For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well. It can be a lot to shoulder if you aren’t prepared for it. Next week we’ll be talking about this in great detail at an Orange County, CA based medtech event where women will share their stories of leadership and how they got to where they are today. These stories are invaluable to understanding our own situation and potential career changes.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
Key Take Away:
Successful leaders all have one thing in common – they genuinely care about others, especially the people who work for them. As a result, they utilize a servant leader mindset, operating side by side their teams leading through both words AND actions.
Perhaps you’re struggling to get in touch with how you feel about leadership and your own capabilities. If so, find 2-3 people and interview them. Ask them for their opinion and thoughts on how they think you would be as a leader. Would you be successful in their eyes? What blind spots or areas of improvement would you need to make in order to be successful leading others? Once you have an idea for how others perceive you and the areas you potentially are good at and or struggle at you’ll have a better appreciation for how you would show up in the role. From there it’s always good to read a couple leadership books to further understand if this career move is best for you. Try out ‘Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and John Mann or ‘True North’ by Bill George and Peter Sims.
Back in January of this year I was less than a month away from being a first time Dad. To put it bluntly, I was scared! What do I know about raising a kid and how will I show up for our daughter so that she grows up to be a strong and healthy young woman? It’s a daunting thought process for a new parent as there is so much left to the unknown. What I hoped was that I would be able to lean on some of my leadership experiences from my career to get me through the soon to be experience of being a parent.
Six months later I’m amazed at what I’ve learned along the way about being a father. Infants have much to teach us as their souls give us a glimpse into perfection. They don’t have a negative bone in their body as their main desire in life is to be loved and cared for. Simple as that. Accomplish that and they’ll love you unconditionally. Along the way I’ve picked up some nuggets of knowledge, which mind you were bestowed on be by an infant, and are now the cornerstone for my focus in business and as a leader.
> Caring for others without expectation
I’ve learned quickly the importance and result of what happens when you give all of yourself to someone for their benefit and their benefit only. When we do things for people because we’re looking to get something in return it cheapens the relationship as the receiver almost always sees through the other person. What’s amazing is infants have this same perceptive quality. When you care for them unconditionally they love you no matter what. They appreciate and respect your kindness and give it back a thousand times what was originally offered. Leadership is the same way. Put yourself out there for others placing their careers ahead of your own and you’ll have a team of people who happily run through brick walls, achieving great heights along the way.
Even if you don’t have kids you’ve probably heard this…kids require a lot of patience. My whole life I’ve struggled in this area yet through some caring feedback over the years I’ve managed to slowly improve. My daughter requires a whole new level of patience that I’ve never had to deploy before yet I find myself yearning for the opportunity to give it. What you come to realize is that many times people don’t do things on purpose which leads to feeling of being upset, frustrated, irritated, etc which is what can cause people to lose their patience. A lot of times it’s just a simple miscommunication. When we keep this top of mind at work we can approach situations with a calmer, more understanding mindset which alleviates our need to get fired up.
> It’s the small things that count
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in life, focusing on things that are completely irrelevant to our day or perhaps even the reason for being alive in the first place. I must admit, I struggle with this often. One of the best things I’ve learned from my daughter is most of the worldly challenges I’m faced with are actually quite insignificant and the reality is that some of the smallest things in life are what really makes a difference. A great example is every morning when I go to get her out of her crib (sometimes at a ripe 5:15AM mind you) I’m greeted with the biggest toothless smile you could ever image. It goes ear to ear and immediately puts me in my happy place. It’s moments like these that are great reminders for us that life is not all about spreadsheets, bottom lines and performance reviews. If we take this same approach with our employees at work we’ll find ourselves much more satisfied with our career experience.
> The Platinum Rule of Relationships
The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself. I’ve learned from my daughter that the ‘Platinum Rule’ is far more effective as the focus is to ‘treat others the way they want to be treated’. If I take the time to do the things which are important to my daughter (like throwing blocks, yelling at trees, bouncing to music or gnawing on the couch cushions) I find she’s far more involved and happy with me than when I have her do something I want to do. (which typically means she’s sitting there supervising me from her Bumbo) This same rule applies to our employees as when we treat them how they want to be treated and not how we ourselves want to be treated it sends a very specific message that we care about them and what’s important to their cause.
While this may sound a little cliché I can assure you it is all too real. I’ve grown up experiencing a life full of grand adventures and silly shenanigans. Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of fun living life yet somewhere along the way I forgot how to have good, honest fun. How to pretend. My daughter reminds me that having fun is a state of mind and should be a source of achievement often. While that may sound daunting and rather tiresome to focus on always having fun I can assure you the other side of the coin sucks royally. When you aren’t having fun life feels like it’s just dragging on by. So now if we aren’t having fun I make an abrupt face change in what we’re doing so that she’s smiling and giggling all over again. Your employees will do the same. If you purposefully make their work environment an enjoyable place to be your employees will enjoy coming to work, rather than having a serious case of the Mondays.
Ever been in a situation where you witnessed something go from bad to worse and all you could do was stand and watch? Maybe it was bad enough where you had to avert your eyes, turn away and pretend like it wasn’t happening. Watching from a far you might have even said to yourself in the moment, “what are they doing?!” followed by a couple choice expletives.
