It’s not always easy being the boss.
Most of us spend much of our working lives just figuring out how we personally work best. As a manager though, it’s not enough to be good at getting your own work done. Now you have to take a lot of other people into account. And guess what? They’re all perfectly unique, and that means they may need very different things from you. It can be exciting to try to figure people out and invigorating to help them reach their goals. But it can also be draining to try to motivate a disengaged employee or downright frustrating to see someone’s mistakes or bad attitude dragging your whole team down.
One way or another, I’ve been learning how to manage people for most of my life. My siblings would probably tell you I started organizing and directing them right out of the cradle. By the time I was sixteen, I was managing summer harvesting crews on the family orchard. In my twenties, I spent years studying management in Business School, and since then I’ve worked with countless and varied teams of people. At CBRE, a decade ago, I led a team of thousands in directing one of the company’s major lines of business. At 4word today, I work intensely with a few full time employees and a small army of freelancers and volunteers.
I find that with every new team and new situation, there’s more to learn about how to encourage people to best work together to accomplish our goals. As a manager, you are uniquely able to impact the lives of the employees who report to you. This power is a gift, and like all gifts, you should approach it from the perspective of God’s grace: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
No matter what your team looks like, there’s nothing more important you can do as a manager than to know your employees. It’s critical to understand their strengths, weaknesses, motivators, and working and communication styles. This knowledge will help you to motivate, encourage, and correct course more effectively, and it will make your employees feel known, respected, and engaged in their work.
As a starting point, I like to have people who report to me directly take a Strengths Finders 2.0 test or something similar, and share the results with me. There are plenty of other good assessments out there (I like this DISC one too, and there are some decent free ones available as well), but my first choice is Strengths Finders, because it’s fast and comprehensive.
In addition to assessments, you’ll need to do some digging on your own. Assessment tests can provide great value for you and your employees, but they can’t tell you everything you need to know. Invest some time and energy in getting to know your employee’s needs, habits, and hobbies. You can try questions like, “what did you spend your extra time doing this weekend?” or even, “When you think back to when you were growing up, what experiences gave you energy and what took your energy away?” Pay attention to their work habits: what’s the first thing they do when given a new project? Do they struggle to stay focused in certain situations or times of day?
It sounds like a lot, especially if you work with a large team. But the more you know about what makes each of your employees “tick,” the better manager you’ll be, and the better you’ll be able to speak into their lives in a positive way.
At one job, I worked with an employee we’ll call June. June was talented, hard working, and well-liked, but she had a tendency to run behind on her projects and assignments. An inattentive manager might have chalked this up to laziness or lack of commitment, but the real problem was June’s overriding sense of responsibility and desire for perfection and inclusion. She didn’t feel like she could let go of a particular project until she was confident that it was 100% perfect and properly reflected everyone’s point of view. June’s problem was coming from a good place, and I tried to find a way to harness and focus her strengths in a positive way. I started giving her more deadlines, sometimes breaking up a project into multiple pieces, and checking in with her to review her progress and nudge her to let things go when necessary. It took just a few extra minutes of my time, but it made a big difference for June’s effectiveness and benefited the whole team.
Understand how you fit. Knowing your own personality, strengths, and weaknesses is crucial here, because they impact how you lead and relate to the employees on your team. I’m a hard-charging achiever type of personality, and I always want to be moving on to the next thing. I’ve had to work very hard to learn to slow down and recognize the accomplishments of people I work with. By learning to consciously appreciate the hard work of those around me, I’ve seen how valuable and energizing it can be—especially as a manager—to show gratitude at work.
Work with your employees, not against or around them. What’s the use of knowing your employees if you don’t put that knowledge to work? Make sure you’re not adhering too rigidly to preconceived plans, processes, or even job descriptions. If you want to get the very best from your employees, you will sometimes need to make adjustments that acknowledge and honor their unique gifts and personalities.
Working closely with some amazing women at 4word this past year has made me especially conscientious of the value of flexibility. I’ve had to hold my own expectations and plans loosely, focusing instead on big picture goals. Understanding and working with my team’s strengths and weaknesses may easily have been the difference between success and disaster this past year.
When there are problems, address them directly. Even with the best of employees, you’re likely to run into trouble now and then, and it’s best to address any issues as soon as you can. There’s nothing more frustrating for an employee than to feel blindsided by a poor performance review at the end of the year. If you have a team member who is struggling, start talking to them about it early and often. Too many managers put off conversations with struggling employees, because such confrontations are uncomfortable, or because they want to maintain personal relationships. But it does their employees a terrible disservice. In some situations, the right thing to do is to let someone go, or to gracefully help them reach the conclusion that they need to move on. Do not delay. Respect and care for the people who work for you enough to address these kinds of issues head-on.
Managing other people is hard work, and it certainly isn’t always comfortable. But despite its challenges, management is a gift and an honor; it’s an opportunity to meaningfully impact someone’s life, and to be a powerful beacon of Christ in the workplace.
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