The best manager I ever had passed away recently. I’ve mentioned him a couple of times in earlier posts—he was the man who told me that “time is your friend” (to which I added the codicil, “except when it isn’t”).
Among the other wise things he taught me were:
1. You can never have an hour long conversation with someone in less than an hour.
That statement of his taught me that you can never rush through listening to someone with a problem or a complaint. People need the time to tell their stories, and no matter how efficient you can be in the rest of what you do, listening takes time.
He had prior experience in Human Resources and a long history as a manager of large groups. He’d spent many hours listening to people’s grievances.
2. The way to solve a problem is to throw good people at it.
My manager did this many times—he took the best people he had in his division and put them on projects or in roles where important changes were needed. The projects where he set up task forces of strong contributors included productivity challenges, quality improvement teams, and staffing and reorganization issues.
In every situation, the good people he assigned found solutions, most of which worked. And even when success wasn’t immediately forthcoming, he—and we—knew we’d given it our best shot.
3. Even if you can do something better or faster than your staff, you need to delegate.
The only way that people grow is by giving them work that enables them to learn. In my prior roles, I had been an individual contributor, even when I had project management responsibility. My manager taught me that in my new position with direct and indirect supervisory authority, I needed to give my staff the opportunity to do things their own way, even if I was faster, even if it took me time to delegate and supervise, even if I could do it better.
Just as he had given me the opportunity to expand my role, and then patiently coached me, I had to do the same for my staff.
Besides, no one can do everything, and we all need to choose priorities. So for the development of my staff, for my own sake, and for the good of the organization, delegation was important.
4. You’re not a risk.
One time this manager told me that when he named me to my new position, he’d been cautioned that he was taking a risk on an unknown quantity. He told me he’d never believed that. “You weren’t a risk,” he said. “You’d done a good job in your prior role, and I had every expectation you’d succeed again.” Perhaps this is a corollary to his advice that the best way to solve a problem is to throw good people at it. He was telling me I was one of the “good people.”
That was the best compliment any manager ever gave me. I have tried to give similar compliments to people who work for me over the years.
And I will carry all these lessons with me for the rest of my life. I am only sorry this manager will no longer be coaching others in this world. He will be missed.
What’s the best lesson you ever learned from one of your managers?