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How I didn’t make it as a manager: Being the star of your own movie means you have to hit a fork in the road. Or several of them.

How I didn’t make it as a manager: Being the star of your own movie means you have to hit a fork in the road. Or several of them.

A while ago, I started training new and front line managers through a series called “How not to Suck as a manager”. Some people liked it, some thought it was inappropriate, some made me change the title so it could fit within their stated goals and objective.

I didn’t just do it for the catchy title. It’s because I was there. I have sucked as a manager. And I have learned – through people, research, breaking things, fixing them, and breaking them again – How NOT to suck as a manager.

And yet… so many people still suck at being a manager, don’t they?

Why is that?

A few years ago, I was promoted to lead a large department – over 150 people – as well as a few managers, assistants and support. The group I was in, however, was failing… for months. We couldn’t get it right, no matter how hard we worked, no matter how many hours we put in. It just wasn’t working. Complaining that our numbers were too aggressive and unrealistic wasn’t an option. We had to make due and persevere despite our misgivings.

To be truly honest, it was a dark time for me. I had started my job with VIGOROUS energy – within a few months, it was all gone. It was replaced by a bottomless abyss in my brain that made me play, “Hold On,” by KT Tunstall on my way to work – over and over – just to tell myself I could get through the day!

I hated my job. I hated failing. Over and over. I hated being yelled at. Over and over. I hated never getting it right.

So, I consolidated my precious resources and let go of the one thing that I had actually done well – taking care of my people. I focused my efforts on overcoming being yelled at – and stopped paying attention to the 150 people that depended on me for guidance, direction and motivation. I stopped caring about their needs and basically focused only on mine.

It went from bad to worse for me. Although I’ve been in a number of challenging places, including the military, deployed on the other side of the world, I hit manager, job, and leadership rock bottom.

I officially sucked as a manager.

It happens to everyone, at some point, every time. You WILL struggle at a level to get through to someone (even if you’re the best manager there is), to get a point across, to get a goal accomplished.

In times like these, I call on Mr. Thomas Edison for support: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

You can get the prize at the end –  you just have to try one more time to get it – to get past that fork in the proverbial road. Mr. Edison continues, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I did finally wake up and realize that I had to focus on my 10% – what I could impact? What could I influence? I went back to supporting my people and clearing the way for them to get the job done.

And you know what? They did. We were trapped in the “jungle” and found our way out. We ended up significantly stronger – as individuals and as a group – than when we started. Within 6 months, our team was out of the hole, and in less than a year, were one of the strongest departments in the country in our line of work. Several of my people were promoted out of the department (aka – stolen from us because they were so good!) and I continued on into other roles.

I never forgot that time, and the one strategy I will never carry out again. Although I had to suck as a manager to understand it, I learned and I found strength myself.

What about you? How do you “make” it as a manager? How do you not suck as a manager? Share your story and what you’ve learned here. One winner will get a $25 Amazon gift card. He hEE




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