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Being a Teacher, Not a Manager

Robert-Mattson-Headshot-2By Robert Mattson, VP of Content Marketing, Ceridian

I was having a conversation with a person that reported to me when I was leaving my last job, and she was kind enough to say that she thought I was a good manager.  To which I replied:

I’m not a manager.  I’m a teacher.

And just because I say I’m a teacher doesn’t mean that I can’t learn just as much from the people that I work with as they might potentially learn from me.  Sharing our past successes and failures is what all of us bring to the table.  Failures can be just as educational as successes and it’s the ability to find the wisdom in either experience that makes good teachers.

The reason I think being a teacher is more valuable than being a manager is not because management isn’t necessary or valuable, but because to me being a manager is about delegation, plans, timetables, goals, and deliverables.  It can be viewed as individual tasks that need to be accomplished to manage events, programs, and things.

Being a teacher is about improving your students every minute of the day, and that means having a better team.

I have phrases, techniques, and processes that I learned nearly 30 years ago that I still use with my team today.  I learned them from the managers that weren’t just about getting the report edited or code written, but were trying to pass along good habits to a young guy that didn’t know much but was looking to learn.  They knew back then what many managers are just starting to do now, if you teach everyday you won’t have to manage nearly as much.

This holds true with the direction that performance management has taken.  More and more regular communication is taking the place of regular reviews.  Annual reviews are becoming a summation of the year’s conversations instead of a new interaction with new information.  The key is to remove the need to manage as much in order to open space to communicate and teach.

Here are a few best practices that can help drive great self-sufficiency, enhance communication while empowering employees.

  1. They Don’t Work for You, You Work for Them: One of my favorite lessons I’ve learned was that good managers keep people in alignment, help remove obstacles, and provide resources. If employees know they can depend on their manager for those things, they tend to thrive and work with less supervision.
  2. Give Authority with Responsibility: Most managers shouldn’t have time to micromanage. If they do they are doing themselves a disservice. Give employees their own piece of turf and tell them they are the CEO of their own business.  Good employees will jump at the chance, and lesser ones will quickly show you, and them, where they need to improve.
  3. Praise and Criticize Immediately: While it might not be the best example, you don’t wait until the next day to inform your dog that the living room carpet isn’t the backyard. Immediacy is key to impact.  Take the time to pull aside your employee and tell him or her that they were 95% superstar in a meeting but they shouldn’t tell the CEO that his idea was “stupid”.  Discuss how they could have handled the situation better and brainstorm tactics
  4. Have a Closed Door Policy: While this sounds counter-intuitive, the ability for an employee to come into their manager’s office, close the door, and have a frank and private conversation is a great sign of trust.
  5. End each 1:1 Meeting with an Engagement Check: A simple, “How are you feeling about things? Are things going better for you today than last week?”, can go a long way to finding a problem that is hiding right below the surface.

Each of these techniques drive greater self-sufficiency for employees, create trust, and make room for teaching moments to interact with employees in an environment of open, and hopefully honest, communication.  If a manager embraces these techniques regularly they can’t help but have good communications with their employees.  And, if they have good communications with their employees there will be no surprises when they have their performance reviews.

Robert Mattson is the VP of Content Marketing for Ceridian responsible for Product Marketing, Digital Marketing and Social Marketing. Mr. Mattson has been in the technology space for over 25 years with companies such as ADP, Workscape, Performix Technologies, Telerik, Eprise and Applix.  His focus has been on how HR technology can be effectively leveraged to overcome both technical and business challenges.  He has spoken at events and conferences in the US and abroad, and his thoughts and research have been published both online and in print ranging from the Java Developer’s Journal to Talent Management Magazine.

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