“The best boss I ever had.” That’s a phrase most of us have said or heard at some point, but what does it mean? And what can we do to have our employees say this about us?
The first thing we need to do is answer a few key questions:
What sets the great boss apart from the average boss?
What do great managers actually do?
While there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest:They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.
Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess.
The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.
Think about some of the techniques you used in the gym when you were “just a coach”.
You had some go to drills for certain skills to get you started but then you had to individualize training based on the physical and psychological needs of each gymnast. The longer you were in the gym you were able to spot trends. “Paige reminds me a lot of Lexa. Her shapes are similar. I will take the same path on her Tkatchev”. Then as you get further down the road you individualize even more. Possibly based on new pieces of equipment now available or just things that meet Paige’s needs better.
Managing your gym is no different. You need to know what makes each person tick. A critical part of you job, therefore, is to put people into roles and shifts that will allow them to shine—and to avoid putting clashing personalities together. At the same time, you need to find ways for individuals to grow.
Emma is a former level 10 gymnast who competed through college. I almost didn’t hire her because I thought she was a bit of a “princess”. During our cleaning week before we started our fall classes I asked her to clean and straighten up the bar area. A job which should have taken a few hours took her ALL DAY and it was not done that well. The next day I asked her to clean out the pre-school closet (where we keep all the props and things for lesson plans). In a very short period of time she had that closet organized with the props that were used the most in the front, everything in a very logical and easy to get order. Give Emma a generic task, and she would struggle. Give her one that forced her to be accurate and analytical, and she would excel.
3 important steps
First, identifying and capitalizing on each person’s uniqueness saves time. No employee, however talented, is perfectly well-rounded. Find the right job for that person. Time is much better spent carving out a role that takes advantage of someone’s natural abilities than to try to turn your preschool teacher into your head team coach.
Second, capitalizing on uniqueness makes each person more accountable. I didn’t just praise Emma for her ability to execute specific assignments. I challenged her to make this ability the cornerstone of her time in the gym. To take ownership for this ability and to teach others. Emma’s confidence bloomed and has become one of the strongest and most organized teachers in my program.
Third, capitalizing on what is unique about each person builds a stronger sense of team, because it creates interdependency. It helps people appreciate one anothers’ particular skills and learn that their coworkers can fill in where they are lacking. In short, it makes people need one another. The old cliché is that there’s no “I” in “team.” But as Michael Jordan once said, “There may be no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ but there is in ‘win.’”
To excel at managing others, you must bring that insight to your actions and interactions. Always remember that great managing is about release, not transformation. It’s about constantly tweaking your environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein. Your success as a manager will depend almost entirely on your ability to do this.