What’s my WHY?

breaking the shellThrough my career at HP (now HP Enterprise), I had the privilege of working for some truly great managers. They had the gift of connecting with me so that they could understand me, motivate me, trust me and support me. They made very clear what they wanted, and set out objectives and measures, but they didn’t insist on telling me how to do my job. And yet they seemed to make it so easy when they inspired me to deliver my best work, to learn, to develop, and to grow my engineering contribution.

Eventually, I reached the point where I wanted to go beyond purely technical work, the point where I too wanted to lead a team of technical people and be another great HP manager. But observing those management skills and putting them into practice were very different, and as I discovered, making that step from engineer to people manager was the hardest career transition of all.

I was struggling, trying hard, but getting nowhere. I was trying to be what every stakeholder wanted me to be, and I lost myself in the process.

I forgot to be just me, and that process of losing myself, I created 6 months of stress.

I was afraid to ask for help in case that showed up as weakness. And I almost gave it all up, had it not been for the help of a coach, Jo Lynch, who helped me to develop confidence in myself, to take a more realistic perspective on my role, and – dare I say it – to grow a slightly thicker skin. Jo could see the potential in me, she knew that my personal values and style were well suited to leadership in the 21st century, but I needed the confidence and assertiveness to put all of that into practice. With Jo’s help, I began to see that I could get results from my team AND still be approachable and supportive. I didn’t need to “command and control” in order to be effective. I just needed to be my authentic ME.

As I look around at other companies and organisations, I can see so many others who have the potential but are also struggling to be effective as people managers; they don’t have the necessary people skills, and they have been unable to ask for the coaching and training they really need. They are often left to work things out for themselves (to “sink or swim”) and unfortunately they can be left to develop a whole spectrum of bad habits from conflict avoidance to micro-managing and even bullying. They develop a protective shell, enclosing their human qualities of empathy and listening, which in turn prevents them from building trusting working relationships. As a consequence, they lack influence, can’t delegate effectively, can’t set out clear expectations, and can’t trust and support their staff.

On the other hand, confident and effective managers get results, earn respect and demonstrate trust. They create an amazing working environment with happy, empowered, engaged staff, who want to stay with the company and who want to promote the company as a great place to work.

Bridging that gap between being a poor manager and a great manager needs a genuine desire to change and some help and support via training and coaching. That includes a willingness to accept feedback and to take an honest look in the mirror from time to time. It needs an openness to explore new ways of behaving, and working with a good coach will get results.

For me, moving from engineer to first time manager was the hardest career transition, but I did make it through, and in the end, (with Jo’s help) it was also the most rewarding transition.

I now want to step into Jo’s shoes and support other engineers to make that big career step.

That’s why I do what I do; that’s my WHY.