Welcome to the world of management, where superpowers are a prerequisite for success. As a manager, you’re expected to conjure utopia for your employees, provide platinum-level service to demanding customers, achieve perfection according to your boss’s standards, and sacrifice a piece of your soul for the sake of the company. Juggling these expectations while maintaining your sanity is no small feat. It’s certainly not the path to riches, and the stress and long hours can take their toll. So, what compels you to stay on this challenging journey? What is the driving force that keeps you going?
For over 25 years, I found myself in the world of management. But it wasn’t a lifelong dream or a grand vision that led me there. In the beginning, my reasons were simple: self-preservation and survival. Back in college, recruiters from the bank approached me and offered me a BAMT role—Bank Assistant Manager Trainee (love those acronyms). I needed a job to gain independence from my parents’ house and some much-needed income. Plus, there was something appealing about having the word ‘manager’ in my title.
Although management wasn’t initially my intended career path, I quickly discovered a newfound passion for the role. I excelled in my responsibilities and steadily climbed the ranks to reach a senior position. Yet, despite my progress, I couldn’t help but feel that I hadn’t fully realized my potential or left a lasting impact. Reflecting on my journey, I now realize that I could have achieved so much more. And here’s the exciting part—I firmly believe that you can too.
The New Realities of a Manager’s Role
Rewind over 30 years ago to my first management role, and you’ll find a world that seems like a distant memory. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with nostalgic tales of the “good old days.” What I will share is how dramatically the landscape has transformed since then. In the beginning, being a manager didn’t pose significant challenges. Employees tended to join a company and stay for a lifetime—a feat that would make any HR professional envious. Job satisfaction simply meant having steady employment and receiving a paycheck. Complexity was relatively low, and with dedication, one could become competent in a reasonable amount of time. Personally, I relished the connection I felt with both my team and the customers we served. Excelling at tasks, working diligently, and achieving results were the hallmarks of my success, propelling me to higher senior roles.
But oh, how times have changed. Technology advances, the relentless pace of change, escalating consumer and corporate demands, and the growth of social media have propelled companies forward with unprecedented force. Expectations, like an uncontrollable vine, continue to grow and grow and GROW. Uncertainty has become the new normal, and it’s in this ever-shifting landscape that management collided head-on with leadership. Suddenly, the manager’s role demanded not only proficiency in tasks and processes but also effective leadership abilities.
Somewhere along the way, I came to the humbling realization that my existing skill set no longer sufficed. I found myself back in the metaphorical “management Kindergarten,” where a flood of workshops and leadership development courses came hurtling my way. These opportunities were undoubtedly valuable, offering insights and strategies. However, the more I discovered about what it takes to be a successful leader, the more acutely aware I became of my own inadequacies. Try searching for leadership skills, and you’ll likely find a daunting list of around 100 “must-have” attributes required to thrive in today’s dynamic environment.
Planning, decision-making, communication, agility, empathy, tech-savvy, vision, confidence, problem-solving, passion, self-motivation, creativity, risk-taker, strategic thinking, influence, emotional intelligence…….STOP! Just say it – Super Hero!
However, let’s remember that we are human beings. Unlike AI and the growth of expectations, our brains don’t evolve at lightning speed. Yes, skills can and should be learned and honed over time. With consistent effort and dedication, you can undoubtedly grow and develop as a manager. Yet, there are no instant solutions or shortcuts to morph into a remarkable leader. In light of this, I pose the question once more: What motivated you to choose the path of a manager?
Find Your Why
Initially, you may take a job for money, a prestigious title, or the thrill of a challenge. But any job pays you, a title is a word, and a video game can challenge you. These won’t provide long-term fulfillment or inspiration to truly excel in your work. What sustains your motivation is clarity—a clear understanding of what gives your role meaning, how you contribute, and whether your actions align with your values. It’s about tapping into that profound sense of purpose that resonates deep within you.
