Employees don’t work for you; you work for them

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Alex Yates (b | t) is hosting this month’s T-SQL Tuesday (the 119th edition) with asking us to write about something in our IT career that we have changes our minds about. I was going to write about database design techniques but instead decided to go with a non-technical topic of, Employees don’t work for you, you work for them.

Where I went wrong

In one of my first management roles almost 15 years ago I was required to attend what was called “Management Training”, during this training the theme was very much focused on you were the boss and your staff works for you. This at the time made sense to me as my experience to this date was your manager tells you what to do and you do it, if you don’t expect to be chewed out. Everything just seemed to fit for me, and I took every skill that was presented to me and ran with it and became the “Boss”. At first my teams were successful as my team members had the same attitude, I used to have which was I don’t want to lose my job, I was creating a culture of fear not one of growth.

Over time I started to notice that some of my team members were starting to resent me, other coworkers and the team dynamics were becoming ugly. I can distinctly remember another mistake I made with one team member that was not producing at the same level as others. My training told me to start “managing out” this employee, if you are not familiar with this technique it is where you create a performance improvement plan and culture that makes the person want to leave rather than firing them and having to pay unemployment and severance packages. While putting this plan into action training was provided for most employees except this person with the hope it would make them want to leave. They did want to leave and so did some of my other team members and they looked at me as the jerk who was singling a person out. I felt like a complete failure and knew that there had to be a better way to do this.

I could go on and one with mistakes that I make here with the attitude of being the “boss”, but the takeaway I want everyone to understand is don’t run your team with an iron fist.

When I started to change

10 years ago, after many mistakes and not building up successful long-term teams I woke up and realized that something had to change but I still wasn’t sure exactly what to do. I sought out to find a mentor that I could look up to and build out successful teams and transition from the Manger to Leader. As one thing I certainly did recognize is that being a manger didn’t feel right to me, in fact it never felt natural to me, but I was always told “it’s just because your young and new to this”. What it really turned out to be is that I knew deep down inside that it was time for a CHANGE and needed to understand more what it really means to lead a team and not dictate a team.

I started listening to podcasts and YouTube videos from various people such as @garyvee and @simonsinek, where are started to learn more things such as empathy, compassion and the idea that you can’t succeed until you learn to stop caring what everyone else things. Do what you feel is right and follow some simple principles and people will want to work with you. With all this in mind I started to change and changed over to working for my team and not expecting them to work for me.

What does it mean to work for your team?

During this time of change and transformation I started to change how I ran things, I stopped dictating and started to trust my employees. Rather than giving out tasks and micromanaging, I instead started to give goals and allow them to figure out how we get there and set realistic timelines that we would work together on. Another key element is keeping your team informed and engaged on why we are doing things, what our goals are and when things change updating them immediately.

Furthermore, you need to lead by example and show them what you expect by doing it yourself first and stop thinking that just because you work 60 hours a week that it means they will work 60 hours a week. Some of them may because that’s what they want to do, and others may not and that is ok. Remember they don’t get paid what you get paid, they don’t have the same investment in the work or company that you have either. Get to know your team members as well and what makes drives them and what their goals are and then help them understand what it takes to achieve them. When learning what their goals are don’t forget not everyone is going to have the same drive as you, some may be happy with exactly where they are and you should applaud them for that because happiness always comes first.

In summary change is good and always strive to change what you truly know is wrong.

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