I’ve been involved in some great management conversations lately that have me thinking about two sort of related, but not entirely related ideas:  the management double standard and the idea of a halo.  Allow me to explain:

Management Double Standard:

In discussion, someone made the observation/point that an employee asking a supervisor/manager certain types of questions (for example: “Why are you working this shift?  What are you doing?  Why did you talk to that person? etc) can seem over the line and bordering on being a “busy body.”  I think the point is valid, but I also think that as management you can’t really fight or win that battle 99% of the time.

Rands in Repose sums it up best: “”Leadership is not just about effectively getting stuff done, but demonstrating through your composure that you aren’t rattled by the freakish.”  I’m gonna tweak/interpret it slightly differently: as a manager I accept that my staff are human.  They make mistakes, they have faults, personality quirks, intepret things differently that I do, see things that I don’t see, are fallible.  Simple, right?  This applies to all human beings.  We all have our “things.”  Except when you’re in a management position it suddenly seems like you’re not a human being anymore.  Whether you like it or not, you’re now in a position of authority and are seen as such.  There is very much an expectation that you will have the answers, solve the problems, make the decisions, do it right the first time and not make any mistakes in the process.  You also may not be able to have feelings about certain issues or events, and whether you do or don’t those feelings will most likely not be taken into consideration when you’re interacting with others.

Okay, so that sounds kinda awful and bleak and terrible.  It’s not always like that.  It really and truly is not.  But, there are some days, some issues, some events that make you feel like that is terribly true.  The bottom line is a good manager will remember that her staff are human beings who have faults and foibles and quirks. And that these characteristics influence behavior and performance and while performance expectations must be met, behavior is something that we can’t control or regulate.  So we accept.  With that acceptance must also come the acceptance that we (management) may not be given the same treatment or pass and that is okay because whether we like it or not, it comes with the job.

Halos

In previous POW I’ve heard the term “halo” tossed around a lot when describing someone’s work or performance or general attitude.  As in, “they still have their halo.”  The gross implication is: this person has not screwed up royally yet to lose their halo.  I kinda call bullshit on the concept.  I know I’ve made epic mistakes, screwed up, handled things the wrong way, and made the wrong decisions in my work, but I’ve yet to feel like “I’ve screwed up royally” to the point that my boss and/or my boss’s boss think I suck.

Here’s my take on the “halo” phenomena:

Everyone has one.  You start out with it.  You wear it.  You break it in.  It gets tarnished or bent from time to time, but it can be polished off and fixed. How?  You own your mistakes.  You get things done.  You fix problems.  You’re a team player.  You’re a positive influence.  Etc, etc, etc.

What you don’t do is make poor decisions.  I’m not talking about making the wrong decisions.  We all make wrong decisions.  I’m talking about poor decisions.  There is a slight difference.  The wrong decisions kinda just happen.  You get misinformation.  You interpret a situation incorrectly.  You just make a decision and it turns out to be wrong.  Poor decisions seem to either happen with a lot of thought or absolutely no thought behind them.  These are not the types of decisions that you make in the daily course of your work.  These are those decisions that you make that can affect you and your reputation in your POW immediately or over time.  Decisions like talking about certain aspects of your personal life with co-workers.  There is a big difference between talking about your kid’s soccer game versus how drunk you got at the bar last night.  Think about it.  Which one would you prefer to be spread like wildfire throughout your POW?  The soccer game has no gossip potential.

I’m not saying that sharing yourself with colleagues is a poor decision.  What you choose to share may absolutely be.  Here’s the rub: perception matters.  Perception is what your colleagues/staff/administration often have to go on.  You’re not going to lose your halo because you made the wrong decision.  You may very well lose it because you made a poor one.

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I am the oldest of four children.  I have one sister who is three years younger than I am, and two female cousins, one 4 years and the second 10 years younger than myself.  I say that I am one of four because in grand, old school Italian style, our families (my mom and her sister) lived very close to one another and my grandparents.  We were raised as a four-pack and did everything together – vacations, birthdays, weekends, weekdays, after school, Sunday dinners, you name it, we did it together.  When I was 13 our grandmother moved into our house and still lives with my parents.  Us kids thought this was great because now we had Nannie’s cooking every night and she dropped us off and picked us up from school – no more bus.  This also meant that at any given time there were 5-8 people in our house.  It was fun, but insane, and very, very loud.

