“It’s only three people, Dad! How hard can it be?” That’s what a young manager said to his dad when his dad suggested that the new job his inexperienced son was about to start might be a bit difficult.
The reason it would be difficult? He would be supervising three people. His son felt, as you can tell from the response, that his dad was grossly underestimating him. However, if you’ve ever managed someone, you know the father’s wisdom soon skyrocketed in his son’s eyes. (Father knows best?)
Why is it so hard to manage people? It seems like it shouldn’t be that hard! But, it is. It always has been, and no matter how good the organization is or the products you produce, it will always be hard to maximize people’s talents, production, and growth.
First, it’s hard because you come from different backgrounds. You may be from the same region and/or generation, but it’s still a different background. You had different role models, different families, and different experiences. Our backgrounds influence how we see situations. And even though it was in the past, most of us come to realize that our past never really stays there; it just keeps moving into the present with us. Our tendency is to think that our background is “normal” (which it may or may not be), and that everyone else developed the same values, beliefs, and perspectives that we did.
Managing people is also hard because we don’t have the same current perspectives. We have different pressure points. We have different goals. We have different strengths and weaknesses. We even have different opinions, not just about the answers, but even about what the real problems are! On top of that, it’s hard for some of us to even comprehend that the entire world, or at least the entire department, doesn’t see it like we do.
As if these two things aren’t enough, a third reason that it can be so hard is because we are all moving targets! We’re changing. In a class I was teaching not long ago, one supervisor put it this way: “I have supervised the same person for ten years, but he’s not the same person that he was then.” True. However, the supervisor isn’t the same, either. Things change us. Relationships change us. New information and technology change us. So, just about the time you think you’ve figured them out, everything’s changed—including you!
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to these challenges; and honestly, these are only three of many reasons that managing and leading people isn’t as easy as it seems. However, the best leaders and managers learn skills that bring success. There’s no exhaustive list of those skills, but three that should be on any effective leader’s list are:
- Be a Student of Yourself – Know yourself. Know your presuppositions. Know your motivations.
- Be a Student of Your Team – Know your team. Listen to their experiences. Listen to their aspirations. Ask them questions.
- Be a Student of the Basics – There’s a wealth of literature about leading people. Most things have been written about over and over, from slightly different angles and in slightly different terms. The things that are repeated over and over are not the things to dismiss. Those are the things to master. The things to be suspicious of are the “tricks” that no one has ever written about. If you want to be successful, learn the fundamentals and stick to them.