Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Gabby Bill 0 Comments

About six months ago, I discovered podcasting. I know, I know, I'm dreadfully late to this game, but I never thought I'd like them til I found myself craving a "more productive" way to walk around Philadelphia. I've got a host of podcasts to recommend based on your fancy, but today's post comes in response to a recent episode of Good Life Project, hosted by Jonathan Fields.

Like most podcasters, Jonathan typically creates longer episodes featuring special guests, but this particular episode - "What if you were defined by your worst moment?" - was one of his shorter sound bites where he speaks on a topic for just a few minutes...long enough to give you a meaty bite to chew on.

In this episode, Jonathan tackled the hot topic of comparison and talked about how people prefer earning $75K a year next to people that earn $50K, rather than earning $100K a year next to people that earn $125K. Somehow that extra $25K of salary becomes "less valuable" to us, because we frame it in the context of being less than other people, and that fundamentally feels bad.

He goes on to talk about our tendency to make snap judgments of others, routinely based on a person's worst moment. A person might, in totality, have a life that's characterized by benevolence and kindness, but somehow when we witness that person in a single, weak moment and see them act out of rage, hatred, ignorance or the like, we apply that negativity to them as a whole. Sadly, there's something in this behavior that makes us feel better about ourselves, even if we might do the same exact thing at another point in time.

Jonathan's challenge is for us to become more conscious of this tendency and to rewrite the tape so that we're seeing people as fundamentally good. He asks that we aim less often to elevate our sense of self by making others seem "less than," and more to help others rise along with us.

I think regardless of the context, this is a great lesson to think about, but I see it with specific applicability in the working world, especially if you are a manager of other people. In my time in the work place, I've witnessed two general types of managers: those that manage from a source of fear and those that manage from a source of abundance.

What do I mean by that?

People that manage from a source of fear have a fundamental need to prove they are the "boss." They thrive off authority, being in control, and often, appearing to be the smartest person in the room. These managers might take credit for work you've done or might speak quickly and loudly in meetings so they're heard above the voices of others. They tend to recruit people they feel superior to, then seek to maintain that superiority. They might limit the tasks or challenges put before you, or might overly critique great work, as if they're actively looking for flaws.

People that manage from a source of abundance, on the other hand, believe that there are enough opportunities for everyone to succeed. They don't need to exert control at every moment of the day. They are confident in their abilities, but actively recognize that they're not the smartest person in the room. They seek to hire people smarter than them, because they know those people will not only help them learn, but will reflect success back on them. These managers will champion you for a promotion, even if that puts you at their level, because they're not in the game to compete with you, but to grow you.

The manager in the first scenario manages from fear often because of deep insecurities. Like the behavior Jonathan discusses in the podcast, they need to see others as inferior in order to boost their own self-esteem.

But these managers forget that a rising tide floats all boats. They forget that a team grows stronger, more capable and more productive as each individual member thrives. And what they don't realize is that their behavior creates vicious cycles that ultimately hinder their own growth.

An employee without autonomy, challenge and room to grow will either wither away and become a disengaged, under-performer or will become resentful of the manager, perhaps even complaining to a more senior leader. Just as the successes of a team reflect positively on the abundance-driven manager, so do these behaviors reflect negatively on the fear-driven manager.

One of the best pieces of advice that I received very early in my career was to watch the leaders around me and take note of their actions. When they did something that made me feel inspired, encouraged and motivated, I wrote it down. When they did something that made me feel discouraged, criticized or patronized, I wrote that down, too. I was challenged to build my own managerial style based on the positive things I saw in others, then work to squash any behaviors that I disliked receiving myself. It forced me to think about who I wanted to be as a manager, and it helped me actively craft and hone in on my leadership style.

Of course, no one's perfect. Everyone, even the manager who consciously strives to lead from a place of abundance, can (and probably will) slip into moments of managing from fear. We're human! But the great news is that if you can successfully develop a judgment-free work zone where your colleagues are accustomed to searching for the good in others, your mistakes will be seen as just that, isolated incidents that don't define you.

My challenge for you today is two-fold:

1) If you aspire to be a people manager someday, start observing other leaders NOW and think about what type of manager you want to be. Start practicing some of your skills, perhaps with interns or through indirect influence with colleagues. It's never too soon to start figuring out what feels authentic to you.

2) If you already manage people, reflect on your style. Think about the legacy you want to leave with your team and how your current style supports or refutes that goal. What are you doing well today, and what new behaviors could you put into place to strengthen your skills or relationships?

Let me know how your reflection goes in the comments below, and subscribe to Good Life Project while you're at it!

Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting