Good Manager and more: 5 things you wanna see in your boss
BEING AN ASSOCIATE is an awkward stage in your professional life; and I think you would agree with me on this. It’s like being a sophomore in college: All of a sudden you don’t receive as much attention as those excited-about-everything Freshmen anymore; at the same time you are still not “experienced” or “qualified” enough to apply to those internships/programs specifically designed for Junior and Seniors.
A couple of examples in line with this:
- In Objective Settings you are expected to use language like “take a leadership role in this project”, but you should be very cautious with language like “managing the project or the team” – Right, if you (being an Associate) are managing the team, why do they need a Director?
- The VP who used to be your supervisor now reports to the same boss as you do. But while the VP is participating in management training programs, you are left behind doing the VP’s job.
- You are responsible for the quality of the work done by your Analyst but he/she doesn’t report to you, so most of the times, he/she doesn’t give a sh** of what you say or intend to have him/her do.
- Let me STRESS that all the above don’t happen often at all in my own case, but nevertheless I guarantee you this is quite universal otherwise.
I consider myself as lucky to be on this assignment overseas. I am traveling in Singapore for the next 2 weeks and I found this city (oh I mean country) alluringly fascinating. Everybody is smiling, and everybody addresses you by your actual name, and everybody wants to do something extra for you. There are fancy tropical fruits prepared in the hotel room everyday, and the late afternoon scene in front of the Fullerton Hotel by the Singapore River is absolutely gorgeous and peaceful. The reddish color of the sky, the little brown cruise boats, the smooth breeze glancing through the shadows, and the lining-up of the orange rooftops from the restaurants across the river…oh and then there is music, how romantic…
While I gazed deeply into the waters, I realized what has really been occupying my mind these days: Coming from an Asian background myself and having experienced the US workplace for the past few years, I felt compassionately about the clashes of cultures between Asian and Western worlds, especially in a corporate environment. I have interned in Beijing, worked out of HK for 1-2 weeks previously, but this is the first time I had the opportunity to truly immerse myself into the corporate atmosphere and to understand the culture, the people, their organizational structure, their endeavors and struggles on a much closer and even personal level.
These understandings, in my opinion, speak directly to the core of the challenges a multinational firm is currently facing in a more regional/local setting. According to a recent employee survey from a global firm on multiple dimensions including measures on employee effectiveness, the level of satisfaction on “feeling engaged” and “feeling enabled” received the lowest scores for employees working out of their Asian offices. Interestingly, a horizontal comparison of these findings from other employee surveys reveals that “feeling engaged” and “feeling enabled” are among the lowest scores across international firms in the same region.
So maybe the question is: IS IT SIMPLY HARD for Asian employees or employees immersed in an Asian culture to feel engaged or enabled?
It could be; but even so, I would like to suggest you to focus on the other end of the spectrum: As a manager/boss, what CAN YOU DO to make your people feel more engaged and enabled, regardless of where you are, and where your people come from? And the observations and insights I am going to share below should not only apply to Asian professionals but to managers across divisions, industries, regions and cultures.
So I want to give you 5 things you will want to see in your boss. Do leave me a comment if you agree with me and/or if you see anything else as important not included on my list.
Empowerment – How you treat other people
If you can work on ONE THING in your professional career and you can see the effect right away it will be “how you treat other people”. But most people are simply too lazy to work on this, and you don’t know how important it is until you lose your people.
How to treat other people doesn’t just mean to be nice. Being nice is easy because all you need to do is to say “Thank you”, “Could you”, and “Please”. But the core of this challenge is how to make your employee feel that 1) you genuinely care about them; and 2) you truly value their contribution to the team.
The problem is, most managers are too obsessed with “managing up”, so they have next to no time “managing down”. How are you going to achieve the above two without even spending the time with your employees? If you are one of those trying to make improvements but struggling with constraints of time, I have a few simple suggestions that would make a big difference on how your people view you as a boss, so try them when you get a chance.
- When you get into the office in the morning, try to make a round and talk to people and see how they are doing and what’s on their plate for the day.
- Ask your team where they are going for lunch, even if it’s just grabbing take-outs, and if you don’t have other obligations, try to go with them.
- Instead of telling your team what they should do, spend a few minutes going around the table and say “I want to get your thoughts on this”, or “What do you think of this approach”, or “does this make sense to you” – Obviously you are still the decision-maker, but it DOESN’T HURT to hear what the other people have to say first.
- It is true that it is the junior people’s responsibility to manage his/her relationship with the boss, but it doesn’t mean you don’t even give them opportunity to reach out to you: Do keep your office door open.
- When you are really running around like crazy on a given day, and your employee is bugging you for questions/feedbacks: Reschedule, and do bother to explain briefly why you need to reschedule.
There are many other ways to illustrate how much you care and how much you appreciate but you get the idea. And the last thing I want to say about how you treat other people is: You don’t own other people. So don’t act as if you do.
Transparency – How much you are willing to share
Many managers pretend that they have nothing to do with transparency because they secretly expect that you will find out about the information from someone else anyway, so why bother? Yes people can turn to HR, other team members, people outside of their own division or even outside of their firm, and through some online resources to find out about certain information, but you can never under-estimate how reassuring and comforting it is if only a simple answer comes directly from their boss.
When talking about transparency I am particularly referring to the following scenarios.
