How to be a better manager is a question often asked in the workplace – either by ourselves as leaders or, unfortunately, by others kindly prodding us to ask this.
In this case, years ago, I was hired for management coaching for a leader who was really struggling.
This leader – Chris – managed a team of about a dozen people, and in the past year, three had quit.
One left a fairly scathing review about him.
Through all this, the manager’s boss had reached out to me and asked if I could help Chris learn how to be a better manager.
I’ve received these questions many times over the years… and honestly, while the answer is usually yes, it really depends on the person in question.
The process is usually always the same.
How a 360 Helps You Learn How to Be a Better Manager
We typically start with a 360 review to get some candid feedback on how the leader is performing.
If you haven’t done a 360 before by the way – I highly recommend it.
Nearly a decade in the leadership world, it’s one of my favorite tools.
We call it a 360 because you get feedback from literally everyone around you.
So if you want to know how to be a better manager, it often starts with understanding the things you’re doing well, and the things you’re doing not so well.
Who better to ask than those who are around you every single day?
Over the years, I’ve done likely over a hundred of these.
Most respond with shock and awe as to some of the insights their colleagues share about them.
Almost every person resolves to learn how to be a better manager.
Which makes sense.
It’s rare that someone will invest in a leader who doesn’t want to better themselves.
Frankly, the most meaningful people I’ve worked for have always asked themselves the question of how to be a better leader.
So when I sat down with Chris to talk about his 360 results, I wasn’t fully prepared for the conversation I was about to have.
How a 360 works is that a coworker is given a set of questions about your work style.
They basically give you a number rating from 1 to 5 on how often they see you demonstrating those leadership qualities… or how rarely they’ve seen them.
Additionally, you get some written comments as well that provide some extra insight to the scores.
The Truth: Chris Didn’t Want to Learn How to Be a Better Manager
To say Chris’ scores were low would be underselling it.
In fact, with so many 360s done, I would say it’s actually rare that someone doesn’t have great scores.
Again, most people who are in this process are actually really great leaders who just need a little extra help.
Not quite the case with Chris.
To this day, the scores Chris received are still the lowest I’ve ever seen, by a far margin.
And the written comments?
Even with the 360 being totally anonymous, people are sometimes a little less candid.
Some people tell it like it is, while others look for the most diplomatic of ways to share their feedback.
With Chris’ feedback, though? There was no holding back.
One comment wrote that Chris was “among one of the worst bosses I’ve ever had”.
To top that one, another respondent wrote that Chris was “not only a horrible boss but a terrible human being”.
There were other comments too about what working with Chris was like.
One person wrote how when they requested time off, Chris brought them into his office and demanded to know what they would be spending time doing.
As they framed it, Chris wanted to know if it was really “worth it” to approve their vacation time.
Similarly, someone else requested vacation time off during a particularly busy time in the business.
Taking a lesson out of what NOT to do in the book of how to be a better manager, Chris guilted the employee.
He said, “So, you don’t really care about our customers then. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be taking this time off.”
Keep in mind these written notes were from people still working for Chris.
Who knows what would have been said by the three who had already quit previously.
“This Isn’t Normal.”
Now before I go any farther… if you’re part of a 360 assessment, let me just assuage any panic you may feel.
I firmly believe a 360 is one of the best tools in learning how to be a better manager.
If you want to be a better boss – you simply need to understand the perspective others have on your leadership.
And if you’re fearful about what others think of you… don’t be.
There’s no faster path to improvement than getting that real feedback.
The best leaders I know care deeply about making a real, positive impact.
So it makes sense to cut through all the noise and learn how to best do that.
I’ve seen leaders turn their management styles upside down entirely from a 360 report – for the better.
And in the case of Chris, I wish I could say this is what happened next…
There was no lightbulb moment of Chris saying, “Wow – I really need to learn how to be a better manage for these people.”
Well, there was a lightbulb… just not one that was followed by those words.
Chris looked over the results… took a moment in silence… and then finally said these words to me.
“Wow…” he began.
I leaned in as he continued…
“I need to fire these people!”
I was shocked. “Wait, no… no,” I stammered.
I had never had someone interpret this kind of feedback so badly.
As I tried to coach him through seeing it from another perspective, Chris was adamant.
These people needed to go. And as he put it, they didn’t fully appreciate everything he was doing for the business.
I hate to say it, but within a month, Chris had been let go.
And I’m really not surprised. He missed some of the most basic opportunities to be a better leader.
In our conversation, he mentioned that I wasn’t the first one who had worked with him.
In fact, several months before, his boss had sent him to an institute in Chicago focusing on emotional intelligence and the power of listening as a leader.
I asked what he had gotten out of it…
“Nothing I didn’t already know,” he stated blindly.
Now let me be clear – in over a hundred 360s, this is the only one that turned out this badly.
Most people are eager – heck, they’re hungry to be a better boss.
So what’s the difference between one of these aspiring leaders who go on to do great things and, well, a boss who gets fired and has a major career staller?
If You Want to Learn How to Be a Better Manager — It Can’t Be About You
Honestly, this is something that is so often shouted from the rooftops when it comes to the latest LinkedIn motivational post.
But it’s so rarely demonstrated.
It’s that running joke of “not saying the quiet part out loud”.
The bottom line is that many people see their employees as cogs in the machine.
They’re to be used (and sadly abused) to get the business where it needs to go.
I’ve always loved the analogy of the “Window and the Mirror” in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great.
“When things are going well, great leaders look out the window and see all the amazing things their employees are doing. When things aren’t going so well, they look into the mirror.”
He goes on to add that bad leaders “get this backwards”.
And I think it’s surprisingly common.
When we look at how to manage well – much of the content is around getting results for the organization.
Which isn’t a bad thing.
A business has really one purpose. And without that purpose being achieved, you really don’t have a business.
So in turn, managers are mistakenly promoted into leadership to drive the business to greater heights.
Often at the expense of its greatest assets – its people.
Hold the Ladder
What I’ve often found is the very best leaders understand the link between getting great results for the company, while deeply investing in their people.
In the short term at least – it’s likely your people aren’t going anywhere. So why not ensure they’re operating at their best?
What I’m getting at is an old adage that honestly to this day is probably one of my all-time favorite quotes in leadership.
“Hold the ladder for others to climb up”.
I love it because it so well exemplifies my own personal leadership philosophy.
Literally all I am today is a combination of the time, attention, and efforts others spent investing in me.
The best mentor I ever had – and literally, I saw this guy as Superman – once shared with me that he hoped I would achieve way more than he ever did.
Which as a teenager seemed like insanity.
In retrospect, I get it now though.
Leadership is a lot less about that next accolade you write in on your resume.
It’s a lot more about the fruit of success you create in other people.
So when we talk about how to be a better manager…
I think it’s directly tied to your deep investment in other people.
The more you focus on their development and success, the more you succeed in turn.
Now the business isn’t operating as a sole output of everything you can accomplish.
Instead, you’re holding the ladder for others on your team, and the business as a whole is reaping the reward.
It really is that simple.
And better yet – if you want to get that ball rolling – maybe a 360 is a first starting step?
Only if you’re willing to see what the people who work with you really think about it.
It can be scary…
But for me – to hold the ladder for other people, I have to be more interested in their success than scared about the bruising of my ego.
So do you want to be a better manager?
Then care deeply about the success of your people.
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