Learning to Speak the Languages of Many Types of Reports
18 May, 2021
As a manager, initially, I thought that in order to be effective for my team, I would only have to give them the things that I had wanted from the people who managed me when I was the one who was reporting. This worked really well for the first person that I managed, because he happened to be somebody who was very similar to me; the things that worked for me also worked for him. The second person who I managed, it worked okay. It wasn’t optimal, but we were sort of able to muddle through.
The third person I managed? It was a disaster. How they learned best, the ratio between constructive and positive feedback, the cadence of our interactions, the kinds of things that we talked about in our one-on-ones, their needs were very different from mine when I was in a similar position.
What I learned, painfully and slowly, by working with somebody who’s really different from me, was how to adapt my style of management to the needs of a particular individual on my team.
I think I used to have a stronger perspective on what the right way to do a thing is, when, in reality, it just happened to be my way of doing a thing. It may have been one effective way of doing something, but not necessarily the only effective way.
Now, when I have a new person on my team, I always start by having a really explicit conversation with them. How best do you learn? Are you most receptive to reading a document on your own, thinking it through for a while, and then talking about it? Do you prefer to sort of talk it out live? Are you somebody who wants to do a task together, watching and learning? That’s been really, really valuable for me, in sort of being able to scale up my team with people who have different styles of working.
I had a manager who told me that you can’t get an A on everything. Being comfortable means being okay with not being perfect. What’s not being said enough is that doing so means making a choice about doing some other stuff less attentively in order to make room for what you would like to excel in. One of the things that I’ve found to be valuable is communicating that to those around me.
- I’ve learned to focus more on getting as much as I can out of peoples’ strengths rather than on correcting their weaknesses. There will always be some element of constructive criticism in important development areas.
- I used to think more in terms of a generically good PM. Now, when I think about what different types of work that my people take on, which person will be right for a particular role, I think more specifically. What are the biggest challenges in this role? What are the areas in which the candidate should be strongest?
- One of the things that I’ve learned as a project manager is to ask myself: which things really matter, and which things can I let go for a while? You have to assign yourself a level of involvement in areas that are not your primary focus. This helps you to figure out how you work together with others given this condition.
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