- How are performance evaluated and what’s the promotion process
- If you have to lay off people from your division, how this is going to work and what is the impact of this to the remainder of the team
- Bonus payment (of course this is a sensitive topic but at least you can talk about average numbers and how this reflect performance)
- Why person A is assigned to project A, while person B on the same team is assigned to project B? What person A needs to do to get on project B?
- Try to provide different perspectives to the team, try to be their eyes and ears. Not just listen to what they are working on, but also be open about what kind of projects you (as a manager) are working on, and what are the other teams busy with (of course if your employee is smart he/she will probably ask this question already but it is always a plus if you bother to take the initiative to share)
I know some of these topics can be very tricky, and I fully understand that as a manager you have to wear many hats and to balance powers as well, and you don’t want to put yourself in an unfavorable position. But while you can, do try to provide as much information as possible, because when it’s good times and everyone is happy there is nothing to worry about even if you don’t share anything; but it is during challenging times that you will come to see the value of the effort you have made.
Clarity – How good you are at giving guidance/instructions
TRANSPARENCY has to do with your WILLINGNESS to share; while CLARITY has to do with whether you know the BEST WAY to share. Most managers expect to dump stuff on new/junior members and they can immediately pick up and figure out everything on their own. And isn’t it amazing if junior people can actually do that?!!??! But in reality, it’s quite tough.
In order to have your employees make your job easier as a boss, you need to, first of all, give them the necessary tools and resources so at least they know the basics of how to tackle these problems. At least in the very beginning, being very specific when you delegate is extremely helpful if you want to see results in a controlled manner:
- What’s the purpose of the assignment?
- What’s the deadline and are there any other expectations?
- Who else (which other teams) are involved and what coordination work needs to be done?
- Who else can your employee turn to if he/she has further questions?
- Do you have an example or previous sample that you can share?
- Any other questions? (Do give them a chance for this)
To sum up for clarity, my understanding is: if your employee cannot deliver what you think you are asking for, it could be that he/she sucks; it could ALSO be that you are simply not clear enough with what exactly you want.
Strength – Are you willing to stand up for your subordinates
If Transparency has to do with willingness, and Clarity has to do with effectiveness, then Strength has to do with character, and this is hard to find. Because not every manager has the type of personality it takes to stand up for his/her subordinates, and also because this is one area that has to do with how secure the manager feels about his/her own position.
So if you treat your employee well and you are sharing with information, you respect their opinions, and you delegate properly, you probably will survive the most basic manager test. But a smart (and really good) employee will not be willing to be associated with you in the long run if he/she feels you are lacking in strength. Just think about it, your best employee is typically willing to go an extra step in terms of what he/she can do for the team, the division and the firm. But if your best employee has this brilliant idea never done before, are you actually willing to fight for him/her for budget, allowance, and other reasonable permissions?
To put it in simple terms, if your employee is willing to go an extra step in terms of responsibilities, can you go an extra step too, especially for those who are most motivated and inspired? I think this is fundamentally crucial in terms of sustaining best performers because I have heard multiple times from different people that the very reason they leave the team or they choose not to sign up for a team is that the boss doesn’t have a track record or a reputation for standing up for his/her employees.
If you are a mid-career manager and you are struggling on this from your own perspective because you have to worry about how your own boss may think about your expenses, the best thing to do is to have an open dialogue with your own boss as well, and to be very honest about the values and contributions you are seeing in this particular employee and the prospect that this new project may take him/her. It is YOUR JOB to keep your team motivated so that you still have a team, at all! And I am sure your own boss understands this more than anyone else.
Flexibility – How much control you are willing to give up
Finally let’s talk about how much freedom you are willing to give and how much control you are wiling to give up? I need to clarify one thing though, all people HATE micro-managing, and micro-managing is fundamentally different from giving proper guidance. Giving freedom and having flexibility doesn’t mean you don’t give guidance at all. It only means whenever you can and to the degree that you are comfortable with, you should let go of certain things and have your employees run the show, at least partially.
I used to be on two teams and have experienced two bosses of distinctive management styles: laissez-faire and hands-on. Though I honestly struggled with the hands-on manager in the beginning, in retrospect I felt I have learned so much more from the mistakes I have made or the tiny little aspects of the job that I would have never even noticed otherwise. So when the hands-on manager left the team and I had to step up and to some extent become my own manager, I felt lost for a while because the guidance was simply not there anymore.
It was only after a while when I got used to running my own things and making my own judgment I realized how much I appreciated and enjoyed the freedom; I also realized that I would have never come this far if I never received the strict instructions and sometimes even harsh criticism from my previous boss.
Coming from this perspective I want to leave all the young bosses or the bosses-to-be with this: I know you have your own way of doing things, of course you do, and I am sure you have strong faith in what you do and what you are good at, otherwise you won’t be in the position as you are in today. I also agree with you that there are probably a couple of things you absolutely need to hold on to, but for many other things like word choice with emails, who exactly to contact for certain things, what needs to be done first/last, and etc, it doesn’t hurt to let your subordinates have a say. Let them run a project as a test to see how much more responsibility they are able to take on.
The more you can trust them, the less work you will have to do yourself (so you can focus on other important things in your career whatever that may be), the more respect you will receive from your subordinates, and everyone will be happier.
SO WHY NOT?