In a recent blog, I characterized a manager’s usual day as fragmented; a series of occurences, meetings, requests for attention, instructions from above, and ad hoc problems often with little in common to connect them. This lack of coherence or consistency in the demands for a manager’s attention is often frustrating, sometimes irritating, and altogether tiring when the quantity of attention grabbers is high. The fragmented nature of a typical manager’s day also leads many practitioners feeling at day’s end that they accomplished little and left much undone.
Still the manager’s job is what it is and thus, each manager must find his or her own way of coping with the predictable demand that they shift gears and mind sets frequently. Moreover, because there are people attached in some way to each of these shifts of attention, the best managers are keen to communicate a level of interest and focus appropriate to each situation, so as not to suggest by their verbal reaction and body language that a particular request is irrelevant, stupid, or beneath them.
There is no single best approach to this coping challenge, since so much depends on the individual manager’s personality. But in a recent interview I conducted with an experienced manager in a large, busy, retail facility, she shared her approach with me. I pass it along here because I was so impressed with its creativity, imagination, and the depth of thought that lay behind it. She called her approach: “HER HATS”
She told me she begins each day imagining that she straps on a big belt to which are attached the many management hats she must regularly wear: the problem solver hat; the trouble-shooter hat; the customer satisfaction hat; the counselor hat; the coaching hat; the disciplinarian hat; the responsive subordinate hat, the equitable scheduler hat, etc. Each hat, she said, carries with it a frame of mind and an experience-tested range of approaches that have proved useful to her in the past.
Confronted with each new situation, she told me, she consciously contemplates putting on the appropriate hat to focus her attention on the nature of the situation and on a potential range of responses that may be required. Does it work, I asked her? “Yes” she said, explaining that it helps her stay calm, in the moment in each situation, and able to communicate her sincere interest in addressing the situation in the most effective way.
While I had no idea how she specifically managed to navigate her way through a typical fragmented, busy day prior to our interview, the effectiveness of her self-management technique was not a total surprise. I had observed her in action many times during my visits to the store and had noticed how she seemed to stand out in her various interactions with customers and colleagues whatever hat she might have been wearing at the time.
The best managers understand intuitively the importance of these moment to moment gear shifts and human interactions and over time develop their own ways to do it well. Consequently they are able to minimize the frustrations, irritations, and stress associated with the managerial responsibility they shoulder.
I am certain our colleague with her hats took some time to evolve her approach to self-management. How you do it is less important than that you do it, and do it well. Those you work with — colleagues, superiors, subordinates and most of all your customers — are depending on it.