Lately I’ve been observing how people approach the role of manager. Given my training as an actress and improviser, I often think of roles in theatrical terms. Sometimes people get “cast” as a manager but they haven’t played this role before, nor have they had any training (rehearsal) for the demands of developing and managing a team.
My training in the social therapeutic method introduced me to Lev Vygotsky, an early Soviet psychologist who greatly influenced the field of human development. Vygotsky talked about performing “a head taller” than we are – I love this image. For those of us who find ourselves having to manage others, we often have to do things that seem impossible, given our limitations. Managing people requires great emotional intelligence, honesty and impeccable listening skills.
Recently I’ve read a couple of wonderful pieces about managing people that appeared in the Harvard Business Review – I love these titles and encourage you to read what these authors have to say:
If You’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management Material http://bit.ly/1iqtoue
Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better http://bit.ly/1ePYqu4
These articles, wonderful as they are, don’t say much about the “how” of developing into a great manager, although they give some steps to take, which I wholeheartedly support. What I’m most interested in is the performance required to allow oneself to give a team the support they need to develop, which is one way of understanding what is meant by “love” in this context. In speaking to people about their experiences with managers, they often describe the close bonds that are forged when someone takes the time and effort to give to their people.
Some people end up as managers by default and, not surprisingly, they put all their focus on what they from their people, rather on what their people need from their manager. This is an impossible situation, as an effective manager’s mantra needs to be “give, give and then give some more”, especially if you want to help your people develop. (Hint: You might have to develop!)
Sadly in our culture the act of giving is not often cultivated. After all, we live in a culture that is all about getting. So most of us who manage teams of people have to perform a head taller than we are in order to give, especially in the moments when we are frustrated, disappointed, or let down by someone on our team. This is where performance becomes a wonderful tool, as there are countless performances to be created at these moments! As human beings we are all wonderfully creative when it comes to performing (think back to when you were a child). The work I do with my clients is all about creating a character, a role, a performance for these challenging moments (this is how you can perform ahead taller and this is how we grow and develop).
Creative imitation is a good way to begin. Is there a mentor from your past, a role model, even an actor who you admire and can imitate? What I mean by “creative imitation” is to create your version of this person, using them as inspiration to perform a head taller than you are. Perhaps you steer clear of conflict – is there someone to imitate who is fearless in the face of conflict? One of my clients decided to perform as Meryl Streep in Iron Lady, which allowed her to perform as a strong woman in situations that would normally intimidate her.
Next time you have to have a tough conversation with a team member, or you feel the frustrations that comes with being a manager, be a head taller than you are … perform (and develop)!