Sometimes stereotypes are so dead-on that you laugh when you read about them or see them portrayed in movies or on television.  The stereotype of the loud, everyone talking at once, everyone has an opinion, everyone’s opinion is correct, and whomever is the last one talking wins all happening around a table of food is very true, at least it was in my house.  If you put any stock in birth order, you’d know that first born children tend to be more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable and less open to new ideas than later born children.  Add a huge dose of Italian upbringing and this pretty much summed up my personality up until I was 22 years old.  You could not tell me anything.  I had an opinion and you were going to hear it.  I was right, you were wrong and that was the end of the story.  It was my way or the highway.

I took this personality to college with me and surprisingly did very well.  I had my mind opened much more than I had before and became a more tolerant person.  I began college as pre-med.  I wanted very much to be a doctor, but life had other plans for me and after my sophomore year, I transferred schools and found myself as a history major.  I graduated and then on the suggestion of a librarian I worked with, decided to go to library school.  She swore up and down that I would be a “fantastic librarian.”  I am still not sure if she was correct, but I am enjoying figuring it out.

This seems like a very long winded story and way to talk about stepping outside your comfort zone, but there is a point I promise to make.  Being a doctor would have been a great job for me and my domineering personality.  I wanted to be an ER doc, which would have been fantastic since I could bark out orders and work in a high stress environment.  But, that did not happen.  What did happen was during my first year of graduate school I accepted a management position at the library.

Looking back on that time, I can safely say that I was not a glowing success in that position.  I actually had a supervisor tell me that they thought my personality was not suited for management and that I tended to get very upset when I did not get my way.  I wish I could say that I disagreed with that assessment, but I knew then and I know now, that was a dead-on appraisal of my management skills.

When I accepted my first professional position I made a promise to myself that I would work on developing my management skills.  There was not a lot of opportunity to attend formal professional development classes for this, but I found ways that I could improve my skills.  I started very simply, I listened to other people.  I really listened.  I considered other people’s opinions.  I worked on having better discussions about projects or issues.  I engaged others.  And, more often than not, I took their advice or suggestions and put them into practice.  I also learned how to accept criticism and feedback.  I learned to listen to it and accept it with grace and then work on improving the problem.  When receiving criticism and feedback I practiced what I like to call “generous listening.”  To me, that meant remaining calm, not interrupting, not arguing, asking for clarification or suggestions, and then thinking about what I was just told.

Do I need to explain how difficult this was for me to do?  Me, the gal who won every argument by yelling the loudest.  The one who would sit at a table of 10 people who were all talking at once and was still heard.  The oldest child who’s way of doing things was always the right way.

The point I am getting at, rather circuitously, is that doing that self-reflection and work was difficult and at times extremely uncomfortable.  Being honest with yourself, the type of honest where you admit you have faults, is painful.  However, it is also invaluable to our development and improvement and when you are committed to changing, the results can be life changing.

Being a good manager requires constant self-assessment.  It requires adapting to your environment and those who you are interacting with on a daily basis.  Learning how to communicate.  Discovering how to motivate people.  Realizing what you are doing that may be ineffective and sometimes damaging.  In short, it requires you to go outside your comfort zone on a continual basis.

The good news is that once you regularly go outside your comfort zone it starts to become familiar and comfortable.

An interesting side note: the three remaining in my four-pack (my sister and two cousins) all became teachers….and married teachers.  I find it funny because the classroom, at least as I remember it, is not a democracy.  You do what the teacher tells you.  This is even more funnier after I tell you that they are all math teachers.  There are no gray areas in math. The answer is either right or wrong.  This is the perfect place for our types of personalities.  I’ve been a manager for almost ten years.  When I come home for holidays, events or vacations and we are all together (now our numbers seem to have doubled) I get teased because I am the “quiet one” who “never argues” anymore.  I just smile and tell them that I am listening to them. 🙂

You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em!

As a manager I frequently find myself in situations that rely on my skills at compromise.  This does not mean that I am giving something up or losing. Compromise is not a dirty word nor does is always have a negative connotation.  I like to think of compromise as a synonym for collegiality.

We all find ourselves in situations where we need to work together to solve a problem or provide a service.  We may not want to work collaboratively, nor may we instantly see the benefit that our compromise will have on someone or something else.  It is important to remember that all of us are working towards the same goal of providing our users with outstanding services and a positive library experience.  However, it is also important to recognize that many of us are trying to accomplish this goal with limited resources.  Collaboration helps a lot, but compromise also has a role. Compromising on a process or workflow by agreeing to cut back a step or two is an example of how this can work.

The important thing to remember is that compromise is not permanent.   Situations can always be re-evaluated and reworked and circumstances change.  But in the act of compromise you have gained the gratitude and respect of your colleagues, and that will always be a benefit in the future.