I’ll never forget the first time I took on a management role. I remember being mostly concerned with when review cycles take place, what the vacation policy was, and where is that form for approving a new laptop? I figured if I created a nicely formatted checklist, I'd be good to go.
Then I realized that this management thing was personal. I was responsible - to some extent - for the development and wellness of each person on my team and that meant understanding where they were strong and where they could grow. The real work in managing others is empowering each person to do great work, meet goals, celebrate wins and continuously learn and improve when things don’t go well, and that goes far beyond a checklist.
While I focus my work on managers, their role in the organization and their relationship with their team, you can’t ignore that there is the important responsibility of each employee to take accountability for their own career and story. It is so much easier to point a finger at one’s lack of advancement or support in the organization - and while there may be some truth - there is almost always more you, the individual, can do.
No matter what level you are in the organization, you can help your manager be better at their job by being more accountable for your own. It is like a seesaw that must be balanced on both sides. Here are 4 ways to strike that balance:
Follow through and follow up. If you say you’re going to do something - make sure you do it. Just as importantly, if your manager says they’re going to do something for you or in support of you - follow up. You are more likely than they are to remember that “thing” because it is fundamentally more important to you - and it should be! They have their own “thing” to worry about. Taking personal accountability for your development and your career is squarely your responsibility, and you will become exhausted and disappointed if you wait for someone else to do the job for you. In fact, in a HBR study of over 4,500 upper-level managers, 46% are said to do “too little” to hold their people accountable. What’s the takeaway? Being accountable to yourself is a key factor to being successful, since you can’t always count on someone else to hold your feet to the fire.
Make them look good. When the team wins, the manager wins. There is an understood expectation that a team acts as the support structure for the team leader and the team vision. A manager’s job is to support, empower and develop you, and if they’re not good at that there is hope. How can you go the extra mile to make them look good? When you’re able to do that, it will ultimately reflect well on you because you’ll share in the recognition and reward of the good work.
Manage up. If you don’t tell your manager about your success–the new client relationship you established or the great feedback you received–it may feel as if it never happened. Consider thoughtfully bringing your manager into your process and your work, so that they can see the great work you’re doing and provide their counsel. One of my clients who didn’t want to “burden” her manager, realized that by involving her manager in the process and in the problem-solving, she created a stronger connection with her manager, and was able to do better work. A practice like this helps you accomplish three things: showcase your work naturally, manage up effectively and involve your manager in a strategic way.
Know the full context. Politics, pressure and personal issues are sometimes at play. Emotional intelligence tells us that being empathetic is incredibly important for leaders to connect with their people, but really, showing empathy is something everyone can be better at. Daniel Goleman teaches three levels of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and empathetic concern. The key takeaway is to understand your manager’s perspective, what they’re experiencing and what they need from you. With that context, you can more easily meet even their unmet needs - and that is a highly valued trait.
Without a doubt, there is a manager crisis whereby managers are unable to see how their actions, or inactions, contribute to a disengaged workforce.
However, it can’t all fall on one person. If you get a promotion, do you thank your manager for making it happen? Not exactly, because you made it happen. The opposite is true, too. You can help your manager be better at his or her job by taking more accountability for your own.
Romy Rost is a leadership coach and trainer dedicated to creating more productive, empowering, successful and fulfilled managers and leaders.