Q: As a manager, I struggle with managing the pressures of my boss' expectations while trying to meet my team's needs. How do I best set priorities to keep everyone happy?
A: Rethink your goal. You'll never be able to make everyone around you happy, so focus on a vision of leadership success that is grounded in personal authenticity and integrity.
About your vision. Setting aside your current day-to-day, what does it mean to be a good manager? What does a good manager do or say? Is that the same or different as a good leader? Take time to understand your aspirations. If you're not sure, consider examples from your past, including bosses you've admired and those you'd never want to be like.
Now think about what other people want from you. It may feel like they want you to do certain things. In fact, your boss probably cares less about what you do than the outcome you achieve. Likewise, your team is likely less invested in your activities than in how well you meet their needs. So, in considering what they want, take a step back to understand the contributions you make to them when you're operating at your best.
For example, your boss is accountable to her boss. What pressures can you take off her? How can you make her life easier and equip her to be successful? It's essential that you understand her needs in order to meet her expectations. Note: Often when I hear this type of challenge with a boss, it comes down to having an insufficiently strategic approach to meeting the boss' expectations.
At the same time, you need to be clear about the tools you bring to bear. That goes back to authenticity. If your boss is putting pressure on you to be someone you don't want to be, you're setting yourself up for failure if you don't assert yourself.
Similarly, take a big-picture view of your team's needs. It's easy to get bogged down in being the problem solver, but that will drain you dry and not help them develop, and also create bottlenecks that reduce productivity. If that's happened, it's time for a new era. Set an expectation that people will bring ideas for solutions when they have a problem, and encourage creative alternatives that get the work done. Not only will you have better outcomes, you'll free up time to be the strategic partner your boss needs.
Creating this alignment may not be easy. Determine any gaps in your skills that need to be addressed to be successful. These are likely to be in the "soft skills" area of communication, negotiation and conflict management. If you've had a hard time setting limits (either with bosses or staff), some work on assertiveness may be needed.
And remember that you can't be all things to all people. However, you can be your best self, advocating for ways you can be most valuable in your role and sculpting the role to best fit your gifts. Once you clarify this vision of your role, it'll just be a matter of selling it through demonstration of the benefits to boss, team, and company alike.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.