Recently, I checked off one of the biggest milestones I have so far in my career. I got an intern to manage! While interviewing with my current job, I’d stressed to the team hiring that this was something very important on my development wishlist. Four months into this job, it came to fruition.
Being a blogger in the career development space, I live and breathe inspirational and motivational techniques. For years I’ve been actively soaking up knowledge and experience. I’ve been blessed to have many great mentors in my life and have reaped the benefits of great mentorship. I simply couldn’t wait to start imparting wisdom and paying it forward with a work underling.
So far, it’s been an amazingly rewarding experience. I attribute it to how enthusiastic, committed, dedicated, and smart our newly hired intern is. What I wasn’t necessarily prepared for was how much being in the position of a manager started shifting my perspectives. As I prepared for onboarding and guiding the intern, I started to reflect on the interactions and relationships I’ve had with my former managers in different phases of my career. I started to see through many things that were puzzling to me before. A weird sense of sympathy and understanding started to develop. I started to see alternative explanations to when my emails weren’t returned, or when I was given a change in direction without explanation, or when I received sudden, unexpected, and less-than-pleasant feedback…
And I realized that behind their actions on the surface, there were things that were either too difficult to explain, too obvious to explain, too unpredictable, or simply didn’t cross their minds. Managers are humans, too. They have their own anxieties and fears, and the worst of all is that they cannot necessarily share them with their employee(s). It dawned on me that there were probably things that my former managers wished I knew, but couldn’t tell me for one reason or another.
1. Being responsible for someone else’s success is a scary thing.
Imagine your own goals, deadlines, stakeholders, and critics. Now, double that — yes, that’s essentially what a manager faces. Not only is a manager responsible for onboarding the new employee with the company, the culture, the systems and processes, and the people, a good manager is also responsible for help setting and meeting goals for the new employee. A wise mentor once said to me, at the start of any employer/employee relationship, that an average manager appreciates a 30/60/90-Day plan, but a great manager asks for one. All of this involves getting to know the employee, understanding their personal drivers and motivators, finding out about their strengths and weaknesses, and eventually helping them establish tangible and realistic goals so they can be successful. To do this, and more importantly, to do it well, takes intentionality, patience, and a lot of empathy. This is why empathy is often deemed as one of the most important qualities of a strong leader.
2. The manager doesn’t always have the answer
And it isn’t always so easy to admit it. Office politics aside, sometimes it’s hard to admit you just don’t know the answer, especially in front of someone you are supposed to teach and guide. Without an existing mutual trust and respect, “not knowing the answer” sometimes is a tough pill to swallow.
If you sense that your manager is shutting you off when you raise questions, or there is a general lack of response, sometimes what they need is simply a little more time. Be patient. Otherwise, go one step beyond and do your own research, and reach out and ask for validation of your findings. Your manager will appreciate it.
3. Sometimes we prefer the right attitude over the right qualifications/experiences
Working in large, matrixed organizations can be described as a constant state of problem-solving. These problems come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are large problems like having a resource constraint. Other times, they could be as small as missing a password. Regardless, a can-do attitude paired with a resourceful mindset can go a long way. Determining whether someone has the right problem-solving attitude is one of the hardest things to tell from an interview and yet it’s one of the more important traits a manager looks for in a new hire. For a manager, finding someone with this mentality can save them precious hours of their own time to be spent on their own projects.
4. Providing constructive criticism is actually hard
A criticism that is insensitive and delivered poorly only damages relationships, whereas a suggestion that doesn’t deliver impact is useless. Much has been written about how to deliver criticism, some say to treat them as feedback and not as actual criticism, others say to be genuine and actually care, while some say to learn to tailor your feedback to the individual’s preference. The volume of these articles points to the fact that many people are looking for this type of advice and the fact that this is a hard skill to master!
When a manager sees an area for improvement, it’s up to the manager to carefully find the right timing, the right way to deliver to deliver the right message. Yes, there are probably insensitive people in authority that will walk all over your feelings when they tell you that you messed up. But if you notice even a trace of reservation or thoughtfulness in your manager’s tone when they offer advice or feedback, trust that they probably thought a lot about it before bringing it up to you. Delivering criticism well takes a skilled manager. If you have one of those, take note that you are lucky!
I have always heard that being a manager is a transformative experience. In fact, many compare it to the experience of being a parent. There’s something about being responsible for someone else’s growth and wellbeing that inspires growth in and of itself. But what I’ve also realized is that being a good manager takes preparation, being intentional, a humble attitude, and most importantly, a lot of empathy.
Jessica is the writer behind personal style blog Cubicle Chic. In her early twenties, she has contemplated many career paths, such as a novelist, a physician assistant, a research scientist, a court translator (English to Mandarin Chinese), and a clinical research specialist. Eventually, she found her passion in marketing communications for life science companies. She continues to cultivate her interest and skills in many other fields, such as writing, career development, and self-improvement, and hopes to help others do the same.
Image via Unsplash