PLAYING THE HAND YOU’RE DEALT

Most managers fantasize at some point about being handed the “DREAM TEAM” assignment.  You know, a staff filled with self-starting, bright, multi-talented all-stars who basically need little management or oversight at all.  All we would need to do is to provide a clear sense of desired direction and then to get out-of-the-way.  Winning performances would follow and we would be seen as gifted and skilled managers.

Never happened to me and rarely does to most managers as well.  The reality is that we get dealt a certain talent and experience hand when asked to take on the responsibly of managing an organization.  And how a manager plays that hand from the start, tells us a lot about how good she or he will likely be as a boss and about how successfully her or his organization will perform.

So if you are about to embark on a new management assignment — regardless of past experiences — I offer the following three suggestions as potentially valuable food for thought.

First, your new organization will be anxious to get an immediate read on you; often to test the pre-conceptions they have based on what they have heard from others and the reputation that precedes you.  They will be especially attuned to your open-mindedness and your in-coming expectations of them.

Thus, do not be in any great hurry to share some grand vision or set of your own expectations until you have had the opportunity to evaluate what is most likely POSSIBLE in the near term.  Subordinates will look carefully for clues that you are happy to have your new assignment and that you are open to receiving  their input on what needs doing and on who can do what.  I believe it is wise to demonstrate both sets of clues.

As the boss, of course, you get the final say.  But hitting the ground learning beats hitting the ground running any day.  Negative first impressions are very difficult to erase, especially about a manager’s open-mindedness, reality testing ability, flexibility, enthusiasm for her or his assignment and capacity for trust in those she or he must manage.

Second, accept the fact that getting to know your folks — I mean really getting to know them — will require some time and a multi-faceted effort on your part.  Certainly an initial sit down conversation with those individuals entrusted to your management skills is a great place to start.  It’s an opportunity to take an early measure of their attitude, self-confidence, leadership potential, and ideas concerning their own future and on what things —“around here” — could be improved or done better.

But I strongly urge taking the additional time to see each subordinate in action and to evaluate the skills they demonstrate on the job before forming hard conclusions.  You may know some of them from the past or been told about others by your colleagues.  But humans have an amazing capacity to surprise or fool us on a regular basis.  Nothing beats what you can empirically verify by your own observations when it comes to the work and assignment decisions you must make.

Early on is also a great time for some assignment experimentation.  It is another sign of your open-mindedness and sends a clear signal that you are not likely to typecast and pigeon-hole everybody into inflexible roles.

Good managers can build toward any vision or future state but they generally must build.  Good managers know they can eventually add to or subtract from their original hand but that almost always takes time.  Early signs of a manager’s dissatisfaction with the hand they have been given, is invariably a real morale and motivation killer.

Third, the best managers know that the most likely vision, sense of direction, and set of performance expectations for their organization that are likely to succeed, are those they and their workforce have craft together as a team.  Creating a joint sense of direction and a set of shared expectations that are both realistic and that provide a stretch capacity, drives both personal and organizational growth.  More importantly, such a collaborative process demonstrates the sort of manager trust in the skills, talent, and commitment of her or his team members, that motivates most individuals  to meet those expectations they have agreed to accept for themselves.

One comment

  1. This is really powerful advice and I am always surprised by managers in my organization who think they can wait until they get the “right” people, as if that will ever happen. I may not have always been able to do everything I wanted because of the hand I held but I played the hand anyway.

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