December 7, 2023
Aptitude for People Management
By now, you know that my purpose and mission is to transform the workplace into a source of fulfillment for all. I focus on improving people management because “bad bosses” cause 50-75% of unwanted turnover.
Contributors to “bad bosses” include lack of training, unrealistic expectations of production workload that robs time needed for people management, lack of organizational priority, support and recognition of people development.
Another major contributor is the tendency to promote the best technicians to management positions. Additionally, moving up to managing others may be the only path to higher compensation for technical experts. The result is that some managers have no aptitude for people management, a situation that training won’t correct. What I find is that those same managers aren’t happy campers. Their troops aren’t happy, they don’t like having to confront/face employees, and they know they aren’t managing well. They are much more satisfied as technical workers, which explains why they prioritize technical work or production.
Our recommendations to clients to correct this are: 1) provide an alternative career path for technical experts that does not require them to manage others, e.g., technical mentor, and 2) evaluate whether candidates have the aptitude for people management as part of the selection process.
Def. aptitude: an inherent or natural ability, quickness in learning or understanding, the condition of being suitable
Let’s examine some key elements of aptitude for people management.
- Interest in People: Are you genuinely interested in people? They are complex, perplexing at times, frustrating at times, unpredictable, etc. etc. You either find that a rich quilt that you want to explore and understand or a source of annoyance and disappointment. Early in my career, I was running a comprehensive healthcare organization in rural Alaska that had about 150 employees at the time. While working under my Land Rover in the cold, one day, I remarked to my brother-in-law, an expert mechanic, “How do you do this for a living?” His reply was, “Machines I understand, people I don’t. How do you do what you do?” Needless to say, he lacked the aptitude for people management.People management involves truly understanding their hopes, needs, and problems and being committed to meeting those needs. You have to be genuinely curious. You are a good candidate if you find solving that puzzle interesting and rewarding. If you find disappointments in others discouraging versus challenging, then maybe not.
- Success of Others: Do you value and find satisfaction in seeing others succeed? This is about serving others vs. serving yourself. If yes, then developing others will be very rewarding.
- Letting Go: Are you able to give up control and trust the outcome? Does it have to be done your way, or are you open to employees finding their own way? If you never take the training wheels off, e.g., always make the decisions, then those working with you won’t grow or be able to “ride the bike” on their own.
- Patience: Are you patient/tolerant when mistakes occur? Or, do you find this embarrassing, a bad mark on your performance? Do you tend to respond to mistakes with, “I should just do it myself.”
- Communications: Are you able to be honest in your communications with others? There will be disappointment and times or tasks where performance could be improved. To be effective, you need to honestly communicate your assessment, accompanied by a commitment to figure out why and correct it. Are you able to listen effectively?
- Empathy: Are you empathetic toward the feelings, needs and problems of those you are serving? Life happens and when it does it can interfere with the motivation and ability of your employees to perform. Are you willing to consider and help others deal with those problems?
- Flexibility: Are you adaptable? As conditions change, especially as your employees see it, are you flexible, open to change and to their suggestions for how best to deal with those changes?
- Responsiveness: Do you prioritize and hold yourself accountable to respond to the needs of your direct reports for decisions and guidance in a timely way? Twenty-four hours should be your upper limit.
- Problem-Solving: Are you challenged or frustrated as problems arise? At times, management can feel like a never-ending stream of problems and frustration that doesn’t seem to be getting better at times. If you like (vs. being irritated) the detective work of uncovering the true cause of problems and then defining solutions, then people management may be for you.
- Patience: Are you willing to invest considerable time and patience in coaching others? This can be challenging given all the pressures on managers but it is critical to engagement and retention.
- Conflict Resolution: Are you okay with trying to resolve conflicts, or do you shy away from it as you would a hot stove? Facilitating finding common ground is a critical skill for those leading teams.
- Team Building: Building trust among team members, understanding and employing the individual strengths of team members and then trusting the team to perform/support one another.
- Ethical Conduct: Are you able to keep your word when the going gets tough? Are you consistent and honest? Integrity is what builds respect and trust in leaders.
Taking on responsibility for people management means entering a complex but rich arena full of challenges but potentially great rewards.
I would welcome hearing what you make of this list and what additions/edits you would suggest.
Contact me at email@example.com
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