The Joy of Managing Is In the Struggle

I spent the last few days with one of my closest friends. He’s an arborist and runs one of the best tree care businesses in his city. His business is booming, his reputation is solid, and the outlook for the business looks really good.

But he’s stressed. Really, really stressed. And from the title of this blog, you can probably guess why.

Last month, he hired someone who touted “ten years of experience in climbing and cutting down trees.” And it didn’t take him long to realize that this new employee wasn’t great at either skill.

Around the same time, he’d also taken some time off, and—while he was gone—he noticed that his team was taking forever to remove certain trees. Turns out, they’d taken almost a two-hour lunch. Which is fine and good, except that they charged those hours to the company. And that’s not what they’d all agreed to.

There’s a good chance that these kinds of things sound familiar to a lot of you. Managers are often complaining about team members who constantly come to them instead of just figuring things out on their own.

Or about how their team doesn’t really care about the business.

Or about how their team is lazy.

Or about how, if only this person acted “this certain way,” things would be okay.

Or about a hundred other things.

And it all comes back to believing that managing people is a dreaded task. That it’s hard and not fun.

But I think we’re blowing an incredible opportunity, mainly because the way we frame management is so negative.

What We’re Wishing For

I’ve written about this before, but back when I was working on my MBA, we had constant debates about whether it’s better to be loved or hated as a manager. Or whether it’s better to give people a ton of autonomy or be a bit more controlling. Or whether it’s better to lead with fear rather than love.

But when you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers.

All of these questions seem to revolve around one thing:
If I do “x,” will the people reporting to me do more?

Or said another way:
How can I maximize output?

We’re asking machine questions about human people.

And this is where I’m pushing myself a bunch.

I love our team. I love the dynamic we have. I love that when I show up in the office, it feels like a family. We know what we each did over the weekend and how our families and friends are doing. We regularly share how lucky we are that we get to do what we do—and, at least as importantly, that we get to work around the people we get to work around. And when we bring people into the office, they can usually feel that something is different. That there’s this certain magic to what we have going on.

At the same time, my largest amount of work stress comes from periods when I’m in conflict with someone else. This is true for me both in and out of work, actually. I crave peace. I crave getting along well with others. Because when I’m at peace, I can best support others and vice versa. We don’t have an emotional cloud hanging over us and can better work toward common goals.

But there’s an inherent issue there. Conflict usually brings change. Or, a better way I might put it: Change brings growth. Still, it requires a lot of work for me. I’ve traditionally really struggled with interpersonal conflict. It’s one of the reasons my undergraduate degree was in interpersonal communications with a specific focus on conflict resolution. Seriously.

By craving peace, I’m actually foregoing the ability to grow, both for our company and for the individual teammates who are a part of GAN.

So I’m reframing a lot of my thoughts around management. Here’s how…

My Yard

My wife and I just put in a new backyard at our house. It’s beautiful and feels like you’re in France, on multiple levels. We got this nice water fountain, a bunch of trees, gravel instead of concrete, etc. It’s really relaxing and I love it.

But over the past few weeks, something has started to happen. A few of the plants have started to die because I planted them incorrectly or our dog is peeing all over them. And the grass is starting to brown in certain areas. And half of the vegetables we planted aren’t growing. And our lavender completely bit the dust.

I’m getting pissed. Pissed because I want my backyard to look beautiful. I want to go to the backyard and not have to worry about it. Put another way: I don’t want to manage my yard.

I told all of this to Ashley a few weeks ago and she pointed out that this isn’t how to look at a yard. One of the joys of having a yard is that they are always a work in progress. They always needed to be tended to. They (frankly) need constant attention. Since then, I’ve changed the way I’ve been looking at my yard.

And the analogy here isn’t a hard one to make.

I’d obviously been thinking the same way about managing our team. I wanted homeostasis. I wanted to show up and not have issues. I didn’t want to do this part of the work.

But, just like my garden needs constant tending, so does how I manage. And that’s where the real joy is found.

Changing the Tapes

To experience that joy, here’s where I’m specifically trying to get comfortable:

Realizing that there will never be an “end goal” with managing.
Being a manager means that you’re actually going to need to manage. There’s not a time when this ends—no stopping point where you get to fully just pass this duty off to someone else. And leading a team is an incredible responsibility. It means that, if I’m doing my job, there will be constant course corrections. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the deal. Actually, managing relationships and the people on your team are, on a lot of days, going to be the majority of what you spend your time on. For CEOs, sometimes managing your team is managing your business.

Realizing that we’re all at a particular place in our journeys (and that place is often different).
There are two ways I see managers viewing employees, whether they verbalize this or not. Managers look at employees as people who should already have the answers, who should be able to do their jobs (after all, it’s why they were hired for their roles in the first place), and who get very little grace when they aren’t acting “correctly.” OR, they’re individuals, just like you, who are continually growing and learning.

The best managers I know lean toward the latter perspective.

Rather than sitting on a high horse, getting frustrated and sitting in anger while cataloging all the bad behavior of their employees, great managers are selfless. They step back from their egos and are so attuned to the needs of their employees that they’re able to graciously lead each of them to the next stage of growth.

After all, I’ve had life experiences that have brought me to this very place, so have you, and so have the people on my team. And those life experiences can look pretty different. In fact, it’s a good thing when they do. So as a manager, instead of trying to get to some “end goal” where others see my way of thinking, it’s more important for me to foster an environment where we can hear each other out and lovingly push one another.

Realizing that I don’t have all the answers—and I need conflict to help me get those answers.
As a manager, I also can’t know everything. We won’t always understand each other. And, we will often miscommunicate or disappoint each other in some way. So, as much as I’m hoping that our team members are all growing, I need to be open to doing the same and learning from them. Just because I’m a manager doesn’t mean I know it all OR that I’m above either learning or being held accountable. That will often look (or feel) like conflict. What I’ve (fortunately) figured out is that, when team members are pushing me, it’s a really, really good thing. I’m learning, I’m growing, and they’re (maybe without realizing it) helping me to see things in new ways. And I’m setting an example for what it means to listen and grow. Not only is that great for my personal growth, but it can also be great for the business.