A LITTLE THING THAT MATTERS —
Ask any subordinate if he or she wants to work for a manager who really doesn’t want their job and the answer will usually be a resounding NO!
From a subordinate’s point of view, their immediate manager serves several vital functions they must depend upon for their own success. Subordinates look to their manager to provide direction, assign them to tasks, provide them with a sense of where they fit in, stand up for them and protect their interests when necessary, look after their career progression, and be there to resolve conflicts when needed. Thus, when it is obvious that their manager would rather have some other assignment, subordinates have considerable reason for displeasure and concern.
Subordinates want a manager who is, what I call, IN THE PRESENT. This is a manager who communicates in everything she or he does that they want their job and are dedicated to being the best boss possible. These are the managers that can best motivate their subordinates, focus them daily on the critical job tasks they must undertake, and assure their subordinates that they will always have their — not their personal — best interests at heart.
Sounds fairly straight forward, right? Yet as most managers will tell you, they do — or did — not always get the job they want.
Perhaps looking for one management assignment, they were given another. Perhaps they lost out in a competition and their new assignment seems like a consolation prize in their eyes. Perhaps, as often happens, the assignment a manager is given ends up being significantly different from what they anticipated and escape seems like an attractive option. Or, as many subordinates have experienced, their manager is the stereotypical fast track ladder-climber whose only goals appear to be self-promotion and avoiding the difficult decisions that might tarnish their image.
So, life being what it is, being in the present for a manager may occasionally require some psychological effort and attitude adjustment on her or his part. There is certainly nothing wrong with aspiring to climb — as rapidly as possible — the managerial ladder in one’s organization but not at the expense of subordinates and others encountered along the way. Moreover, the best managers understand that being patient and in the present at each stop along the way, is the best way to ensure that the next rung on the ladder remains attainable.
Thus, for those times when — for whatever reason — being in the present requires some adaptation, my advice to managers is to start by coming to grips with why you are feeling as you do. Whether it is not the assignment you coveted, a challenge you believe beneath your experience level and competence, or a challenge that scares you because you believe it may exceed your competence, any of these reasons will make it more difficult to fully focus on the realities of your job. And your subordinates will quickly recognize your feelings, aura of uncertainty or doubt, and any negative attitude on your part.
No manager has an inalienable right to whatever assignment they desire. But as long as they are collecting that paycheck, they do have the responsibility to do their present job as best they can. Acknowledging our underlying feelings, brings understanding, allows us to accept that we are only human after all, and initiate the process of transferring attention and focus from our feelings, to the people and tasks at hand.
In my experience, upper management is generally aware of how their subordinate manager’s feel about a particular assignment and pay especially close attention to how they perform when a subordinate manager must overcome disappointment, or make an attitude adjustment of some kind. As the best managers know, it generally helps to make that adjustment if they keep in mind just how important their being in the present is to those entrusted to their management skills. It is another little thing that really matters.