Growing Individuals: Get Over Yourself

by abclarke

(4b of 5 in The Rules of Naked Management)

Last week I talked about my general framework for why you need to make sure team members grow in their roles. This week I’ll go through some of the techniques I use.

Self-Importance

Before I talk about people on your team, let’s talk about you. Who has been the most important person in your career to-date? Who has had the most influence on what you’ve done and what jobs you’ve taken? Whose advice have you followed the most? Who’s been your best ally and who have you asked for the most input on career directions?

Without a doubt I’ve been the most influential person on my career (and not always in a good way). Sure I’ve had mentors who’ve suggested paths, but often I’ve ignored their advice – but I’ve never ignored myself.

Who’s the second most influential person? For me, that’s my wife. She’s listened to my cheers, my complaints, my dreams and my plans. She’s pushed me to take certain directions and (assuming I’ve agreed) I’ve favored her advice over anyone else’s.

Who’s the third most important? For me, it’s been my friends and peers. I’ve compared myself to where they’ve taken their careers. I’ve kvetched with them about my plans, my frustrations, and my dreams. I’ve done it at work, but also over dinner, out hiking, heck, anywhere my friends gather. We often talk about work and their stories about their careers definitely influences where I want to take mine.

In fact, you have to get pretty far down the list before one my mentors shows up. That’s not to say mentors aren’t important – they are critical and I’ve had some absolutely stellar mentors. But in reality I pay way more attention to me, my spouse, and my friends.

And I’m typical of most employees.

Get Over Yourself

First time managers often think they should take a very active role in growing their employees (or at least I did), and can find themselves devoting lots of time to it. It leads to things like career maps, ladder-levels, “mandatory training”, soul-searching on weekends about how you can improve individuals on your team, giving constant “constructive” feedback about ways to “grow”, and often leads to frustration on the part of both the manager on the employee. The manager thinks the employee is ignoring good advice. The employee thinks the manager is pushing some bullshit agenda on them that isn’t where they want to go. Eventually both manager and employee abdicate any responsibility for career growth, and instead talk (in bitter sarcastic terms) about following bullshit processes – and that’s the best outcome.

The manager is at fault here – the employee is following the advice of more important people, and the manager mistakenly thinks his advice should come first.

Given that, the first rule of growing individuals is: get over yourself. At best as a manager you are the 4th or 5th most important person advising your employee on their career (assuming most of your employees have at least 3-4 friends). Your advice, especially your unsolicited advice, is likely to be in competition with more important people and therefore not followed.

So stop giving it!

Instead focus your management powers on managing your employee’s relationship with their most important advisor – themselves. Make sure they are asking themselves where they want to go, make sure they are following the advice they lay out on their own, and only step in to help with the how when asked.

Once you do this, the amount of time you spend on “growing individuals” drops drastically, but the quality of the interaction increases drastically. You become the person an employee reports their career-growth progress to, not the person actually taking the steps to grow their career. The employee takes more ownership because it’s their own steps. You can put metrics around how they take their steps and hold them accountable. And you’ve delegated responsibility for growing the employee to the most qualified person imaginable – your employee.

The next few articles will talk about the 4 remaining steps I do to grow someone’s career, but the most important of them is the first: get over yourself. You’re not as important as you think you are, so spend the amount of time commensurate with your importance.

I’ll continue the rest the week after next

– Art