I had attended all the training sessions to ensure I knew how to clearly identify the purpose, process, and payoff of every meeting I ran, and I could start and finish those meetings in 20 minutes, because I had been instructed that anything longer would indicate a lack of efficiency. Six Sigma, a quality control program that focuses on setting very high goals and then analyzing data to reduce production defects, was part of the lifeblood of the corporation where I worked for years as a marketing executive. The company owned a variety of businesses, and Six Sigma worked extremely well when it came to manufacturing and finance. Predictive response from a machine or an accounting equation made perfect sense. But things fell apart when it came to the type of work I was doing—influencing people to take action. The concept of zero defects didn’t take into account emotions, life-stage, dreams and aspirations, or bad traffic on the way to work.
I know it doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. You may be a Six Sigma blackbelt at managing processes. But people aren’t always predictable because life isn’t. And not everyone is cut out to be a great manager of people. Far too often, we burden leaders with the responsibility of being great at everything. I’ve seen more than one incredibly talented teacher or salesperson or ministry head be promoted to management, only to fail because they had no real support system to help them be successful.
At another organization, my former boss and I would talk about his challenges with managing people: “I know I’m a process guy,” he would admit. “I really do care about my employees, but I’m not good at listening well. I want things to just be fixed—for order to be brought from chaos. I need others around me who can manage the people side of things.” I admired his vulnerability and his willingness to partner with others who had strong people management skills. And I appreciated an environment where that partnership was encouraged.
I’ve written before about the five things good leaders should manage. Time, expectations, and resources are catalysts to strong leadership when managed well. But how we manage relationships with those who count on us—how we invest in the lives of others—will be our true legacy when all is said and done. Volumes have been written on how to manage people well, but here are a few principles that I keep close at hand when I need a gentle reminder to manage the lives entrusted to me with great care.
INVEST IN THE WHY – Ask someone why they’ve been hired to do a job, and chances are you’ll hear a response that sounds like a resume. But rarely is a person hired simply because of their ability to master a skill. Good organizations look for non-tangibles like character, cultural fit, and how well the person meshes with fellow employees. Take care to cultivate those intangibles in your staff as you encourage excellence in the jobs they do. Remind them often of why they are an asset to not only the organization, but to you as their manager.
INVEST IN THE HOW – It’s very easy to direct an employee’s responsibilities—and define the parameters for success—to a list of tasks that need to be accomplished within defined windows of time. While it’s important to set clear, focused objectives, you’re missing out if you don’t invite your team into conversation about new or better ways to accomplish those goals. Let each person actively contribute, sharing not only their areas of expertise but also talents they may have in seeing the big picture, engaging others, providing care when there are challenges, etc. (StrengthsFinder by Tom Rath is a great assessment tool for discovering a person’s top five talents).
INVEST IN THE “WHAT’S NEXT” – I shared this with Orange Leaders when I wrote about how to prepare to leave an organization, and I still believe it with all my heart: “Create a safe, trusting, and fully confidential environment where dreams can be shared—and then support those dreams even if they don’t include your ministry or organization. Don’t be afraid of losing great people; rather, be the one who encourages your great people to become leaders of great people.”
INVEST IN THE WHO – One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard said to a manager was, “If there was ever an emergency, you’d not be on my speed-dial—because you don’t know me.” Good managers of people take time to know their people. Carve out time for conversation. Take the time to listen. Take the time to pray. Keep a watchful eye on not only job performance but also on how your team is interacting. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How are you doing?” both when things are going well and when there are challenges, and be faithful in affirming and redirecting and celebrating. Be a manager worthy of speed-dial.