I remember the day I became a Manager for the first time. I was 27 years old, promoted to Assistant Vice President and given responsibility for managing two (yikes, two!) junior associates, both refreshingly eager recent college graduates.
I was thrilled and raring to go in this new role, with new responsibility, despite the fact that I had no role-models to follow, nor any mentoring or formal training on the do’s and don’ts of managing. To be honest, I was so naive at the time, I didn’t even realize how much I needed all of this and more.
I would love to say that I excelled in the whole managing thing. I would love to say that I stand proud of my style, my relationships, my goals with my direct reports back in the day. But, the truth is, while I did some things well, there are far more ways in which I, for lack of a more sophisticated word, sucked as a manager.
To be kind to myself, I’ll defer to the fabulous Carol Dweck, Ph.D, who encourages all of us to view failure or mistakes, not as an end or an absolute, but rather as simply ‘not yet’: I didn’t fail as a manager. I just didn’t do it well yet. Whether one labels it failure, a bunch of mistakes, ‘not yet’, or something else, I felt badly enough about my shortcomings that over the years I have actually sought out several of the people I managed back then and apologized for not managing and supporting them — their work, their development, their unique value and contribution and more — in the manner I have since cultivated and firmly believe everyone deserves.
It has been 25 years since that first managing experience, and I am proud to say — and hopefully the many folks I have managed over the years would agree — that I have developed a set of what I consider essential mindsets/thought patterns when it comes to managing people, along with core values and a style that make me a very fine manager, one who treats people as individuals, with unique talents, value and contribution and who recognizes that, above all else, the most important job of a manager is to help employees be the absolute best version of themselves. If, and only if we do exactly this as managers will our employees perform, achieve and thrive to their maximum potential.
So, what is the advice I wish I had been given from the start? It is a lot to be sure, but there is one piece that stands out above the rest, one that would have served as my much-needed guideposts, my key lever, my reference points for all aspects of my managing efforts that I so desperately needed:
Take the time to figure out WHO you are and WHO you aim to be as a manager. Go well beyond WHAT you are — your skills, knowledge and experiences to date — and decide WHO you want to be, recognizing that it is absolutely a choice, your choice, when it comes to the mindsets/thought patterns that you want to drive your actions, your relationships, your priorities and so much more.
We know from neuroscientists and psychologists alike that it is our mindsets that are the driving force behind our priorities, our sense of purpose, our choices, our interactions and relationships, our expectations (of ourselves and others), our judgments and assumptions (or lack thereof), our pride and satisfaction, our confidence, our ego (and how well we keep it in check), our capacity to grow, and more. Yet, we are rarely encouraged and supported and all too often don’t even think of focusing on who we are or who we want to be when it comes to our mindsets/thought patterns. The bottom line is to be a great manager for others, you first need to determine the mindsets/thought patterns that will drive and support all other elements of what makes you, you.
To be a great manager for others, you first need to be a great designer and manager of your own mind(sets).
Start the exciting next chapter of your career — a milestone for sure — by being intentional and selective about the thought patterns that define and drive you as a manager, as a leader, as someone who cares about others and recognizes that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. By the same token, take the time and do the sometimes challenging work of identifying and dispeling negative and self-defeating thought patterns that get in your way.
On a final note, below are some of the thought patterns and values that mean the world to me, that fuel me, that reflect the person I aim to be and, recognizing we are all always a work in progress, the person I aim to become.
1. Help others become great designers and managers of their own mind. Support people in recognizing the importance and their capacity to determine who they want to be, to be intentional about the mindsets/thought patterns that let drive all other aspects. Help people along the road to becoming the best version of themselves and performing, achieving and thriving to their maximum potential.
2. Operate with a ‘Mind Wide Open’. Be open to change. Be open to diverse, sometimes opposing opinions, approaches, personalities, fears, etc. Be open to ambiguity. Be open to changing your mind. Be open to the reality that nothing really follows a linear path; there are always twists and turns, back steps and tangents, and it is the circuitous nature of things that lead to the best possibles outcomes as relates to plans, projects, relationships, personal development and more. Be open to as much as possible.
3. Lead with the Assumption that Everyone has Something Unique and Valuable to Contribute. Everyone has their own version of the skills they have learned, the knowledge they have obtained, the natural talents they bring to the table. It is never about trying to turn someone into a preconceived notion (your own or that of your company) of what constitutes the perfect employee. Rather, the goal and the challenge is to help people identify and fully bring to bear their value and uniquely honed skills and knowledge, and their natural talents in a way that benefits everyone.
4. We are All Always a Work in Progress, with endless capacity for growth and improvement, and this is one of the most exciting aspects of being human. There is no finish line when it comes to professional (and personal) development. There are great milestones of achievement, but we are never done, and this is to be embraced and encouraged, not judged or feared.
5. Level Playing Fields are Essential to Build Trust and Optimize Creativity. While we may have greater power than our employees when it comes to supervising and evaluating their work and having influence over their advancement and future with the company, it is essential that we create opportunities where everyone is engaged on a level playing field. Creativity and ideation know no hierarchies. They are optimized when power in the room is shared equally and everyone supports and brings out the best in each other. The same is true for optimizing trust and engagement. One of the best opportunities to create and benefit from a level playing field is with design, planning, brainstorming or similar types of get togethers.
6. Capitalize on the Benefits of Curiosity, not only as an essential mindset for managers and employees alike, but also as a practice that brings out the best in both individuals and teams. Use words that promote curiosity, such as ‘what if’, ‘how about, ‘and/both’ instead of ‘either/or’. Value questions as much as if not more than answers. Choose curiosity over judgment. Create a culture that respects people when they say, ‘I don’t know.’ For more about the benefits of curiosity and how to put it into practice in the workplace, check out my 3-part curiosity series on WorqIQ’s leadership blog.
7. Don’t Treat ‘Worry Thoughts’ as Facts. Being a new manager is scary at times There are so many unknowns. Our anxiety, fear of failure and negative self-talk can be at an all-time high. It is so important to be vigilant about identifying and not deferring to what are simply our ‘worry thoughts’, namely, the thoughts or negative stories we tell ourselves through the lens of extreme anxiety. They are not facts or a guaranteed outcome, and they should not determine our actions. Take a 6-second pause and symbolically set the worry thought aside as just a fleeting annoyance. Then, choose the actions that will lead to the best outcome, regardless of your anxiety about what could happen.
8. Make Emotional Agility an Absolute Priority. In her book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life, Susan David, Ph.D. draws on her decades of research showing the essential role of emotional agility and outlines 4 key concepts that enable us to cultivate and sustain a high level of emotional agility in our work and in all aspects of our lives. She helps us understand that while we can’t control having negative emotions and times of extreme stress, we absolutely can choose how we respond to those negative feelings and the specific actions we take.
9. Don’t Fear Not-Knowing. Embrace it. Respect it. View it as major growth opportunity for everyone, including yourself, and encourage others to do the same.
So, WHO are you?
Originally published at medium.com