At some point in our lives, every one of us will be saddled with the responsibility of managing other people. It’s an exciting opportunity when you realize you’ve been trusted with more than just tasks and objects, that you’re now captain to a ship of real live people. For some of us the goal may be to eventually reach managerial status in our place of work, and for many others we will become managers (or co-managers!) of our very own household. But regardless of the scenario, your goal remains the same: ensure the success of your team by managing their strengths and weaknesses.
When I was 15 years old, I decided to become a ski and snowboard instructor. It was a great way to make money and share my love of the sports, but it also was a great way to learn people management at a very young age. Although I’ve taught a very wide range of people in the past 10 years of instructing, I learned that success is not as directly correlated to skill as one might think. Instead, it’s mostly affected by attitude and confidence, a realization that rang true for any student, whether 5 or 50 years old.
Anybody who’s ever worked toward a common goal, whether in a group or individually, knows how difficult it can be. You measure yourself against others, you look to your leader for approval, and a lot of times you come away from it all with a bad feeling about yourself. As a manager, it’s in your best interest to prioritize this ‘bad feeling’ that your employees have, and turn it into something useful. For me, I learned to do this using one of my favourite people-management tools: the No ‘But’ Rule (let’s keep in mind that I named this rule when I was 15, a point in my life in which I was very pure of mind…).
When someone performs a task that looks quite good but has some errors, most of us would say something like “This looks really great, but you didn’t quite incorporate xyz the way I’d like”, or “Your skiing has really improved, but you’re not bending your knees enough”. Think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of one of those comments: accomplished? annoyed? frustrated? You worked hard to do what you just did, and I said it’s not good enough?
The frustration that follows those comments stems from the use of the word ‘but’, which essentially negates any compliment I gave you. What the receiver takes away from that is that their work is good, but not good enough. The word ‘but’ puts more emphasis on the bad, which can make the person feel like it outweighs the good. Conversely, if you were to say “You didn’t incorporate xyz in a way that makes sense, but your writing style is very good”, the writer may feel that your critique is inconsequential because they made up for it with their writing style.
The problem with the word ‘but’ is that it causes us to focus only on the latter part of the sentence. The best way to remedy this is to eliminate its use altogether when we’re providing feedback to someone. Instead, what I was taught as an ski instructor was to use the “PTT” method for feedback: Positive, To Try. Start with something positive about the work, and then add something to try for the next attempt. “I really like the way you wrote this article, your style is very clear. Do you think you could go back over it and incorporate xyz with a bit more evidence?”. The praise is not lost on the writer, yet it’s very clear to them that revision is in order. Providing feedback in this way shows appreciation to the writer and allows them to feel proud of their work, but still ensures that the improvements are made and lessons are learned.
Feedback can be a very overlooked part of the managerial role; it’s usually more concrete skills like time management and organization that seem important for the job. But considering how many times in our lives we work so hard on a project, only to be sent back to the drawing board, it’s easy to focus only on the inadequate aspects of our work. Of course, this is detrimental to confidence levels on the job, which has an obvious affect on our performance whether we have the skills for the task or not.
If the effort is made by supervisors to recognize the strength of their team throughout the learning process, the example is set for team members and they too will maintain perspective. This will help with employee/student confidence, which, not surprisingly, directly affects productivity and progress. So the moral of the story here is that to be a great manager, you have to know your team’s strengths, but more importantly you have to make sure that they know you know their strengths. Once you can manage this relationship effectively, your job as supervisor will be a walk in the park.