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As a manager, there is something I need to admit. Sometimes I forget what it’s like to not be in a leadership position. I have memories of what that felt like. But they are memories, not daily actions. They are in my mind, but not top of mind. If I don’t remind myself of what it’s like to not be the one in control, I can make mistakes that impact the people I work with. For that, I owe them several apologies.
I apologize for thinking your job is easier than it is. Sometimes the “curse of knowledge” is to blame for this. Simply put, it means I used to do your job, did it well and it’s hard now to imagine why you might struggle with it. I likely don’t remember the questions I had when I was new on the job. To overcome this, I need to reflect on your job and break it down into the individual tasks required. This will help jog my memory of the difficulties. Just as importantly, I can’t afford to assume you have the context you need. I need to overexplain on the front end and create opportunities for questions along the way, that helps me tap into those memories and so I can better support you.
The other reason is different. Because of my leadership role, I tend to think about the bigger picture and the actions required at that level. This happens a lot with leaders. We set a vision and strategy. If we are strong, we spend time discussing how your role fits into both. But if I’m not careful, the complexity of the bigger picture in which I’m immersed makes your role seem comparatively easy. It is not easy. I need to remember that.
I apologize for neglecting your strong performance. My energy and attention are constantly pulled in multiple directions. Those directions often involve problems that need my support. Strong performers usually need less support. I’m grateful for that. But if you are a strong performer, it also means I’m giving you less attention and less energy. That can easily turn into neglect.
I need to remind myself what neglect means. I need to look it up in the dictionary where I will find the following definition: “n. that state of being uncared for.”
That is not how you should feel. I do care for you. At a minimum, I need to clearly express that and explain where my attention is and why. I need to ask what you need. Odds are you don’t need much, that’s part of what makes you strong. But that’s an assumption and I could be wrong. Asking if you need support, surfaces the moments when you do and shows that I care.
I apologize for shutting down some of your ideas. Let me explain. I was once talking with a leader I admire and shared my struggle managing people with ideas which for a range of reasons – timing, stakeholders, resources, etc. – couldn’t be put into action. The leader looked at me and said, “What did you do to make them think their idea was good one?”
If I haven’t been clear about outcomes, resources, strategy, timing, expectations, who, what, where, when and why – then you won’t be clear on what’s possible. Clarity about the parameters within which we can play, are my responsibility.
It isn’t possible for me to explain everything on the front end. But if you share an idea that misses the mark, I have to look inward before casting judgment. I need to understand what role I played in shaping your thinking. After we have clarity, we may still disagree. But at least you know where I stand, and we are clear on why.
I apologize for being self-centered when it comes to issues of identity. Differences in identity lead to differences in life experiences and that can impact our work. My experiences as a man (vs. a woman) growing up in the city (vs. rural) as an introvert (vs. extrovert) have shaped me. There is no shortage of factors – language, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, age – that can make us different from one another.
After saying all that, we may still be very similar.
But I don’t know that or how it has shaped you unless I spend time getting to know you personally. A few minutes of casual conversation at the front end of every meeting can get the ball rolling. Investing resources in diversity and inclusion efforts moves the needle even further. Those steps open doors to different thinking, different relationships and different perspectives. If I build work only around my identity, I’m building from my past. But building for the future requires input from experiences different than my own. Valuing your identity and genuinely tapping into your experiences is a great place to start that work.
Finally, a tactical apology for sending emails and not telling you “by when.” I do this a lot. I fire off emails because I’m getting things off my plate. Email is my way of transferring thoughts, questions, requests, ideas or next steps to you. The problem is, because of my position, my emails feel urgent. The truth is I usually don’t immediately need whatever I emailed about. I usually need it sooner than later, but that might be tomorrow or end of the week. Not within ten minutes.
Like most people, leaders also get too many emails. But because of power dynamics, they don’t land in our inboxes with the same expectations.
So when I quickly dash off an email to you, I need to add a line that says, “Can you get this to me by end of day tomorrow?” or “By the end of this week is fine” or “I don’t need a response, just sharing this in case it helps.” If my request is actually more important than what you are currently working on, I need to make that clear. In the meantime, I need to make it equally clear when it’s not as important.
I’m sure there are many other missteps I need to apologize for. Fortunately, leadership isn’t about not making mistakes. It is about learning from them. Putting myself in your shoes will remind me of frustrations I had when I wasn’t leading. Because I once wore those shoes, I have a responsibility to do better for anyone that follows me. Navigating those uncertainties certainly made me stronger then. Reflecting on them periodically can make both of us stronger now.
April 27, 2019 at 03:55PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs