What does a seagull do?
It swoops in. It squawks. It craps on everything. It flies away.
Does your manager do this? Do you do this as a manager?
I’d like to think I’m smart enough to make up this analogy but I’m not. I heard it somewhere and immediately thought of a few people, including myself from years past. Now, being the antithesis of the seagull manager has been the guiding principle in my own management style, both as an employee and as a business owner.
Be involved. Have Proof. Or Shut Up.
Think about this for a second. You’re grinding away at your gig, proceeding according to your plan. You’re pushing along, scoring some wins and dealing with setbacks. But on a whole you’re progressing. Suddenly a dude swoops in and tells you you’re not doing it right. Then he disappears again. He might be absolutely right. But where the heck was he on day 1, week 1, and month 1? If you were botching it, where was the guy correcting you from the beginning?
When I was starting out as a manager in my early twenties, my boss at RBC told me something that stuck:
“If there is success, it’s because your people are good. If there is failure, it’s because you let them fail.”
Another boss at LG told me in my early thirties:
“Any monkey can tell somebody they suck. Show them how to improve. And if they don’t listen or can’t improve, help them be successful somewhere else. You’ll find almost everybody knows what to do but don’t want to expend the effort to do it.” (paraphrased)
Finally, one of my mentors once said:
“Weak leaders like to keep their people guessing.”
Since then, I’ve taken the relentlessly authentic approach. I don’t necessarily micromanage but I track everything to see trends from day-to-day and week-to-week. I don’t hover but I do talk frequently about their process and their deals. I talk on and off-the-record with folks and speak openly about my own goals, intentions and where I will be in six months to a year. I do everything I can to see my myself as others might see me. Am I there only when there’s bad news? Or am I there all the time?
Unlike a seagull, I don’t swoop in out of the blue, crap on your work and fly off. If I do, it won’t be out of the blue and I assure you I won’t be flying off afterwards.
3 ways to avoid being a seagull manager.
1. Try your best to understand why people are working there.
Everybody has different career goals and they may not align with yours. Some folks are perfectly happy to do well enough to have a happy, stress-free income. Others see their current gig as a stepping stone to the next. Others still, don’t really care what they are doing as long as they are the best at it (awesome people). Flapping in and telling folks they ‘should’ be seeing the same picture as you not only brings about shrugs of apathy, it often brings about derision behind your back once you stop squawking. Ask what people really thought about your last pep-talk. I guarantee you that if folks are honest, you will have as many different answers as there are different folks. People work for their own reasons, not yours. Your job is to make sure that they get what they want so you can get what you want.
2. Track everything.
It’s pretty foolish to blast a struggling employee without proof and a way to get better. If you don’t track everything, you simply don’t know what to tell him to improve. It’s like telling a batter to go ‘hit better.’ If that worked, everybody would be in The Hall. Every superstar athlete has a coach. Tiger (or whoever is the king of golf right now) has a swing coach. Crosby has a skating coach. Bautista has a hitting coach. Everything from the angle of their hands to the placement of their toes to how many milliseconds in swing-speed improvement is tracked. So what do you track in a business environment? I only know sales so for me it’s accuracy, pipeline fill-rate, deal size and deal age. Any deficiency in one of these is a coaching conversation.
3. Lose the corporate speak and be a dude.
Nothing is more disingenuous than corporate babble and arms-length HR jargon. Be someone anybody can come to so you can get the skinny on a problem at the seed stage. However, being a dude has its risks as it may be seen as an open door for nags to hop through. Just be vigilant. If your employees are afraid of you, don’t trust you, or simply don’t like you, you will never know what the hell happened when there’s a mass exodus or a critical failure. If your employees are afraid to tell you that they need help, it’s not their failure, it’s yours.
And all the squawking and crapping at that time won’t change a thing.