Today’s Advice Sponsored by Bant.io
Certain Things Won't Change
Let me put it this way — if someone is a jerk, they were probably a jerk before we hired them, they are going to be a jerk no matter how we manage them, and they will be a jerk at their next company too. Of course, we're going to try anyway. We're going to use the whole utility belt of useless tools — from a bunch of heart-to-hearts to organizational rules, to mixing up reporting structures so they can't offend anyone.
What we can't do is take the jerk out of the jerk. We can't change them, all we can do is manage around them, which is like trying to dam a river with a twig.
The thing is, we kinda know this. If we're being honest with ourselves (which we rarely are) we know that this one intervention is at best a band-aid and at worst just a total waste of time. And yet we go through this silly routine over and over. Why? Because we're afraid to deal with the alternative.
Replace What We Can't Manage
What we should be doing is separating behavior (which we have little to no control over) from skills. Skills are things that are unknown or unrefined, but can certainly be taught. Perhaps a manager is falling behind with their team. Well, we can teach managers to be better managers.
But if our team can't stand their manager, and that issue is rooted into an actual personality problem, we have to be wise enough to zoom out and say "OK, this is something we can address, but we can't necessarily change for good." It's like when we were kids and our parents told us to stop hitting our sibling in the back seat. We stopped — for a minute. But ten minutes later we were at it again. Our parents didn't change anything, they just slowed it down for a minute. Essentially, they were bad C-level execs up there in the front seat!
Bad behaviors need to be replaced, not managed. That's not to say we can't take a few course-corrective swings along the way. It's safe to say the moment we see a pattern that indicates behavior over skills, we kinda, sorta, but totally know how this is going to end.
We Are Managers, Not Parents
Where we tend to get tripped up is assuming our role as managers is some sort of pseudo-parental role. We want to believe that we can fill in the gaps for what parents and therapists must have missed. But we're neither, and our staff are neither children nor patients. They are grown-ass adults that are responsible for their own behavior and as such, the consequences of shitty behavior.
We can be better coaches and mentors — but those aren't parents either. We can offer better paths forward, walkthrough hard decisions, or provide useful advice. But like anyone else, we cannot "change" whether or not someone accepts or leverages that direction.
As Founders, it's actually really hard to come to grips with the fact that there is so much here that we can't control. It's a bit antithetical to how we try to manage and control so many other aspects of our startups. But it's also a bit freeing. Coming to terms with the fact that what's broken is going to be broken regardless of how we try to fix it gives us clarity and resolve to move on and find those that don't need to be fixed. So let's put our energy and wisdom into those wonderful people!
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