Every day as managers and leaders, we bring ourselves to the ‘job’. We bring our standards, our qualities or lack thereof, our likes and dislikes, our preconceived ideas, the peculiar set of values and predispositions we’ve acquired, our unique personalities, values, and experience.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with what we are. It just means we’re human and we don’t leave our humanity at home when we work. But problems arise when we apply our preconceptions or values to situations at work without understanding what we’re doing — when we tilt one way or the other, not based on what’s best in the circumstances, but on what we tend to prefer. What we prefer is sometimes the right choice, but often it’s not.
When someone once said about a client, “You don’t build bridges”. The client recognized the truth of those words — but was unable (or unable) to change. What he needed to do was against the grain of the fabric that was ’him’. It would have required a change in how he saw himself and the value he felt he added.
The first step to successfully changing ourselves is to understand who we are. Unless we understand our preconceived preferences — our “default settings” — we will be at their mercy. They will drive the choices we make every day, and we won’t even understand what’s happening. But if we know ourselves, we give ourselves the chance to stop and think: “I want to do such-and-such, but is that really the best choice here? It will make me feel comfortable, but is that the real test of what’s best?” If we can ask those questions, we give ourselves a better chance of making the right call.
All this is important for becoming an effective boss because managing and leading others, are built on a foundation of paradoxes. A paradox is a statement that’s true even though it contains contradictory elements. For example, “Effective bosses are proactive and patient” or “To manage people, you must exercise close control and give people wide latitude.”
“The essence of management is about knowing when one side of the paradox is more appropriate — when to take action and when to wait, for example, or when to manage closely and when to give someone a long rein.”
So what are your preferences? See below. There are no right or wrong answers. Effective managers will sometimes need to choose one way, and sometimes the other. The question is what would you prefer to do if you just followed your ‘gut’ all the time?
1- Do you prefer to include others in choices you make — by asking for their ideas and opinions or even giving them freedom to decide — or do you tend to direct others on what to do?
2- Do you prefer to focus on the work people do or on the people doing the work? In your relationship with direct reports, do you tend to deal primarily with the work, or do you prefer to interact with them as close colleagues and unique individuals?
3- Do you prefer to develop people through constructive criticism of what they need to improve on, or by praising them for what they do well? Do you let them figure out for themselves how to improve, or work with them using close contact and instruction?
4- Do you prefer to deal with your direct reports one-on-one or as a team? When there’s a problem in your group, do you tend to call everyone together and deal with it as a team, or do you prefer to go around person to person and work on it?
5- Do you prefer to focus on today’s challenges or do you prefer to think about tomorrow and what’s coming in the future?
6- Do you prefer execution, getting work done day after day, or innovation, creating new products or services or new ways of working?
7- Do you tend to work mostly with direct reports, your own group, or do you prefer to work with others throughout your organization?
8- When you have to make a tough choice, do you tend to focus on the harm that might befall someone or some group? Or do you prefer to focus on the greater good even if a choice may cause harm to some?
Include others vs. direct others, work vs. people, critique vs. praise, one-on-one vs. team, today vs. tomorrow, execute vs. innovate, direct reports vs. rest of organization, harm vs. greater good. These are some of the most fundamental choices we must make every day as bosses. If we don’t know our preferences when we encounter them, we’re far less likely to make the best choices. Going with your ‘gut’ isn’t always the best way to be a boss.