On being annoying (an essential management skill)

This is the first in what might end up being a series of management epiphany posts: painful lessons I’ve learned from years of managing people.

I don’t like reducing these things to handy lists of top tips because although the advice can be useful, it can also create the impression that management is simply a series of quick fix behaviours you can learn on the internet.

It’s not.

So, I’m going to split up my advice and experience over a series of posts and try to explain myself, using theory and references where necessary – except this time, because it’s not necessary.

(I wasn’t going to write this post (or at least not publish it) because it felt terribly arrogant to do so – but then I read this article on the importance of having a bit of arrogance as a writer (by Chuck Sambuchino), so I thought I’d write it (and publish it) anyway.)

On being annoying

It took me a long time to learn that if you want to be a manager, you are going to have to accept that you’re going to be annoying sometimes.

Annoying your team is just part of the job.

I don’t mean you need to set out to annoy your team on purpose, like it’s an objective of the role, it’s definitely not, but being annoying is an inevitable side-effect of telling other people what to do and demanding certain standards from them.

I used to hate that. I used to think that I was being a better manager by accepting with paternal glee whatever standard of work was produced. I thought giving universal positive feedback was good for motivation and therefore good for business.

I was wrong.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things a manager should do, but that will probably annoy their team anyway:

  1. Telling the team to do something they don’t want to do
  2. Giving non-positive, but fair, feedback on work produced
  3. Demanding change
  4. Making them do non-urgent tasks

There are lots of techniques out there about how to delegate, give feedback, manage change etc. but that’s not the point of this post.

My point is simply this: you cannot judge your success as a manager by how little you annoy your team. It’s an irrelevant measure. If you are doing your job properly you will be challenging them to change or improve, or correcting things they do wrong, and this will be annoying sometimes.

This was an epiphany for me. It doesn’t motivate your team to give them an easy ride – although there is obviously a fine line here. This isn’t about being hyper-critical or being meager with the positive stuff. There is a balance, this isn’t prison.

If you have done the groundwork to build strong professional relationships based on trust, if you behave with integrity and fairness, show compassion and kindness, and are consistent, ambitious and realistic with the behaviours you want to see, then you can get away with being annoying sometimes.

It’s just part of the job.


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