Walk ALONGside your employees, not in FRONT of ‘em

This might be a very guitar circle-style post, and for that I apologize in advance. Before we get deep into it, though, I need to throw a little personal context out there.

Last Wednesday, I got shit-hammered during the day because, well, I don’t really know why. I was probably just generally depressed. I ended up having about 12–14 beers across the course of probably 11:50am until 4pm, and I was pretty out of it. No bueno.

As a result, I decided I should double down on going to the gym and being a more functional adult, and in good news, I’ve been to the gym 5 times in the last 7 days. Nice.

Well, yesterday at the gym I listened to Brene Brown and Melinda Gates on “the moment of lift.” In general I like Brene Brown, and I once quoted her in a favorite post of mine about the second act of life, but admittedly sometimes she can be a little tedious. The devil on my left shoulder thinks she is a huge force among bored suburban housewives — the same demo that eventually comes to believe Fauci is an actor — and not much else, but I think it’s probably bigger and broader than that.

So, this podcast episode is pretty good, and there’s a few stories about how Bill and Melinda met, including drinks in Bellevue (WA) Town Center and a dinner in NYC. Meet cute! Billionaires! I digress.

The path you walk

In the episode, Brene talks about how her dissertation — mentions it here — is about the idea of walking alongside people you work with or manage, as opposed to other directional things.

This might seem semantic, and to hard-charger KPI guys, it probably does. But think about it like this:

  • Walk behind them: That implies pushing, which is not a great management style. It could even be micromanagement, honestly.
  • Walk in front of them: This is what leaders (“leaders”) often think they need to do, and it’s a big theme of many leadership books. But the problem is that for a lot of people, “being in front” equates to their own pursuit of perks, or they’re not actually looking back, which then becomes absentee management.

Now think about “walking alongside.” The first line of Brown’s dissertation is that “There is no path; the path must be forged as you walk.” It’s actually ironic that she was talking to Melinda Gates, because I’d argue Microsoft was a bit rawr-go-go-go back in the day without a clear path, and the path became forged as they walked and built and acquired, and then later it became forged as cloud and Dynamics.

Thought partners and the managerial relationship

I saw parallels between “walk alongside” and “be a thought partner” in the managerial sense. It implies there’s a shared dynamic and co-setting, co-strategy, co-creation, etc.

Too often, the manager-employee relationship feels like a ladder where one can literally take a dump downwards onto the other.

What if it was two ladders next to each other, like some old Super Mario game? Seems better.

As for the execution of an idea like this, that’s where it gets tricky. In any manager-employee relationship, one person makes more money and holds more responsibility for end product and decisions. So, most people in those slots tend to think they need to push from behind or rush to the front (remember that clip of Trump with the other world leaders? LOL). But what if you simply hired smart, good people and talked to them frequently about where the silo/KPIs should be headed, and then essentially got out of their way while they worked on it, but were always willing to “walk and talk” — alongside each other! — on issues, challenges, and roadblocks?

It’s not how many think of management — honestly, most think of management as more back-end work for a bigger check — but it’s crazy enough to work, no?

Just need to slip this story in here

Over Halloween weekend 2015, I had to attend this travel conference in Palm Springs, CA. I ended up missing a connector flight and having to spend six hours in the Denver airport, where I also got drunk, just like last Wednesday. (You can see some of my problems.) When I eventually made it to Palm Springs, on late Friday night, the conference was called off (lol) for Saturday because too many vendors didn’t make it out.

Long story short, after a pool day, my co-worker and I end up at this resort bar on Saturday night watching the World Series (Royals-Mets). As we’re eating and drinking, we start talking to this couple next to us, who trains equestrians, and apparently they trained the Gates’ oldest daughter. We all got pretty drunk and the woman showed me Melinda Gates’ number in her cell phone. I smiled and suggested we call her. Thankfully, we did not.

So, not sure that’s “walking alongside,” but it needed to be written down.

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/work-with-me/

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