A great manager can truly create magic in your life!
P.S. — This is no way directly related to the much-loved book “Making of a Manager” by Julie Zhuo, though I should probably read it as I am sure there might be some parallels between what she has written and what I have written in this post.
Mid of 2014 till about mid of 2019 has been the darkest days of my professional life. So much so that even the years of 2008–10 when I didn't have a steady job and income pales in comparison.
I have never been happier at work since Mid of 2019 and till date. :)
This post is not about whining, not at all…it’s more of reflecting as to what was wrong in those years and what changed 2019 onwards.
In mid of 2019, I changed my team and got a new Manager…and life has never been the same again, in a very positive way.
When I had this conversation with my Department/Function lead who signed off my team and manager change with immediate effect, when I came out and talked to people, they were surprised as to how happy my face was. They asked, “What happened?”
I actually felt incredibly light as if a burden has been lifted off my head, a very heavy one.
Such is the impact of the right environment — Manager and Team. Considering the Team is a true reflection of who is heading it, you get the importance of how important a Team Manager/Head/Lead is.
Before we go to the sunshine part, it's imported to set the context by sharing a little bit about the darkness I was badly engulfed in.
The team I was in, was like a herd of Blacksheep. 6 Managers came and went in less than 5 years. This added to the problem, no continuity and every Manager had their own views of how things should be run. Each had their own way of handling projects and people (cross-functional), and this badly affected the team. We hardly had any credibility and whatever we had we eroded with our attitude, arrogance and high-handedness.
I always believed that being kind, doing great work, always approachable, never saying no to any work, going beyond was enough to grow. Clearly not.
In the span of 5 years, I got Zero recognition, be it via Awards or Monetary. No promotion, no increment. And it was tough. When my son was born in 2017 I literally pleaded with my Manager as to how important a financial hike is for me, I presented that person with detailed accomplishments (from my perspective) from a Team/Project/Organisation impact standpoint, but to no avail.
Rubbing red-chilli powder into my wounds, EVERYONE in my team got awarded and rewarded.
Repeatedly I asked for reasons…I never got any convincing ones. All I heard was “let's wait for the next cycle”.
It was like waiting on the porch on a rainy day, keeping my ears to the ground in the hope that I will hear the footsteps of “Good news”.
I never heard any, I thought had I become deaf that I am unable to hear or what is it?
I became very bitter, I hated my team-mates, it started affecting my personal life as well, it felt someone had sucked the life out of me, sucked all the happiness out. I became very negative.
I get goosebumps just thinking about those years…I myself don't know what kept me going…was it retribution, was it paying back my debts from the past life, was it life teaching you a lesson in some way?
And I was not “Alice in Wonderland” that I was in my own world. Those dark-times provoked me to introspect a lot and it was not “work” which was the cause of my misery, something else was.
It was a mismatch between my Manager and Me. As much bitterness, I have from those years and the pain I was inflicted, I believe (or want to) those people were or are not bad people. Just that I was not a good fit for them, I was not of the same cloth and this difference they were unable to see. I always kept my Organisation’s interest and they had something else they put forward.
One another important aspect is Inertia. Good and bad things both spread easily…so when your Credibility is low, with each spread it becomes even low and the reverse is also true but inversely. When your Credibility is high, with each spread it becomes higher.
In my case, my credibility was not low or rock-bottom but rather underground. I merely existed but never seen.
I knew this couldn't go on forever, I was going into a black hole with each passing day and I had to get out of it.
After a few escalations and several candid and very productive meetings, I got myself a new team and a new manager.
Interestingly I had worked extensively with this Manager when we were setting up a formal UX Research practice and also our first Usability Lab, where we both went along very well. Perhaps this helped. He welcomed me with open hands and it was very gracious of him. This was May’19.
Considering the context so far, you may be surprised or even shocked by what you may read next….as to what happened!
- Got nominated for 4 Star Of Quarter awards and twice it was in consecutive months.
- Got nominated and won “Cultural Trailblazer” Award for instilling a culture of Customer Centricity
Sometime last year around July’20, when we were in the middle of a raging pandemic (we still are though) and probably a lockdown, as I was reflecting, I felt compelled to show Gratitude to my Manager. Usually, Awards (Recognition) are top-down, so I had to actually write to my Manager’s Manager as to why I wanted to give recognition to my Manager. The citation was as follows —
In recognition of your outstanding leadership abilities, by giving me responsibility, empowering me with the freedom to execute and showing an extraordinary level of trust to do what’s right for our Customers, Organization, Product and Function!
Frankly, the citation doesn't do full justice I guess no citation can as a few lines are not sufficient to describe the impact of the recognition.
So I added reasons why my Manager deserves the recognition, its as follows —
- Consistently inspiring me to do my best and keeping in mind the big picture.
- Creating an environment of trust by empowering me. He empowers me to take decisions and trusts that I will make the right decision considering the situation at hand.
- Creating an environment of freedom and responsibility. He gives me projects and gives me full responsibility for that project outcome. At the same time, he gives me the freedom to execute.
- Has the ability to diffuse the situation and brings a different and calm approach to handling it.
- Making work, 1:1, appraisals fun. He keeps the atmosphere and all conversations very light and yet has that art to convey the message without looking down or finding faults or pointing out blame. All 1:1 and appraisals are forward-looking with guidelines on how I can achieve my goals and become more valuable to the team, function and organization.
- Knows when to disappear and when to appear. A fine balance between micro-managing and not being hands-on. He encourages deep thinking, speaking my mind in the interest of Customers/Organization/Product, allows me to make mistakes and yet is always there to course-correct and turn it into a learning experience.
- Post-COVID, when we started WFH, my Manager has been very particular about regular check-in with the team and 1:1 to ensure everything is well, not only about work but any other challenges I may be facing on any aspect which may impact work.
- Last but not the least, always gives credit where due and he genuinely chases learning, growth and success for his team member — me.
Would like to add a few more —
Amplifies my work — Any good work I do, he ensures its spread and known widely. This in turns helps me build credibility and gets me more trust, responsibility and projects.
Knows my skills, what I am good at, what I enjoy and gives me work where I can excel and also work which will challenge me and help me grow.
These may seem like a shortlist of 10 things to do, but believe me, it's not easy. Being a good People-Manager is a skill, it's part art and science both.
At work, work is only one aspect, a lot of factors goes into play which influences your time and growth at any Organisation, not to mention your happiness.
A good manager is one of the most important assets any Organisation can have as the impact he/she can have is no small feat.
If you happen to be a Manager, be the best you can and always think of your people first and find ways to make them grow and succeed.
And if you report to one and somehow things are not clicking, well now you know what you need to do and what can be the cause.
I am keen to hear about your experiences with your Manager. Do share in the comments section.