The Wayward Manager – The manager role is a lonely one

I never had a move where the timing was great. Something always made the move challenging. All of the relocations we made were a testament to the patience of my wife. Often, I would have to start in my new location before we were ready to move, putting a lot of the work on my wife. Our second move with the company was right on par with all of this.

            Accepting my first manager role was an all-time high for me. It had cemented our independence as adults. My career could not have been in a better place. I was entering a job as a department manager, working for a remote boss. This promotion gave me a lot of autonomy in my daily schedule, and I had exceeded any dreams of an annual salary. The confidence I had gained from setting a career goal and achieving it was unlike any other.

My first night in Salem was nervous and lonely. I had to start in Salem before we were ready to move, leaving my very young family back in Washington. My corporate housing was a hotel with a kitchenette. Thinking about the “first” day before me, I had no idea what I would be doing or expect. This moment of opportunity helped me create one of my most important strategies of relocating and taking on new teams. Create neutral ground, and lower the water level fast. I decided I would start the morning by taking my new leaders to a casual breakfast.

            The first breakfast helped to lower the waterline with my new leaders. They also introduced me to Salem’s best breakfast place, and we returned many times as a team. Lowering the waterline does not mean that all trust and credibility had been established. It just created the avenue for this to happen. We still had many challenges to work through as a leadership team. We did not always see eye to eye, and I brought a new perspective with a plan to establish my processes.

            As a manager, I did not always have the luxury of getting consensus before making a decision. Unfortunately, what the team saw was an outsider coming in and shaking up their routines and comfort. I had a site senior leadership team that struggled to trust my team. These were tricky waters to navigate through when working to build trust with a new team. I made sure to identify the opportunity for individual wins and always made sure my team received impactful exposure to our national team. My leaders knew their business and had a great understanding of their roles.

            Being the first on and last off work ethic in me, which I saw as the fundamental leadership principle, created many shared experiences with my leaders. The build-up of shared experiences over time helps to build some trust and credibility with one another. I had a great mentor that kept telling me, “it’s not about you.” I thought he was joking for the longest time, giving me some line from a tv psychologist. Then I realized he was serious. All the approaches I had made were to suit me and did not consider the person I was coaching at all. It shifted my whole process to coaching, bringing in genuine empathy along with improved self-awareness.

            The other challenge was winning over a senior leadership that had all come up through the ranks together. Most of the leadership team was from Salem, and many had been in the site since it had opened. My department had created a relationship that made them have the perception as the police of the business. It was a  team that had hired too many friends. The team had built a perception of unwillingness to support much of the operations team outside their department. Again, I found the need to develop another lasting strategy in solving this perception problem.

            Find a way as a support department leader to become part of the operations. It’s more than networking or relationship building. It’s about developing a purpose that supports more than just your priorities or the goals for your department. Deliver business insights that make connections to performance and efficiency, find ways to connect to money. Money will always be a universal language when it comes to creating understanding. I also realized that my fellow support managers could be my strongest allies. I could not be successful or get execution without them. The first months as a manager became lonely with many hours worked and even more hours at home in my head.

            My boss was demanding, strong-willed, and made sure to capitalize on every coaching moment.  As a boss, he was prominent on his leaders, and they must know their business inside and out. I was a young leader that often came across as overly assure and as hard-headed as he. In one of our early run-ins, he kicked me off a team conference call when he realized I was not actively paying attention. When there was conflict, he called it out on the table and made you work it out. He wanted each team to achieve top results and expected flawless execution. My favorite was his 6:30 am conference call. Most days, I took the call from a rocking chair with my baby daughter in my arms.

            Within 18 months, almost everything had changed. My two leaders each moved on to other roles outside of the department. I cannot say that we ever really found a great way to work together. We had established good ground rules and showed respect to one another. Trust was something never consistently in place, and the result was each of them moving on to work on other teams with leaders that each already had established trust. One of those truths from emotional intelligence is that anything that goes unresolved too long will fester, and the impact is lasting.

            Reliability and following through with commitments went a long way in building credibility with senior leadership. I worked hard to ensure we communicated well and met any target or commitment that my team set. I did not spend time trying to show how we ranked with other departments like ours nationally. Instead, I focused on the experience team members received within our doors. I worked to build a strong relationship with the site director that allowed us to be candid with one another and showed that I would be a partner regardless of the work or the benefactor.

            My boss remained tough but became one of my most impactful leaders and showed me what loyalty looks like in business. To this day, he is always one of the first to wish me a happy birthday.  He taught me how to be a true business owner and execute a strategy by modeling the process each and every day. This leader was direct with feedback but quick to follow up and teach. I knew I could trust him and that he had my back, which is vital for a young manager. Leaders need to take shots for their people and make sure they are teaching and developing. Of course, I like to think steel sharpens steel, and we made each other better.

About four months into being a manager, I remember driving home one night thinking I was messing everything up. I was utterly unsuccessful as a manager. My team had no trust in each other or me. As a sat at an intersection, I was wondering what must be changed. As a team supervisor, things had gone so well. The significant contrast was how we looked at results. Teams need to be able to identify with how we win together. A scorecard is an excellent tool for how you communicate, strategize and coach your team. As I got better at creating the correct scorecard, things started to come together, reducing the nights of worry. Still, I couldn’t help but think what it would be like if I had a chance to do it all over.

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