As I approach my 200th post in this blog, I thought I would shake things up a bit and present a story of a truly good manager and the lessons that this manager’s actions hold for all the Sarahs and Maxines in the management and leadership ranks.
Mitch was understandably depressed. Having received yet another rejection for a job he applied and interviewed for, he began to question what was wrong with him. Was it his approach? His appearance? His talk or mannerisms during the interview? His age? He really wanted to know, but most of the recruiters he spoke with would not provide him with anything more than the legally approved and safe, “You just weren’t right for the job”. He smiled a bitter smile at all the ‘experts’ out there who say that you are supposed to be brave enough to get feedback on yourself so you can do better the next time. How can you do that if the employers won’t give you anything more than the standard answer?
He wanted feedback on his search to have Sarah’s organization be one he saw in the rear-view mirror of his life. He was following all the advice. He was trying to improve where he could and add to his professional and experiential credentials wherever possible. It all seemed for nothing, and he was tired and dejected. He know somewhere, somehow, he would find the strength to go on, but at times like these, he wasn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm.
Mitch realized one of the advantages he had was that, unlike some of his friends, he was employed still, and grateful for that fact. It also meant he had the advantage of speaking to people in the workplace who might be able to provide some insight on his professional demeanor, habits, and standing. That advantage also proved a challenge, however. Who could he speak with? Who could he trust? Who could he both gain some insight from and know that the conversation would be private? After considerable thought, Mitch chose to ask Phil.
Phil was an executive in the company who didn’t act like an executive. From a working class background, he had never left those sensibilities behind and really looked out for his people. He had come to his standing honestly, and had a great amount of respect from those who worked for him. Mitch had seen this early in Phil and had kept in touch with him throughout his career at the company.
Phil was delighted to hear from Mitch, and readily agreed to meet him for lunch. After listening intently to the reasons Mitch wanted to speak with him, and understanding the confidentiality of the matter, he and Mitch began talking. After the talk, Phil began his assessment of both the situation and of Mitch.
While Phil was distressed to hear what was going on with Mitch, he assured Mitch that, from his perspective, Mitch had a good number of strong gifts, and that from Phil’s vantage point, he used them well and professionally. Based on his interactions with Mitch, Phil could see no glaring professional gaps in Mitch’s presentation, presence, or demeanor. In other areas, he was honest when saying he didn’t see anything glaringly bad, but also had not interviewed Mitch, so could not be as sure that there weren’t issues.
Phil then went and examined the strengths that Mitch had, and asked Mitch to consider using those strengths in a different career path than Mitch had considered. He laid out his argument that there were other callings out there where Mitch might be a worthy candidate, and some he might enjoy. Phil promised to keep an eye out for these opportunities with his colleagues in other organizations, and encouraged Mitch to look for them himself.
Finally, Phil drew upon his own job hunting experiences, including the one to find his current position, and acknowledged it was a tough market out there. The job doesn’t always go to the best or brightest or even the most qualified. ‘It’s a numbers game, when you come down to it.’, was his advice on the matter, and told Mitch he had to keep up the fight and find that one special employer who would recognize all that Mitch had to offer.
Mitch thanked Phil warmly, with Phil wishing Mitch success and offering to meet on a regular basis to see what was happening.
Now, what just happened there? It may look like a failure, as Mitch was no closer to finding a way out than at the beginning of the lunch. Phil provided no instantaneous solutions or cures for Mitch. Yet, what Phil did in that short span of time was an indicator of what made him such a good manager.
What he did was provide Mitch with two great gifts — hope and possibilities. He took time to analyze Mitch’s attributes and give an analysis of them, not a cursory, ‘You’re just fine!’. He took time to bolster Mitch’s resolve with stories of his own that related to Mitch’s situation. He provided Mitch with new possibilities to explore that were good for Mitch, and opened up new vistas to explore. In the big picture, Phil gave his time to Mitch and made Mitch the center of the universe over that lunch, which was something Mitch needed.
In doing that, Phil showed one of the greatest skills a manager can have…the ability to listen to and interact with their employees. A manager who can put the employee at the center of their world for a short amount of time has employees who know they can trust and work with their manager, and thus want to work with their manager to achieve great things. The goals are still the same, the work has not decreased one iota, and the manager hasn’t made any concessions. Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. The employee sees they matter to the manager, and that the manager is willing to listen and to brainstorm new possibilities and help the employee see their own potential.
A good manager helps every employee see the greatness within them, and then helps shepherd it to the forefront. It is the best investment they can make in their staff. Sadly, too many don’t want to do it.