For me, I discovered that caring about people was what truly mattered. Witnessing the unique strengths and potential each employee brought to the table, identifying areas for their growth and development—it was a source of exhilaration. Collaborating with a cohesive team and uncovering what we could collectively achieve was inspiring. I believe people knew I was genuinely interested in them. People have the ability to distinguish between authentic care and going through the motions, and it’s impossible to care if you lack a genuine fondness for others. The quote by Vince Lombardi says it well.
I don’t necessarily have to like my players and associates but as their leader I must love them. Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization.Vince Lombardi
Now, it’s time for a little soul-searching.
Your Piece of the World
I know the theme of passion and purpose may seem overused, but its significance cannot be overstated. Why slog it out on autopilot day after day, unaware of whether anything you do has meaning?
Simon Sinek, in his compelling TED Talk titled, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, poses an interesting question: Why do you get out of bed in the morning? That question is pretty darn important. And more importantly, is your answer enough to keep you motivated and driven? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let go of external expectations or the ‘correct’ answer you think you should give. When faced with chaos, stress, days you run around and put out fires, questioning your competence and whether anyone truly appreciates your efforts, remember why you signed up for the role. It’s highly unlikely that you took on this position solely to meet targets and earn bonuses.
Grab a mirror, and use it while you review the Ponder Points at the end of the post. Consider discussing these points with a trusted co-worker, mentor, or friend. Seek clarity about what you genuinely want to accomplish and who you aspire to be. Deepening your understanding of your own desires and aspirations will help you navigate the challenges, uncertainties, and pressures of the managerial journey.
One Life, One Chance
That’s it, folks. You have one chance to make your mark.
I stepped away from the management role a few times. Pouring my heart and soul into supporting and guiding employees could often feel draining, particularly when it seemed like company goals, regulations, sky-high expectations, and flawed processes stood as formidable obstacles. There were times when it felt like pushing sand uphill to achieve anything and it left me questioning why I continued to persevere. Eventually, I would rediscover the ways in which I could contribute meaningfully, and that pull would guide me back to where I belonged.
It’s remarkably easy to lose sight of what truly holds meaning for you. The ideas and priorities of others can sway your perspective, and companies, driven by their own agendas and the pursuit of profit, can never provide you with fulfillment. It is up to you how you make your unique piece of the world matter.
Take a moment to pause and reflect. Embrace the realization that you have one life, one chance to leave your mark. Consider what truly matters to you, what drives your passion, and how you can make a genuine impact. Tune out the noise of others’ expectations and agendas, and reconnect with your own inner compass.
Remember, it’s not about chasing someone else’s version of success or adhering to predefined notions of what matters. It’s about defining your own path and determining how you can contribute meaningfully in a way that aligns with your values and aspirations.
Summary: Embracing Meaning
To stay connected to what truly gives your work meaning, document it and revisit it daily. Consider diving deeper into this concept by establishing a personal brand statement, a powerful declaration of who you are and what you aspire to achieve. Then find a way to share it or at least keep it front and center. Whether you choose to share it on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pin it, create a video, journal about it, or tape it on a wall, find a method that resonates with you. Some may view this as excessive, but there’s no harm in a little excess to remind you of your purpose.
Take a moment each day to reflect upon your documented meaning and ask yourself: Did it manifest in my actions today? If so, how? If not, why not? How can I make it a reality tomorrow?
Use the ponder points below as journal prompts.
- Why did I choose to become a manager, and does that initial motivation still hold true today?
- What gives my role as a manager meaning and fulfillment? How can I ensure that I stay connected to those aspects?
- Am I genuinely caring about the people I work with, or am I simply going through the motions? How can I cultivate a genuine love and respect for my team?
- What steps can I take to establish clarity about what I want to achieve and who I want to be in my managerial role? How can I ensure that my actions align with my values and aspirations? What size of footprint will I leave?
I appreciate your comments and suggestions. Sharing makes us all better.