People seem to fall into two categories – either they struggle to see the bits they’re not good at or they overemphasise them. I’m probably in the latter category. I’m quite conscious of skill sets I’m still developing. But I am working on them! A significant change I have noticed is that I have become more relaxed and am less thrown by things going wrong than I used to be. I see this tendency a lot in Charityworks trainees – they expect things to go smoothly and find it hard when they don’t. It feels like spin the first time you hear it’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity, but being open to this idea means that when things do go wrong you will learn more from it. Another trend in trainees which I can relate to is the perfectionist tendency. I have learnt that it is sometimes better to complete a task to a standard which is good enough, as that is what needs to be done for the outcome required. It’s not about brownie points – how many hours am I doing, how sharp are my pencils, how neat is my handwriting – but about the impact I am having.
When I think about what it takes to manage well, I believe it’s the 5 Cs that we’re always talking about. It’s about role modelling the qualities of being conscious, curious and connected, accepting challenge and seeking change, as well as creating a holding environment for other people to be able to do so too. By this I mean striking a balance between supporting people, helping them to feel safe and comfortable while also challenging them enough so that they don’t feel collapsed and parented. One of the things I enjoy most is seeing how as I step back other people step up. In coaching sessions we talk about believing that the person has their own solution and that they can find the best way forward for them. While it can be hard to step back, it’s also really enjoyable to see people pull out their own solutions and wildly exceed anything I might have thought of myself.
I do think that the qualities it takes to become a good manager can be learned, but only if you are motivated, you observe and absorb, and you are open to communication. Authenticity is essential, and increasingly so. I don’t think you can get by with a mask. People often talk about the difference between leadership and management – If leaders set the vision and the direction at a very strategic level, maybe it is easier to be a disconnected person. But to take people with you, to get stuff done and to support and challenge people daily in the detail of what they’re delivering, you’ve got to be able to do so in a way that speaks to them as humans.
A top tip I would give to the aspiring manager would firstly be a piece of advice I was given while on Charityworks myself: to think about your personal brand – who you are and what kind of person you want to be at work that is both authentic and professional. Secondly, to take control of your work life and aim towards a conscious shift from an attitude of being a student receiving information and authority to a more balanced adult-to-adult relationship – the figures of authority in your professional life should become adult partnerships rather than an authority to rail against. And finally to enjoy and relax into the mistakes and problems that will inevitably happen, but see them as opportunities to learn and develop.