What Makes a Manager MAGIC®?
An Interview with a MAGIC Manager and Her Associates

by Steve Lamm

In a recent MAGIC program, I found that the participants continually referred to a manager they thought was outstanding. I was intrigued by this manager, Beth, and wanted to learn more. What did she do differently that was so noticeable to her associates? How was she able to produce the desired business measures and still engage the hearts and minds of her team?

I was equally curious about Beth's perspective on what it takes to be an effective manager. How did she figure out what to do? What attitudes, skills, and behaviors did she develop to be so successful?

After interviewing both Beth and her associates, I learned that their perspectives, albeit different, shared some common threads that could help all of us create a collaborative work climate for our associates and colleagues.

 

The Associates' Perspective: Be Approachable; Be Available; Be Knowledgeable

The associates noted that Beth was able to connect with them on a personal level and still achieve remarkable results. So, I interviewed a few of them and here is what they had to say.
 

What does Beth do differently from other managers?

  • “Beth is always there to say, ‘This is how this works.' And, if you don't understand something, she will go very slowly and walk you through it.”
  • “She is very open with us. She told us that we can come to her and ask for anything at any time, even if she seems hurried or distracted with other things. In my time here, I have found that to be true.”
  • “If I can't find anyone to help me, I will go downstairs to ask her. I ask her for help and she is always there for me. Even though we do not work together anymore, she will always take the time to help me.”
  • “She won't leave you until you fully understand the topic at hand. She will sit there and work with you until she feels you get it.”

What could other managers learn from her?

  • “Beth understands what we do. A lot of managers just distribute the work and don't understand what it takes to get it done. They should sit with us and see how long it takes. They would freak out.”
  • “I think they should know the work before they become managers. If their associates get stuck, they are not going to seek help from a manager who does not know the job.”
  • “She could teach them how to show respect for others. I go to some managers and I'm uncomfortable because they say things like, ‘You should know this. You should know that. I've told you this already.'”
  • “Patience and understanding.”

 

The Manager's Perspective: Seek Feedback; Establish Trust; Have Integrity

Beth was clearly different from other managers in this organization. What helped her be so effective? To find out, I asked her the following questions:

  • Q: What is different about you?
  • A: “One thing that may be different is that I used to be where they were. I did the same job, so I know how they feel about the workload and the challenges that arise.”
  • Q: There's more to it than that. What has helped you grow into such an effective leader?
  • A: “When I first became a manager, I practiced what I saw other managers do. As a result, my staff would get the information they needed, but there wasn't a good rapport. After two years, they completed an evaluation about me and that's when I learned that I wanted to change. I realized that I was too hard core and I wasn't treating people like people. I was treating them like machines.
  • "That one evaluation helped me. After I saw the results, I told my associates that they should have told me how they felt. They reinforced that I did many things well; but, if they came in at 8:05 a.m., I would say something like ‘Excuse me, what time is it?'  
  • "I recognized that I was caught up with little things that were very important to my associates, like their child was sick and they ran late. They needed a little bit more empathy. That's where I was falling short. I now treat them the way I want to be treated in those situations.
  • "After I got the feedback, I also sought input from well-respected managers. I learned that they step back and look at the situation and ask themselves, ‘What is the best way to handle this?'”
  • Q: What do you do differently that enables you to create such strong working relationships with your associates?
  • A: “I always ask for feedback, I know that the feedback will help me be a better person.
  • "I also examine myself and always ask, ‘Did I do that the best way that I could? Is there something that I could change?'
  • "I make sure that I can be approached with anything. They need to feel that I understand where they were coming from and that I trust them (and they can trust me as well).”
  • Q: What else have you learned?
  • A: “I recognize that I am different outside of work now. I am involved with a large children's organization and have about 17 people reporting to me. After each service project I conduct, I seek feedback from everyone involved. I ask them what went well, what didn't go well, and what could we do better.
  • "And, I have encouraged my two small kids to be open and share their feedback. As a result, they are good at it! If they see something that isn't going right they will say: ‘Mommy you didn't do this.' So, I practice the skills inside and outside of work. I have a lot of practice! And, practice is the key to progress."

As managers, we can learn from Beth and her approach. Through continuously seeking feedback and being accessible to her associates, she has been able to create a collaborative work environment where associates are happier and more productive.
 
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