This is a piece of wisdom that I came across fairly early in my career. And this is much before I started writing professionally. I used to work with an outsourcing firm and served as an assistant manager for their inbound call center service division. Once promoted to this role from that of a senior team lead, I realized that somehow my entire team (this was the same team that I had worked with, for almost three years now) had started shunning me. They were no longer the same old happy, cheerful faces or the friends who had reach out to me whenever they needed comfort. It looked as if they just didn’t know me any longer. And I constantly wondered why!
I wasn’t really solving the problem either
I felt as if I was responsible for a lot of it. I now used to spend more time with higher management than before. The only time when I effectively saw my team was in official huddles, once every day, rather than sitting at a workstation next to them and taking calls. I no longer got to share the breaks and meals with them. And this was seriously taking a toll on my bonding with the team that I was supposed to supervise.
And then finally came the crackdown point – the feedback time. I was supposed to relay feedbacks to my old colleagues, some of whom I had surpassed for promotion. Of course the promotion and appraisal panel knew the reasons behind my promotion better; the fact is that I was upset that my promotion was being a cause of various ruined friendships. I was wondering if it was undeserving of me to get promoted.
I didn’t know what to do to get on a friendly note with my team. I was desperately seeking for a way without jeopardizing my position as their manager. And believe it or not, I was dreading the feedback time.
Help was around
By the time the first feedback was just a day away, I was hyperventilating. And to top it all, I was keeping it all bottled up inside. I was sitting in a quiet corner in the cafeteria, eating my lunch, almost without appetite. Just then one of the senior managers walked in and almost sneaked up on me. All it took for me to explode was her opening question. ‘So, all set for feedbacks? Are you done with your reports and all?’ And there it was. I knew that very minute that I had to speak to her about this. She was, after all, one of those who were in line for the post of the next assistant VP Operations and she was approachable. I knew this because everyone said so and also because she had mentored me in the past.
By the time I stopped speaking I had actually vented out everything about how stressed I was, how left out I felt with my old team, how they all seemed like strangers and how I thought I was the one responsible for that change. In fact I went on to confide to her that I was actually scared of what was about to come.
Was I the cause?
It was that day when I realized why she was such a popular senior manager. She let me vent out for full 10 minutes and once I finally stopped all she said was – ‘Do you want me to be just a sound board, or do you want another perspective as well?’ Of course I had expected some valuable mentoring from her side, but the shocking factor was that she had actually asked for my consent in it.
The first thing she helped me come to terms with was the fact that I wasn’t the cause of what I was facing. I had been promoted, she said, despite the relatively fewer number of years in the tenure, because of my dynamic and multi-faceted approach towards my previous job profile. It was not a vice to climb up the corporate ladder; rather it was an accomplishment and a well-deserved one.
The Actual Cause
She felt that the real reason was different. She didn’t call it jealousy, competition, discontent, envy, insecurity or some other negatively connoted word on part of the team; she said it was just that they didn’t know what to expect next from me.
And then she shared the following remarkable words of wisdom with me. She said, “You choose the kind of manager you become”. She shared with me her top-notch managerial skills, some of which were:
- Take an initiative to reach out to your team. It could be during the team huddle itself or outside.
- While giving feedback, stay sensitive to how people might feel and adjust your tone, voice and choice of words accordingly.
- It might mean taking out a few extra minutes, but make sure that if one of the team members comes up with a problem, you let them vent out. Most of the times, the very fact that a manager heard their voice will be more than sufficient for them.
- Be proactive. Value your team. We often value our customers, employers and businesses, but rarely do we take time to create an opportunity to value our colleagues.
- Appreciate their efforts. Appreciation is one of the many ways to ensure that a colleague puts in their best effort.
If you look at it, what she was actually saying was that being a manager is not easy, but if you put the right amount of effort in it then it becomes worth all the trouble. And this is how you choose to be the manager that you want to be; the manager, who’s loved, or the manager who’s feared, or the combination of both, each as and when required.