I have a confession to make: I’m not a very good boss at all.
This isn’t link bait or some kind of clever turn of phrase in which I’m going to turn the whole thing around and make it into the ways I’m really a GREAT boss. I’m not.
Managing people is my weakness, actually. I’ve managed teams up to 30+ people, but I really don’t think I excelled at that at all.
I’m really, really good at setting out a vision. I’m really good at building and presenting a strategy, or even mapping out a path to get from point A to point B with sharp clarity. I’m really good at interpreting a bunch of complex concepts into concrete, understandable ideas. That’s what makes me great at the consulting and advisory work I do, because it emphasizes the work within which I absolutely excel.
What I’m not good at is mentoring people, dealing with the day to day nuances of managing a team of individual people. I get frustrated when there’s petty and personal differences between people that distract from their work. I get impatient with people who need to be coached and cheered on from the sidelines, because I suck at that kind of encouragement. I’m not warm and fuzzy, so when people management requires that of me, I’m not good at it. At all.
I think this is an important topic to discuss because not everyone is great at everything. Nor should you be.
I really started to thrive in my career when I was given big puzzles to sort out or massive, seemingly impossible objectives to achieve. I always struggled when I needed to manage bunches of different personalities, especially younger teams that are still developing, or deal with the daily human things that are an inevitable part of managing bunches of individual people that have bunches of individual quirks. It’s just not my strength.
That’s not to say I don’t like working with people and teams. I do, very much, and believe deeply in things like collaboration and encouraging people to contribute in line with their strengths. In fact, I’m really good at observing and understanding those behaviors from the outside. And I work well with experienced teams that require less hands-on guidance and are more self-driven (so it really feels more like working with peers than “managing” people). The more results I delivered in my career and the more forthright I was about my strengths and weaknesses, the more I got to work on projects that were better suited to my strengths.
All of this “me, me ,me” is meant to be a personal example focused on this:
Part of why people struggle in their careers is our collective insistence that they do things that they aren’t really good at. Almost every bit of business literature you read these days (don’t even get me started on some of it) talks about how successful business leaders are great mentors, or great team leaders, or great strategists, or great marketers. And I just don’t think it’s that simple.
There’s probably something that you don’t know much about, or that you aren’t really good at, but that you’ve felt compelled to do anyway because it was considered a prerequisite of a promotion or a different step in your career that you wanted to take. You probably struggled with it, felt guilty that you weren’t good at it, hesitated to talk to your boss about it because if you admitted that it wasn’t your strong suit, you’d probably limit your career development opportunities.
(We all have to do stuff we don’t particularly enjoy as part of our jobs. That’s just part of the gig, and not exactly what I’m talking about. We all have to learn to improve at some things that we may not love, too, because they’re essential to our work. That’s not what I’m talking about either.)
But there is an absolute moment of diminishing returns when grinding endlessly against your weaknesses becomes a liability, and your effort will be much better spent leveraging the things you’re actually good at.
So, I’m not a good boss. I’ve come to terms with that, I’m honest with the people I work with about it, and I do my best to improve where I can to mitigate the impact of it. There are lots of things I can do where I don’t need to be that kind of boss, so I’ve focused on those and found lots of success.
You don’t have to be good at everything, either. In fact I promise you that if you do a really good gut check on what you aren’t good at, learn to work around it and even use it to your advantage, you’ll be a far cry ahead of the game from the people writing about success based on a bunch of generalizations instead of living the actual crunchiness of it.
Success is messy, imperfect, and never ever summed up in 9 quick tips in a magazine. The accepted norms are simply the middle of the bell curve, and probably an idealized one at that.
So make peace with your custom blend of professional skills, put down the management book, and go get your perfectly imperfect hands dirty.