Can You Be a Manager of Change?

“Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become reality.” – Earl Nightingale

It’s been a while since I’ve been home to visit my family in Chicago. There are benefits, some good, some bad, when you’re away from the people you know and the place you love for so long. But pictures and videos give views and connections into the lives and places still slightly beyond my reach.

And the changes are pronounced. The aging (or “maturing” in the case of the no-longer-little-ones) is clear to see for some folks. Whatever people have focused on changing physically since you last saw them is readily apparent. The aging of neighborhoods stands out, especially in contrast to the development of other areas. Places once decrepit now glimmer with tall condos, coffee shops, and dog parks. Areas that were once shining have fallen into disrepair. 

Having not been there, the arc of those changes will always be a mystery to me. The aging of the people in my life wasn’t gradual from my perspective. There was no real opportunity to take the journey with them and be a part of the transition. The same is true of the neighborhoods, those that now sparkle and those left behind. There was no chance to be a part of deciding where to invest city resources.

There are two lessons here for managers, and both involve your thinking around focus and intent. 

The first is the lesson around being away from the people and things you care about and the stories (or excuses) you use to justify it. I’m not talking about the forced separation brought on all of us by the pandemic. I’m talking about the distance you had before COVID struck and some of which you have maintained since. 

It’s more of a disconnection, regardless of physical miles. It’s one you see and say you don’t want, but it lacks your focus to resolve. Look, you get what you focus on. Your brain is efficient and will invest in your actions (or thoughts) above your wishes. 

Are you really too busy to take a long weekend out of town, or have you failed to establish a healthy balance between work and your personal life? Will productivity really grind to a halt, or have you failed to create effective systems that function without you monitoring them? Will the rest of your team really create a horrible product, or have you failed to empower the right people to own functions that have meaning, take chances you would support, and be the professional that you hired?

It’s the stories of being too busy, having productivity grind to a halt, and having a team that can’t perform without you that keep you planted where you are today. You’ve invested in those stories, and so they have become your reality. And, the reality of your team (except for the team members who tired of this and joined the Great Resignation). But, how much more joy would be in your world if you ended these tales that limit you and lived new ones with more possibilities?

The second lesson is around investment and renewal. Like parts of Chicago, you may have parts of your organization that are languishing. For many years, those parts of the city remained as they were, and residents just worked around them. They adapted to the areas that should be avoided and wondered when someone would do something while holding no one accountable.

You may have a team member who is struggling to understand the value of their role. Your organization may have a product or service that drains your support team but continues to exist because the company has always offered it. You may have a process that requires input from so many people that most ideas die from missing the market opening or being picked apart by the team.

At some point, every manager is responsible for aligning their team’s focus with the goals and values of the larger organization. Therefore, where you and your team focus your resources (energy, budget, processes, thoughts) and time are where you will see change, for good or bad. 

Neighborhoods, teams, individuals, and organizations will change if you leave them alone. The problem is that the change may be slow and regressive. Positive change requires someone with authority to own the change and make the necessary investments. It requires intent, focus, and embodying its eventual outcome into their every action. 

Being a manager is not about keeping things running smoothly. Being a manager is about increasing performance and efficiency. That may require breaking the status quo for the sake of change. 

What do you think?