If you’ve experienced this before then you know EXACTLY how I felt this past weekend watching my Cincinnati Bengals lose the first round wildcard playoff game on Saturday against our arch rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bear with me here as I am going to do my best not to drone on and on about the awful showing my team put up the other evening as there’s actually a great learning lesson that came from it which is incredibly applicable to our professional lives. Applicable indeed, especially if you are in a leadership position or hope to be in a leadership role at some point in the near future.
Poor leadership impacts everyone around it, everyone being you, me, the company, the customer, in this case the fans, etc. In business this typically shows up in the form of poor communication, discipline issues, bad decision making, people working in silos, losing one’s ‘cool’ and under performing in key situations. As for myself, I’ve done a couple of these in my leadership tenure and learned a lot from it so I can share first hand that these are some of the biggest leadership killers out there.
Ironically, those characteristics of poor business leadership I just shared are also the things we witnessed in Saturdays NFL playoff game when the Bengals single handedly gave away their win to the Pittsburgh Steelers. First, let me say that if you’re reading this and you happen to be a Steelers fan…congrats on the win, well played. You all deserve to keep your season alive. Now that I feel better about myself for playing nice and being a good loser I’ll continue my rant on Cincinnati’s poor leadership.
Before we move into the meat of things, it’s important I set the stage with some background info in the event you’re not up to date on your Cincinnati Bengals trivia. Heading into Saturdays game against the Steelers, my Bengals came to the table with some stats which certainly point in the direction of this game being incredibly important. Here’s the bottom line on the boys in orange and black:
Needless to say, it’s tough being a fan of Cincinnati at the moment. Regardless of your thoughts and feelings on the NFL, the stats above tell a very clear and frustrating story. It seems as if the executive team and owners of the Bengals franchise overlook these statistics of poor leadership performance, while as a fan looking from the outside in its plain as day to see the issues and how to resolve it. The Cincinnati Bengals (like many businesses we’ve all worked at) struggle to realize that their inability to be successful is a direct result of their leadership. A lack of good leadership makes it difficult for even the best and brightest talent to perform at a high level.
Back to Saturday’s game. Cincinnati’s loss will go down in the books as a complete and utter meltdown. Let’s examine the last two minutes of the game so we know what happened and why the Bengals lost:
The last two minutes of that game came down to a team being able to perform under pressure (Steelers) and a team imploding from their own lack of discipline and selfishness. (Bengals)
Since the game, commentators have cited the players as the issue as the reason why the Bengals lost. I happen to have a different perspective. When teams win or businesses succeed, the best leaders are always quick to give praise to their team indicating the group effort and high performance as the reason for the success. However when good leaders are faced with unfortunate circumstances rather than cast that blame on the team they shoulder responsibility for themselves. That’s what good leaders do…they give praise for a job well done and take blame when things go bad.
When it comes down to it leading is more than just a title and a seat up on top. To be good in leadership you first have to care about those around you, then build a platform for people to be wildly successful. Excuses, mediocrity, bad attitudes, a lack of accountability, what have you, have no place in this world for those who want to be successful. To be great you must think and act for others first, yourself always second.
While I never would wish bad things to happen to another individual, such as Marvin Lewis the Head Coach of the Bengals, my hope is that ownership wakes up before the beginning of next season and makes some changes. Without those changes we’ll continue to be a mediocre team falling short of what could be a great program for years to come.
As they say, “There’s always next year”.
Thanks to the cult classic movie, Office Space, many of us now have a name to apply to that feeling of waking up on a Monday morning overwhelmed about what lies in front of us – a whole new work week.
Having a “case of the Mondays” can be a real mood killer and certainly doesn’t lead to starting a day or a week off on the right foot. In 2014 the online career company Monster produced some staggering numbers on this subject as a result of a survey they did with their millions of job applicants and employers. The facts – upwards of 78% of people suffer from some form of the “case of the Mondays” aka ‘Sunday Fear Syndrome’.
Like many Americans I also dealt with it for years. I woke up, not just on Monday mornings but on most mornings, dreading the responsibilities that waited for me in my 7AM – 6PM job. (I didn’t even know what 8-5 meant and still don’t but that’s another story altogether) As my “case of the Mondays” continued I started paying more attention to what was causing it and how it affected my attitude and outlook on the day.
I wasn’t doing anything for myself to start the week or morning off on the right foot. Like the saying goes, “you woke up on the wrong side of the bed”, when we start the day with negative energies we allow that to carry us through the rest of the day. Starting a day in this fashion produces all sorts of unfortunate outcomes, many of which we aren’t even aware of but all of which negatively impact our experience in that day and week.
Then I discovered the cause of my morning blues!
Most people blame their job as being the culprit for the “case of the Mondays”. As it turns out I was it wasn’t my job after all, the reality was that I liked my job very much.
My discovery led me to realize that it was my mindset that was negatively impacting my mornings. I was struggling to stay focused on being positive and doing things that aided me in keeping a positive outlook with the start of the day.
As a result, I embarked on a mission to see if I could proactively change the way I greeted the world each morning.
The result of my little mission to fix my morning funk produced some amazing results. After making some minor changes I began to wake up eager to greet the day with lots of natural energy and optimism. I also found that my general outlook on things that were work related was much more positive which allowed me to deal with tough situations better. The best part was I started sleeping better because I didn’t have the stress of the coming day weighing on my mind.
Here’s how I did it with four easy to implement steps:
Give these four steps a try for five days to boost your morning mindset and be sure let me know how it worked.
When we choose to be in control of our life experiences, rather than allowing them to control us, we begin to experience life in a whole new way…the way it was meant to be.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.