and November 15, 2017

01 do not get close to your people

Ask the next five people you meet about a manager who has made a significant difference in their lives. We did that, and here are excerpts from a couple of the answers we got:

“I would thank her for being a positive moving force in my life. She was appreciative, supportive, gracious and a dear friend. We don’t work together anymore, and I wish we did.” – Makenzie Rath describing her manager, Renuka Ramanathan

“He was supportive, empathetic, the most creative person I have ever met, and he was all about our success and development.” – Kent Woodhead describing his manager, Mike Siefkes

Do these sound like managers who do not get close to their people? Managers who make a difference get to know their employees and cultivate strong, personalized relationships with them. They know familiarity does not breed contempt; it breeds trust and loyalty.

Getting close to your people makes it easier, not harder, to discipline people because the trust you cultivate with them increases their receptivity and decreases their defensiveness. And getting close to your people does not cause your employees to lose respect; it gives them an opportunity to cement their commitment to you and the company. The closer you get to your people, the more likely they are to go above and beyond, hang in during tough times, forgive your mistakes and give you the benefit of the doubt.

Make no mistake. Rath and Woodhead would go a long way to support and ensure the success of Ramanathan and Siefkes, managers they describe as supportive, empathetic friends. Do you want to be a great manager? Go ahead. Get close to your people.

02 to be fair, treat everyone equally

Treating everyone equally is not always fair. In fact, it might be the most unfair thing you can do as a manager. You can expect performance excellence from everyone, but if you treat people equally by training and coaching everyone exactly the same way, you will be very disappointed. And you will set your people up to fail.

One size never fits all. Different people learn differently. To perform at their best, people need you to train and manage them in the way that works best for them. Some are visual learners; others are more hands on. Some want lots of time with you. Some want you to leave them alone and let them do their jobs.

Managers who make a difference give everyone equal opportunities, but they do not treat everyone equally otherwise. They give Deepa what she needs to succeed and grow, and they give Vijay what he needs to perform at his best. They maximize the fit between what they expect from people and what people naturally do well. As a manager, your goal should be to treat everyone fairly, based on each person’s unique strengths, needs, and goals. Fair is not always equal.

03 your job is to change people

If you are a manager, changing people is not your job. Your job is to maximize people’s performance. Start by accepting people as they are. Do not try to change people. Instead, discover what makes each person unique. Then align people’s unique strengths with the goals of the organization so both the individual and the organization can achieve the greatest performance and growth.

Managers who make a difference look hard (and keep looking) to find ‘what is right’ with people instead of focusing on what is wrong with them. They do not try to change people. They do everything they can to help people become more of who they already are. They name the strengths they see in people and they empower people to claim those strengths in new ways. They find the sparks of potential in people and fan them into flames. And in the process, they tolerate some undesirable qualities and behaviors—because those characteristics are part of the package.

Do not try to change people to match your own definition of ‘good’. Discover where their greatness lies. Do not try to make them better in the areas you see as weaknesses. Make those weaknesses irrelevant to their success. If you try to change people, you will fail. Your job is to maximize people’s performance, and when you accept people as they are and stretch their strengths, you will achieve your own goals and help them achieve their goals.

04 spend most of your time working to improve your weakest players

The adage, “A team is only as strong as its weakest player,” drives this myth. Managers who buy into it give poor performers the lion’s share of their time and attention. As a result, they may achieve some modest performance gains. But what would happen if they invested that same time and attention into further accelerating the performance of their top performers? The best managers realize there is a difference between room for improvement and potential for improvement.

Imagine you are an investor who has only a certain amount of money to invest in companies already in your portfolio. Would you invest in the companies that are performing best or in the companies that are performing worst? The smart money goes to the top-performing companies because they are more likely to yield a higher return on the investment. For managers, time is money. Make the smart investment.

Managers who make a difference spend time with everyone in their teams. But they spend more time with their top performers because those are the people who will create higher returns on that investment. Spend more time with your top performers and you will drive performance growth further faster.

05 your top performer is your best candidate for next-level leadership

The best performer in your team is not always the best person to promote into a management or leadership position. Sometimes your next manager is not the star but the competent performer who has extraordinary talent and potential for coaching, teaching, managing and leading. Assuming your top performer is first in line for a management or leadership role is the myth that drives the Peter Principle.

The consequences of this myth play out all too often in sales. The top salesperson gets the promotion to Sales Manager. But the strengths that drive success in sales are not the same as the ones that drive success in management, and the newly promoted person turns out to be a poor manager. The organization loses—twice! They have lost some or all of the revenue their best salesperson produced and they have given the sales team a poor manager.

Look for the person who is asking great questions, naturally influencing peers and positioning other people to succeed. Who is the pulse-taker and go-to adviser? Who brings new ideas to the table that are connected to bigger picture goals? The people who do that naturally have the potential you’re looking for. Make potential, not performance, the factor that puts candidates at the top of your list for promotion into management and leadership.