by Justin Standfield
A chance conversation with a stranger on the train this morning revealed that they were working out what to do about a challenge that most leaders face at some point in their career. They had been promoted from within their team to become the manager and were finding it increasingly hard to strike a balance between managing the team effectively and what they referred to as “still being me”. It became apparent from the description of their actions and communication with the team that they were putting quite a bit of energy into courting popularity – for them, “still being me” was closely linked to “still being liked”.
When we become the boss of the same team that we’ve been a member of, something does indeed change; perhaps more precisely, something does need to change. From the moment that a new manager takes over the role in this situation, it’s as if an invisible threshold has been crossed. No matter how much they may want to “still be me” – and maybe their team mates are hoping for the same – the working relationship has altered. Both the manager and their new direct reports would do well to consider how a new type of relationship can be developed; in a team where there is openness and trust, this conversation could be had jointly with everyone present, initiated by the new manager with their positive intention stated at the start.
Back to the “still being me” thing. It is highly likely that our colleagues in the team also want us to remain the same “us” and be true to ourselves in terms of values, standards and so on. They certainly don’t want us to transform overnight into someone else – whether that’s by copying other managers in the same company or by trying to embody everything we’ve picked up from watching 100 TED Talks, no matter how well intentioned. The thing is, every single one of us has a highly refined inbuilt detector that can spot inauthenticity within seconds. In my experience, most people want a real person as their manager – warts and all – rather than a seemingly flawless clone.
If you find yourself transitioning to become the boss of the team you belong to, it’s worthwhile spending some time working out and clarifying what your guiding principles are, if you haven’t done this before. In fact, I’d say that it’s a valuable activity even if you have done it in the past. If the term “guiding principles” sounds rather grandiose then you could just think of them simply as your values or what you stand for. Although it’s possible to do this values clarification work on your own, people often report that a greater depth of exploration and therefore more lasting insight comes from working through it with a good coach. The resulting set of principles can then act like a compass to inform things like leadership style, decision making, problem solving, team development and handling change. The likelihood is that when we act from this place of clarity we are going to be a more authentic version of ourselves and therefore go beyond “still being me”.
Finally, my fellow passenger turned to me and asked “Do you think it’s possible to be an effective manager and be liked at the same time?”. My reply was an emphatic “yes”, because I think it’s not only possible but readily achievable. The source of a team liking a boss who is also effective will typically come from the positive difference that they make, their ‘right’ actions guided by their principles and the way that they lead and engage. Focussing on these three areas will lay a solid foundation for the transitioning manager to build on and start developing their skills further. Then, they can pretty much forget about being liked because it will happen naturally.
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