When I was little my mother told me it was dangerous to talk to strangers. When you are a small child, this is great advice that will help keep you safe and out of harm's way. As an adult, however, not talking to strangers can dramatically
Reduce your ability to network professional
Minimize the chance of finding new potential opportunities
Lessen your chances of expanding your professional contacts
Decrease the likelihood of widening your professional horizons though chance discussions with interesting people
Before I continue, I would like to clarify what I mean by talking to strangers and say, that even as adults, we have to be somewhat on guard and cognizant of our environment. By talking to strangers, I mean
Meeting new fellow employees in your company's cafeteria
Discussing general business topics with the person sitting next to you on a airplane
Striking up conversations with people at professional association meetings
Getting to know the fellow participants at a professional seminar or class
In addition to face-to-face interactions with other like-minded professionals, you can also asynchronously have conversations with new people via professional discussion boards and blog posts.
All of the above activities can help you grow as a professional, grow as a person, and related to this column, grow as a manager. Having discussions with people working outside of your professional area, company, industry, and/or country can help broaden your thinking by helping you understand the priorities, needs, and concerns of
People of different ages (baby boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Yers, etc.)
People from different ethnic cultures
People from different religions
People from different countries
People with other general outlooks on life
. . . and people of all other types that are different from you
Having a greater understanding of people who think differently from you helps you be a better manager because it will allow you to better understand the people working under your direction.
Having a good understanding of the people you are supervising makes it easier for you to motivate them, help them grow professionally, enhance your group's teamwork, and as a result, increase their productivity, morale, and work satisfaction.
As a young manager, I incorrectly thought that everyone thought like I did. As a result, I tried to motivate my team using the same exact types of techniques and opportunities that motivated me. Truth be told, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't work. The reason it sometimes worked is because many people are motivated by the same things I am. The problem, however, was there were also many people who thought differently than I and, as their manager, I didn't always recognize the difference. This was my mistake, not theirs. I always tried to do my best for those who worked for me, but my lack of management experience and understanding of people's diverse needs, motivations, and outlooks, occasionally caused me to fall short when managing certain individuals. Over the years, as I grew as a person and a professional manager, I became better able to understand the motivations of those on my team, which allowed me to better manage the groups within my responsibility. Did I always do the right thing? No, but my batting average was much, much higher. After all, none of us are perfect and personal and professional growth is a lifelong journey, not a final destination.
The reason that I told you this story is to try to illustrate to you the effect of how being more worldly and having a deeper understanding of others can affect your performance as a manager. That said, one of the things that greatly facilitated my ability to understand others, was my continual want to speak and learn from others. I talk to people in airplanes, elevators, and every other business setting imaginable. In these discussions I have spoken to college professors, very senior executives, politicians, and people in virtually all other walks of life. These discussions ranged from fascinating to unmemorable, but in their aggregate, helped me grow, helped me learn, and as a result, I believe helped me become a better manager and, I hope, a better and well rounded person. My goal is that this story, my story, helps you do the same.
The primary advice and takeaways from today's column is to know that:
Having a greater understanding of people who think differently from you helps you be a better manager because it will allow you to better understand the people working under your direction
Having discussions with people working outside of your professional area, company, industry, and/or country can help broaden your thinking by helping you understand the priorities, needs, and concerns of others
This blog is an excerpt from my weekly nationally syndicated column with GateHouse News Service. My new columns can be found in GateHouse Media publications throughout the United States.
Until next time, manage well, manage smart, and continue to grow.