Musings from George

Corporate life
April 8, 2007, 10:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s both flattering and unnerving to realize that people read what I write. A friend mentioned that she had read my blog, and expressed concern about how I was feeling about my job. I paused briefly to consider “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if my _boss_ cared enough to read my blog?”

I’ve managed quite a few people in my life, and the responsibility is awesome. It is part coaching, part teaching, and part role modeling. I believe that most people are good at one of these things, and the unusual person is good at two of them — the truly rare individual is good at all three. The ‘Peter Principle’ gives us many people in the third category — they are great individual contributors, and they have become managers because they know how to get the job done, not because they can motivate or communicate. Teaching is a skill that can be learned, and I have definitely known people who can teach and cannot themselves do … they know what a well-hit ball sounds like, or what a smooth golf swing looks like, but they cannot for the life of them hit a baseball or drive a golf ball. Likewise as manager, there are those who can critique a slide or spin a presentation, yet they have no context or content and cannot actually create that slide or presentation. They rely on others’ judgment and input to do their own work, and as a result never create talent or promote talent — they can’t spare it. This type of manager typically “inherits” employees from other groups, and cannot recruit or develop talent.

Coaching is that third skill in managing, and is the rarest of all skills. Coaching includes the ability to communite a higher vision, a picture of what the team can accomplish that no one individual can accomplish. Coaching includes some aspect of past accomplishment (having played, or having led teams that were good), which earns the necessary respect and credibility to lead. And coaching involves the willingness and ability to study people’s skills and abilities, and the capability of helping them improve. Teaching is simply showing or explaining (the physics of hitting a golf ball are the same for everyone), coaching is the higher art of personalizing feedback (the way YOU close your eyes right when the bat connects with the ball, the fact that SHE always headfakes the same way when she’s going to drive left). Personalization requires observation, and that in particular is where most managers fall down on the job … they rely on collecting others’ thoughts once or twice a year, and their own personal interaction with their employees is limited to the time spent in staff meetings or stressful presentations. Neither are good opportunities for developing your people, as neither are typically productive events. If your employee is really being paid to write software, or to take support calls, isn’t that what you should be helping them with? and if you don’t actually see their software, or talk to the people they support, or measure the impact of either activity, how valuable is your feedback to that employee?

I understand that a good part of one’s success in the corporate world has to do with influencing others, and selling one’s vision, and celebrating one’s accomplishments (and even better, your team’s accomplishments). I also recognize that these are non-productive uses of time, and that the people who get promoted tend to spend much more of their time on these activities — and are inherently less productive than those who quietly accomplish a great deal. I have attended entire management meetings focused on the next generation of whatever (let’s say music jukeboxes) that never even mention the product being shipped today, or the 80% of the company consumed with existing customers and earning 100% of the company’s revenue. The leaps of faith being made for tomorrow sometimes border on the willing suspension of disbelief (to borrow from Samuel Taylor Coleridge), and sometimes completely ignore the lessons being learned in the moment (yes, gravity is likely to exist tomorrow and people are likely to resent advertising in products they have paid for).

So why am I frustrated at work? I am taking this next week off to help myself understand that frustration, and in a perfect world to learn from it and grow as a result. I credit myself with being willing to change, and with being curious about things, and with being smart. So if I can’t figure it out, I will be very disappointed in myself. But it may never make it into this blog, simply because that level of introspection is impossible to do in public, I fear. The great news for me is that it was my boss’s boss’s boss (and yes, he also has a boss so I guess that makes me a fifth-level employee?) is the one who suggested that I take a break, and it was the closest thing to coaching that I have received in the past year. I’ve taken on a lot of challenges, and it’s not that surprising that I have been frustrated. Turning that frustration into a personal challenge to deliver great results on each of the things I’ve chosen to take on is a great next step for me to take.

I’ve got more to say, but it’s off-topic so I’m going to actually break it into another entry in keeping with my own rants about how poorly people tag and inventory their own knowledge / what they create online.



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