July 2016 | 

To Be a Better Manager, Manage Yourself First

To Be a Better Manager, Manage Yourself First

Wharton@Work recently spoke with Janet Greco, a senior lecturer in the University of Pennsylvania’s Organizational Dynamics Masters Program, about helping managers improve their outcomes. Greco, who is also co-president of Transition One Associates, offers some surprising advice and a few highly practical ideas.

Wharton@Work: Your work in the Leading and Managing People program is focused on helping managers make “behavioral adjustments.” How does that work with authenticity — a goal of many managers?

Janet Greco: Authentic means you are reliable and trustworthy — you have integrity and your values are known and constant — but it doesn’t mean you can or should act the same way in every situation. In fact, that is never a good idea. If you presume authenticity means singularity — I have only one way of being — then you put people in a box. You wouldn’t behave with your three-year-old the same way you do with your CEO; if you did you would fail miserably with one of them. You need to be able to make required behavioral adjustments when you’re a manager because the people you’re managing differ and contexts differ.

W@W: That doesn’t sound easy.

JG: It is productive to start with self-knowledge. What are your preferred styles? When did they work well for you in the past, and when didn’t they? In Leading and Managing People, we help participants see themselves and their behaviors using a number of assessments and plenty of practice. They quickly come to understand how they can better influence others, both those they manage as well as their own supervisors and colleagues.

W@W: What if you realize that you need to add a behavior to your repertoire? Maybe you’re an introvert and you know that doesn’t work with everyone on your team? Is it unauthentic to exhibit a behavior that doesn’t come naturally?

JG: You can adopt new behaviors. One process is called social learning: imitating others. It’s not being false, it’s about growth and self-improvement. You might have observed these behaviors in other people, or choose to try some of the many models we provide in the program. We give participants a chance to practice, and then they give and get feedback. Models and coaching can be a tremendous help. After a while the new behavior becomes integral to you.

W@W: How do you know which behaviors to use with which people?

JG: There are at least three effective ways do figure that out, and none of them involves waiting years until the need becomes obvious. First, if you’re starting a new project or working with someone new, ask questions up front, such as ‘How would you like to be managed?’ or ‘Which behaviors to do you expect from me?’ It doesn’t mean you have to do everything that the other person suggests, but with the conversation you create a partnership in the development of the relationship.

The “Role Negotiation” tool works similarly. Have a two-way conversation about what each of you wants more of from the other, what you want to stay the same, and what you want new or different. Then you negotiate about what you’ll each agree to. Preparing for that conversation is very helpful; a really savvy manager can envision what will be expected of him or her, effectively hearing both parts of the conversation before it takes place.

The second way is to plan ahead, thinking a situation through and mentally rehearsing. This works best when you have past experiences and precedents that can guide you. If you have to take an action, like appointing someone as project manager, think about how you can frame it customized for that individual. You already know a lot about what will work best.

Third, if you have a more senior role, ask questions and listen. Do some market research in the middle of a conversation. You could say, “I am really interested in what else you might need from me. Where do you anticipate you might need support?” Give people permission to raise critical questions, be overt about it, and temper your reactions.

All of these tools and techniques rely on your ability to be able to observe yourself and make adjustments when necessary. We all have many hats we can wear; if one behavior isn’t getting the results you’re after, try another one.”