One of the great gifts any experienced manager has at his or her disposal, is the lessons of their experience. Years of hard work, countless hours of practice and application, the painful lessons of things gone wrong and the development of instincts and insights only real world experience can hone, amalgamate into a rich treasure troff of knowledge just waiting to be shared.
So why withhold the lessons of your experience from those who can most benefit from, and hopefully be receptive to, your input? Still many managers do withhold.
- Some managers are simply too shy or emotionally guarded by nature to freely talk about themselves in ways that illuminate what their experiences have taught them.
- Some managers — highly competitive by nature — see little reason to feed the competition for their positions by sharing what they believe they learned the hard way.
- Some managers — members of the “learn by doing school of thinking” — believe that either swimming or sinking teaches more valuable lessons than anything they might have to share.
- And of course there are those managers who simply do not see mentoring and coaching as part of their job.
The very best managers in my experience, however, have all been exceptionally willing to share with subordinates and colleagues information and insights they deemed valuable to professional success. The best managers understand that the very essence of the managerial challenge often involves the investment of their time in efforts designed to teach and share with others the wisdom and insight they possess.
Here I am not talking about endless, self-focused, story telling designed to dazzle one’s audience with tall tales concerning one’s success and accomplishments. Although some lessons are sometimes buried in such extended narratives, they are often lost in the details or come after one’s audience has tuned out. Sharing the right wisdom and insights requires clear specificity and careful targeting to moments and opportunities were they are most likely to be heard and quickly applied. In short, knowing when to teach is just as important as knowing what to teach.
I would suggest considering at least the following three categories of your experience-based wisdom as repositories of knowledge relevant to the success of those entrusted to your managerial skills.
First, what you know and have learned about working in your operational environment. What do you see as the keys to solving the typical problems you and your subordinates face; that is, what seems to work and what does not? What have you learned about navigating your organization’s working culture, especially those behaviors likely to alienate one from his or her peers?
Since organizations of any reasonable size evolve rather specific ways for accomplishing individual or group goals, what can you teach your subordinates about the keys to “getting things done around here”? The creative, high-initiative, go-getters you work with will find these insights especially valuable.
Second, how did you learn those things that have been the underpinnings of your success. Put another way, what specifically were the experiences that taught you what you know? Who did you listen and pay attention to? What sources of knowledge — people, training, learning devices, etc. — were particularly helpful to you? Who were your role models and why did you choose them?
People do not succeed by accident. Talent and ability mix with individual will and a combination of experiences to make success happen. What may prove helpful to others is insight into the combination of experiences that helped you: what type of individual’s did you engage; how valuable was team-based vice individual experience; how valuable were stretch assignments and volunteer activities; did initiative in search of creative solutions pay off or not? While most individuals will choose their own path to success, at least you will have offered them insight into the various elements of yours to consider as they may.
Third, how do you think about things and why? Whether as employees or managers, over time in the world of work we gain a perspective on things that separates us from those with less experience or a different observational vantage point. We know intuitively that where one stands in viewing something, profoundly determines what we see. We also know that a combination of perspectives provides a fuller appreciation of almost anything. This is why a manager’s willingness to share with others her or his thought process on various matters provides them with yet another optic to broaden and enlighten their own.
As I stressed in a previous article on mentoring in this collection, it isn’t important that others do things exactly your way. What is important is your willingness as a role model to share what you know, how you learned it and how you think about things so that others have a fuller knowledge base to draw upon as they chart their road map for success.