As a manager, your boss expects you to get things done and keep your employees motivated and performing. Your employees expect you to look out for them and buffer them from the b.s.
To be a “good” manager of people it’s understood that you are responsible for motivating your employees, for guiding them through rough patches, for being there when they need you and particularly to answer their questions. This is great until your good intentions make them more dependent on you than you intended.
Good intentions sometimes lead to painful outcomes
Early in my career I worked with Aaron, who desperately wanted to be promoted. He asked me to help him. We identified the skills and experiences needed for him to become promotion material.
Over time I noticed he didn’t want to put in the work. I couldn’t get through to him. He had the skills and talent. It’s not like he wasn’t capable. But he didn’t want to earn the promotion.
After work one day I was mulling this over and it occurred to me that Aaron was probably not at home thinking about this.
That’s the moment I had my “empowered” manager epiphany. It stopped me in my tracks about putting more effort into this than he was.
Put the responsibility back where it belongs
Aaron was ticked off at me. Our discussions consisted of him complaining about the “unfairness of the process.” I stopped trying to convince him otherwise. I reminded him of what he needed to do to advance.
Are you devoting more effort to their advancement or improvement than they are? It’s a red flag. Stop it.
It’s the oxygen mask on the airplane thing
You may yearn for the magic formula to create more initiative and motivation in your employees. The real deal is this:
“The first and most important person to empower is yourself.“
As long as you are trying to get others motivated and neglect your own needs, it will be an uphill battle. Convincing, persuading and coaxing only go so far. What if your discussions with your employees included curiosity, inquiry, checking your assumptions and genuine listening?
When you empower yourself you see more options to manage the position you are in, especially when it comes to leading your employees to choose more empowerment for themselves.
Hold them accountable and be on their side at the same time
Holding them accountable doesn’t mean you abandon the under-performer or the “problem employee” or the ones like Aaron, who have aspirations but no intention of putting in the work. As I did with Aaron, get clear with them about their responsibilities and the consequences of their choices. Remind them at opportune moments.
You will both come away with a stronger understanding and comfort with who does what. They'll grow a less dependent and more effective. You will begin to experiment with new ways of responding. You will have more time for those who are willing to work on themselves.
You will embody the confidence and competence that comes from knowing what works and setting limits. You will create an environment that allows everyone to be human, to learn and to grow.
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