Being a good manager requires passion, effort, and patience. But above all, it requires the right mindset.
My mom managed many people for many years. 20 years later, some still call her for advice with genuine admiration and gratefulness.
When I started managing, I asked my mom what her secret was. She summarized it with 3 perfect words that sound better in Hebrew.
See the human.
Wait, is that it? It required a journey of 4 years scattered with painful mistakes to understand how profound and incredibly useful this statement was. Let me take you on that journey.
Can I ever become a good manager?
When I first became a manager I was a bad manager. That’s how skills work. But I was motivated and excited to become a good manager, so I thought I had good potential.
In retrospect, there’s a better way to test whether you have the potential to become a good manager. This test consists of two questions:
Do you genuinely wish to see your employees succeed in their role and grow their career while maintaining their wellness?
Are you ready to take your fair share of responsibility to ensure that?
How would you feel if your own manager answered either of these questions with a no?
My answer to both questions was always yes (if yours is not, please don’t become a manager.) As I quickly learned, having potential and fulfilling that potential are two very different things.
Mistakes I made that caused my employees to quit
I was completely shocked, and anxious, when my very first employee quit. My mistake was that I didn’t work hard to understand their motivation and career goals, which quickly led to an unhappy employee who was ready to move on.
Okay, gotta focus on motivation and career goals.
My next mistake was more nuanced. I couldn’t understand why my employee behaved in a certain way that I thought was harmful. Worse yet, I didn’t know how they saw these situations and failed to openly talk about it. Trust slowly eroded to the point of no return.
Okay, gotta talk about the hard things and be curious about their perspective.
Next time was different too. We talked about things openly. But I didn’t realize that certain things I’ve said were heard in a very different way. When we finally had the conversation that cleared out the fog they decided to quit the next day.
I felt demotivated. How is it that I try my very best, learn from my mistakes, but continue to end up with unhappy employees who quit? I couldn’t tell what these mistakes had in common, if at all. Until suddenly I could.
The “a-ha” moment
When I figured out what my overarching mistake was it seemed almost too simple:
I managed my employees the way I personally want to be managed
This is wrong in so many ways. Here are some:
Erez doesn’t care about titles. Many people rightfully care about titles
Erez likes frequent check-ins. Some people see frequent check-ins as micromanagement and a sign of mistrust
Erez appreciates direct constructive feedback. Many people respond better to positive reinforcement
Erez likes to communicate in writing. Some people prefer verbal communication
Erez’s goal is to make his startup successful. Non-founders care about their career beyond the current role
And the list goes on...
To be a good manager requires being a good manager for each employee individually. There are no generic management styles, no tricks, no copying from one employee to the other. The way I now like to think about it is, each new employee requires me to create a new mini-manager in my head that is tailored specifically (and hopefully perfectly) for that employee.
So that’s what seeing the human means!
How to see the human
Seeing the human means managing each employee as an individual universe. You need to create a new mini-manager in your head that is perfect for them. This takes time and hard work, and it’s your job as a manager.
Because humans are so different, there are no tricks or tactics that work across the board. But there are 3 principles that helped me a lot.
Principles 1. Don’t look for tricks and don’t don’t adopt management style #7 from an online article. Just be curious, go deep, and truly understand who’s in front of you.
Principle 2. Lose your ego. Management is precisely 0% about you and 100% about them.
Principles 3. Focus and continue maintaining these pillars:
Effective, open, and deep communication
Motivation, goals, and desires (theirs, not yours!)
Trust, trust, and more trust
Good managers genuinely wish to see their employees succeed in their role and grow their career while maintaining their wellness. They achieve this by dropping the management tactics and focus on seeing the human. This means creating a perfectly tailored mini-manager in their head for each employee. This is hard work and you can leverage the 3 principles I’ve outlined to assist you.
See the human. And please listen to your mom too.