Has Your Manager Read This Book?
As a general rule, managers are created through advancement and promotion. Management is usually a step on a particular career ladder, not a chosen career in itself. There aren't a lot of colleges and universities offering a B.S. in management. An MBA is something you get later, after working for a number of years in your chosen field.
Also as a rule, managers tend to be promoted from within the same field in which they once labored as "individual contributors". Thus, software developers, hardware engineers, scientists, and drugstore clerks become software managers, hardware managers, lab managers, and store managers. It might not be unthinkable for a software development team to hire a manager who was never a software developer, but it would be unusual.
Mary Parker Follett, an early twentieth-century writer, defined management as "the art of getting things done through people." Unfortunately, most software developers and hardware engineers are not particularly gifted in this art.
Put more bluntly, many software developers and hardware engineers have suboptimal people skills at best. When required to manage people, they choose the same approach that they would use to solve a programming or engineering problem. Consequently, the job of management is treated as an on-going effort to assign resources to tasks in order to move a project forward.
This view of management might not be quite so bad if it weren't for the fact that the "resources" are still people. More to the point, they are people who frequently prefer to be treated as people, not as interchangeable resources to be assigned, maneuvered, and re-ordered in solving the current problem.
In the first third of The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham describes the difference between mediocre managers and great managers. For example:
...The key difference between checkers and chess is that in checkers the pieces all move in the same way, whereas in chess all the pieces move differently. Thus, if you want to excel at the game of chess you have to learn how each piece moves and then incorporate those unique moves into your overall plan of attack.
The same is true for the game of managing. Mediocre managers play checkers with their people. They assume (or hope) that their employees will be motivated by the same things, driven by the same goals, desire the same kind of relationships, and learn roughly in the same way.
-- "Great Managers Play Chess", from ch. 3 of The One Thing You Need to Know
Mediocre managers don't want individual contributors reporting to them; they want interchangeable parts...
When they set expectations for their people, they define, in great detail, the exact behaviors they expect to see. When they coach their people, they identify which of these behaviors each employee is struggling with, and then tell the employee to work on these behaviors and practice them until they become habit. When they praise their people, they are most impressed by employees who have worked diligently to replace their natural style with these preset behaviors. In short, they believe the job of the manager is to mold, or transform, each employee into the perfect version of the role.Feh! I've been through this too many times for it to be coincidence. Again and again I have reported to managers who don't seem to understand or value my skills and strengths. Instead, they try to convert me into someone else.
... great managing is not about transformation... It is about constantly tweaking the world so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, the unique style of each employee can be given free rein.Wow. How often have you seen this in action?
As far back as I can recall, my annual reviews have included a specific section called "Needs Improvement". This is the supposedly vitally important section in which my manager outlines all of my weaknesses and failings so that I can work diligently to "fix" these between now and the next review period. I even had one especially creative manager invent a few fictional items for this section, claiming "no one ever reads these but we have to put something there". Hoo boy!
The mediocre manager tends to be a little suspicious of people's strengths and fears that his people will become overconfident and arrogant. Consequently, he thinks its his duty to give each employee clear and accurate feedback about her weaknesses. His goal is to get each employee to take full responsibility for her areas of weakness so that she can apply herself to plugging these gaps.
The great manager acts differently. He is not preoccupied with concerns about overconfidence. Instead, his greatest fear is that he will fail to help each person turn her innate talents into performance. As such he spends most of his time either challenging each employee to identify, practice, and refine her strengths, or... rearranging the world so as to take full advantage of those strengths.
-- "The Three Levers", from ch. 3 of The One Thing You Need to Know
Over the past 20+ years, I have worked with well over 20 managers, both directly an indirectly. I can count the great ones on one hand.
Can you recall a great manager? One who didn't feel it was his duty to harp on your weaknesses so you could "fix" yourself? One who didn't ask you to change to fit whatever mold he had in mind? One who helped you to make the most of your strengths?
If you have a manager like that, praise him. Buy her a copy of The One Thing You Need to Know. Take him to lunch. Endorse her on LinkedIn. Provide positive feedback in any way you can.
If you have a mediocre manager, give him a copy of The One Thing You Need to Know. Consider whether it could help to have a little one-on-one chat about strengths and success. It's possible your manager is simply following the "rules" he was told to believe (or inherited from his own mediocre manager).
If nothing else works, consider whether you need to find yourself a new manager... or a new job. It's your career. It's your life.