of Managing People

So. You went for that management job or started your own business, eh? Guess what? You are no longer the focus of your work life — other people are. Are you sure you wanna do this?

You probably didn’t plan your career this way – at least not consciously so. After all, if you had wanted to “work with people” and make THEM the focus of your career, you would have chosen a “helping” profession like social worker, teacher, or nurse or doctor.

But you weren’t necessarily people-focused to begin with.

Instead, you started out in engineering, business operations, marketing, carpentry, accounting, forestry, horticulture, engine repair, the culinary arts . . . . something focused on an interest, talent, or skill that was easy for or of interest to you. While it’s true that people use the products and services provided by these occupations, these jobs aren’t really known as “people-oriented”, are they?

Now, you find yourself in a position to manage people, not because you necessarily enjoy dealing with the challenge of getting the best out of those you now supervise, but because of various other reasons, like greater status, money, prestige, recognition, or because there isn’t any other way for your career to progress as it is “supposed” to.

So, take a deep breath and read on for navigation tips:

First, learn to check your ego at the door. When supervising others, you must consciously shift your focus from yourself to those you supervise. Up to this point, your career has been focused on you – what YOU think, what YOU can do, who YOU know. That ends right now. Your thoughts, your needs, your concerns, your technical ability . . . they are no longer your number one concerns anymore. Instead, your world now centers on the thoughts, needs, concerns and technical ability of your employees. Your management brilliance will be measured by how well you elicit the best work from these people, who may be nothing like you, and to do that you have to focus on what makes THEM tick.

Second, learn to listen . . . a lot. Before your ascendance into management, you simply had to understand the task, and then carry it out to the best of your ability. Now, you must engage your employees in what needs to be done to improve in the department or the company. They will have much to say whether they tell you out right or not. When in doubt, close your mouth and listen. Your employees may come to you with complaints about the company, about you, and each other . . . and with excuses for why the work is not done or not done well, and your initial reaction will most likely be defensive — to shield yourself from blame and to justify your competencee.

Instead, listen for the emotion behind their words, and validate what they are experiencing. Then, redirect them by asking questions about what they have experienced. Eventually, you’ll get to the real reason they came to talk to you, and through that conversation you will prove to be someone whom they can trust because you kept the focus on them and listened.

And third, learn to manage your negative emotions. You’re human, so there will be times where you lose your cool. But as much as possible, stay as cool, calm and collected as you can.

The biological reason for doing so is that when your emotions kick in, you don’t think as clearly as you normally would because the body is taking energy from the logical prefrontal cortex and sending it to the emotional limbic system. The professional reason for staying collected is that blowing up in anger or being overly excitable signals your employees that you are not the steady leader they are looking to for guidance. Your employees need you to be a stabilizing presence, which in turn, increases your trustworthiness.

When you’re angered or irritated, take a deep breath while counting to 10 before responding to give your emotions time to pass, so your logical brain can have time to kick in again. Then realize, whatever happened is not the end of the world. Your response can then be focused on how to move forward to get things back on track.

Supervising a group of people who produce fantastic results is truly a rewarding experience. And the bumpy road to getting there will teach you more about yourself than almost any other life experience. Enjoy the trip.

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