Monday, December 30, 2013

Are You Thirsty?

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An actual true story.
A few years ago I attended a meeting with more than 100 senior managers in our company. One of the speakers was a smart and respected senior manager in our industry, radio. He began his session with one request to the group: “help me make a list of words that mean manager”.

There was a flip chart at the front of the room, and everyone was calling out words as fast as Bob could write them. First came the expected ones like teacher, boss, executive, leader, supervisor. Then it got a little more interesting with words like mentor, director, conductor, administrator, officer.

Then it started to get really interesting. And more challenging. True creativity showed up with ideas like boss lady, foreman, governor, superintendent, SOB, big cheese, top dog and zookeeper.

But he didn't stop. There were more than 50 words on big sheets of paper that had been taped to the walls. He kept saying, "we're close, but we're not there yet". His favorite definition for manager had not yet materialized. The guy next to me even tried Googling Thesaurus. com.

After fifteen minutes of yelling and writing on three filled-up flip chart sheets the room grew quiet. They were done. Out of words. ( Managers out of words??)

Bob knew many of the managers in the room and he started calling on a few, one by one. He was hinting and cajoling and a few more squeezed out, but THE word still wasn’t on paper yet. Thirty minutes had passed. Finally, Bob gave us his definition.

Water boy.

In my brain a water boy I see a scrawny guy wearing a sort-of diaper, trudging down a dusty road with a long stick spanning his shoulders and expanding well beyond. On each end of the stick is a huge bucket of heavy water swinging and sloshing. The sun is blazing. There was no image of me in that sort-of diaper.

Water boy. He was right. I got it. I saw it. I loved it. The group didn't get it because sadly, too many of the managers in that room thought it was the other way around. That their staff was in service to them.

Being a great manager means being in service to the people on your team. To serve up everything they need to do the job. And then some. And it should include bringing them water. And coffee. And encouragement, feedback and the truth.

Can you specifically recall the last person to whom you asked “how can I help you today?”

Try this: buy a couple of cases of water for your office. Every time you truly serve an employee, offer a bottle of water. Keep count for yourself but don't tell anyone what you’re doing. This is just for you. See how fast you can give away every bottle of water.


nate said...

Finally, someone IN management who understands WHAT management is! I like the self-imposed metric too. That's cool.

I've been trying to move formally from an engineer to a manager in any job, other than freelancing, for a while now. Every time I have another manager directing me, it pains me to see them dictate (I chose that word carefully) to others rather than be their "water boy". The best managers I've ever had were ones who let me be creative and solution driven. If we understand the motivations behind the people who are working with us, filling the needs of those people should increase their production way more than we'd ever understand otherwise.

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