Many, many years ago (I could probably add a few more ‘many’s’ in there), I got hired on with a bank as a BAMT. Banks love their acronyms- Branch Assistant Manager Trainee. When I accepted the job, I actually did it without much thought. I liked financial stuff but I had not set a goal to be either a banker or a manager, I just got the offer and decided it was worth a shot. Thirty years of banking and leadership roles later, I guess I could call it a good decision. What was it that kept me in the role for so long and how did I manage to advance in my career?
The truth is ,initially, I really had no idea what it meant to be a leader. There were a few books around on leadership, but it certainly wasn’t a hot topic as it is today. The training focus was all on tasks, risk management, and oversight. Nothing whatsoever about how to lead employees.
Management to Leadership
The state of the working world has changed drastically from when I was hired 30 years ago. It was a time where people started a job and were likely to stay at it for at least 30 years unless forced to leave. Job satisfaction meant you had a job and got paid. Everything was less complex, it was pretty easy to learn your job and become somewhat of an expert. Employees were relatively happy, customers were happy. Somehow I had success in the role and steadily advanced. I was a good manager.
As the world changed, became more complex, technology advanced, and the pace of change accelerated, it meant a significant change in the role. You could no longer be effective just because you were good at tasks. It was difficult to adjust initially. I recall one very busy branch I managed, in a city that was rapidly growing and staff turnover suddenly became a big issue. The organization was struggling to keep up with pay rates of other companies, cost of living was climbing, and people were leaving for better compensation. I remember saying to my peers, “Any week where an employee doesn’t resign is a good week.”
To keep up with this change of demand and pace meant I had to make changes. It was necessary to refine leadership skills such as prioritizing, effective communication, change management, and many others. But there was one fundamental and critical trait that didn’t need to change.
A Critical Leadership Trait
As the role became more demanding and complex, I often questioned my skill set and effectiveness. A few times I even stepped away from the management role to get a break from all the demands. But I always came back. I didn’t realize it at the time but people were making plans for me to be in a leadership role, because although I often doubted my capabilities, I was actually a very successful and effective leader.
What drives people into a management role? Sometimes it’s money, the title of manager, power, or wanting a challenge. These are valid reasons, but not what always led me back. The challenge yes, but more important, it was my love of people and wanting to make a difference. Notice one thing here, I was not in the role because I desired success. Sure, I wanted success, but not so that I could get awards and better bonuses. These things were great, but not the driving force. The people were. I loved to see what people could bring to the table, what they excelled at, where their development points were, and how I could help them be the best they could be. There was nothing more exhilarating than seeing a team come together as a whole and accomplishing great things.
I don’t necessarily have to like my players and associates but as their leader I must love them. Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization.Vince Lombardi
Why is it so Important to Love the People?
I recall when I heard from a senior leader that a previous assistant manager of mine had said that out of all the people she worked with over the years, I was the one she respected the most. Another assistant manager of mine, who was actually not cut out for the role at all, said that my candor and encouragement to another career path within the company was the best thing that happened to her. So yes, I’m bragging a bit here, which I don’t normally do. (If you read my other posts, you’ll see all the errors and learning I had along the way!).
The underlying theme in the above two examples is that I was genuinely interested in the well-being and success of these employees. And they knew it. They knew that I valued what they brought to the team or organization. They knew I was invested in them as a person. People know if you are genuine. And you can’t be genuine if you don’t have a love of people.
Where there is mutual respect, there is collaboration. Where there is genuine interest in the success of others, there is growth and development.
So all I’m saying is this: If you don’t love people, value their differences, and truly wish for their every success, then you may want to rethink going into a leadership role.
I’d love to hear your comments on why you became a manager, or why you think you would like a leadership role.