A Manager's Tale: How Our Role Models Need to Change

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I have been fortunate in my career to have had excellent managers as well as unfortunate to have had extremely poor managers but I learn from every experience and today I want to share some of my most rewarding stories as a manager.
For the most part, no one who becomes a manager has ever really been trained as a manager but the truth of the matter is, it's a full-time job, above and beyond what you are supposed to accomplish in your day-to-day worklife.  The fact that most people are put in management positions because they were good at a specific task or had a specialized skill and there was no place in the organizational structure for them to succeed but in a management position is a discussion for another day.

I think one of the problems that most managers have, being untrained, is that they perceive their relationship to their staff to be either one of two things; a parent-child or a master-slave.  Personally, I find these models to be confusing and well....just plain wrong.  I prefer the teacher-student or mentor-apprentice role model.  If you think back to the time when you first recognized a really good teacher you might have had -- you know, in the beginning, when you were learning how to learn.  A good teacher wants their students to not only learn what they have to teach but to excel and to surpass them.

The parent-child model doesn't work because as we all know, there are too many strings -- too personal of a connection. 

I can remember a time when a much-beloved staff member & friend of mine was getting very frustrated and starting to act out.  Mostly, because we had run of out challenges for her to tackle.  I asked her if she wanted my job but she didn't and there were no other opportunities at the organization that appealed to her.  Eventually, she found a new job and when she announced she was leaving, a fellow director came over to me and whispered, "Don't you feel betrayed?  What are you going to do?"  I was quite surprised but I understood that her model was quite different from mine.  "No, I said.  I am happy for her.  She didn't want my job.  I couldn't find a place for her to grow so she needed to leave and find that elsewhere.  That's a good thing and yes, now I have to find another person to fill those responsibilities so we can continue to grow ourselves.  That's life."

The master-slave model doesn't work because it's just plain inhuman.

I was unfortunate to work in a very reactive, negative environment where this type of relationship was more of the norm than the exception.  In fact, I can recall that someone had murderous dreams toward their manager because of this treatment.  Scary stuff.  I mean, c'mon everyone, can't we all just get along?
It was also at this organization that I was given one of the best gifts a manager can get from their employee.  I had a staff member who was very loyal to the organization's mission and in fact, ended up working at that organization until her retirement just recently.  She was probably 15-20 years older than I was at the time -- very committed, with great attention to detail and good at her job.  When I walked into the organization they were in the midst of a major systems implementation and the primary users who all reported to me, had been left completely out of the loop....so you can imagine the resistance.  The system that she did all of her work on, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week was being thrown out and replaced with something completely new and foreign.  And she was the last to know.  She was also a person who loved to argue -- for fun. So, everyday, she would tell me, "I'll never learn this new system.  You can't teach an old dog new tricks."  It became a ritual.  She enjoyed starting my morning off with a fresh argument as to how my efforts to teach her would fail.  It was fun, I think, for her, but a bit exhausting for me and everyday, I would pick myself up and try a new tactic to break through her wall of resistance.

About a year passed and it came time to do the staff performance evaluations.  Part of the process was to ask each employee to write down a few achievements that they felt were above and beyond their job responsibilities.  She wrote a list of about 4-5 items.  It was something like this:

I learned how to do my timesheet.
I learned how to do my weekly log.
I learned how to use the new system.
And at the very bottom of the page was this final statement.  The most beautiful words that I had ever seen.

"Everyday, I learn something new."

To this day, I remember it as if it were yesterday.  A precious gift for any manager or teacher.

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