Recently, Google reported the updated results of its Project Oxygen. Begun in 2008, the project sought to list the qualities of the company’s best managers. The updated list provides an opportunity for Google’s or other companies’ managers to reflect on their own performance. This article takes a different focus and asks how you, the career owner, can effectively respond to your manager.
Manager Behavior 1. Is a good coach
Career owner response: OK, as long as you’re working in a clear area of the manager’s expertise. However, it can be dangerous if managers take things too far, and claim expertise in areas where they don’t really have it – for example to avoid losing face. You need to recognize when this is happening and look elsewhere for the coaching you seek, either inside or outside the company.
Manager Behavior 2. Empowers team and does not micromanage
Career owner response: This sounds fine. However, you ought to consider the manager’s view of what empowerment entails. The Silicon Valley industry cluster grew from the promotion of inter-company conversations, encouraged by California’s aversion to non-compete laws (which, put simply, deny employees the right to work for competitors.) You want to be empowered to go join those inter-company conversations, as well as to go work for one of those companies sometime.
Manager Behavior 3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
Career owner response: This also sounds fine, but you ought to ask if this runs the same risk as limited empowerment. You want to make sure you and your team look outside your company for ideas if your team is to live up to its potential. And you want the concern for success and well-being to be applied to you as an individual, not just the team as a whole.
Manager Behavior 4. Is productive and results-oriented
Career owner response: This is not fine. Productivity is important to the short-term performance of your company, and you need to deliver. However, learning from your existing work is equally important for both your company’s and your own longer-term success. Many formal project management systems focus on being “on time, under budget” and neglect the importance of the learning function. So be sure to stand up for the learning you seek in your career.
Manager Behavior 5. Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
Career owner response: You need to consider the context here. Is the communication limited to what concerns the team as a whole? And what kind of listening does your manager practice? You want a manager who listens to your own career concerns and is willing to help you get where you would like to go – in return for your commitment to the current project, of course!
Manager Behavior 6. Supports career development and discusses performance
Career owner response: This sounds great! Moreover, you ought to be looking for feedback on your performance. However, if your manager is only talking about your career development with your present employer, that’s not enough. There are two parties to an employment contract and each party needs to be heard and help the other. Your manager needs to support what you want in your future career.
Manager Behavior 7. Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
Career owner response: It is important for you, as a team member, to be able to hear the adopted vision and strategy. In turn, you need to match those against the vision and strategy you hold for yourself. Then you need to reference both the team’s and your own concerns in further career conversations with your manager.
Manager Behavior 8. Has key technical skills to help advise the team
Career owner response: Seeing a manager role-model key technical skills can be a great experience. The stated behavior also leaves room for other team members, including yourself, to role-model their technical skills as well. Take the opportunity to observe, reflect on, and develop through this exposure to all team members’ behavior. Also, do your part in being a role-model for others.
Manager Behavior 9. Collaborates across Google
Career owner response: Fine, but why just Google? Many project teams have external members. Synergies do not simply end at Google’s front gate. This is the kind of inward-looking thinking that historically got Silicon Valley’s counterpart, Massachusetts’ Route 128, into trouble. There’s a long list of major Massachusetts companies – Data General, Digital Equipment, Lotus, Wang and many more – that went out of business or got swallowed up by leaner competitors.
Manager Behavior 10. Is a strong decision maker
Career owner response: Decision-making and follow-up actions matter! As Mahatma Gandhi once said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” However, decision-making and subsequent actions also invite you and your manager to perpetually reflect on your assumptions. Don’t allow your manager’s strong decision-making to deflect you from your career agenda.
In summary, all of the described manager behaviors can be helpful. However, they are only helpful if in each case you consider them with reference to your own career situation. You also need to go beyond straightforward acceptance of the behaviors to actively represent your career in both your contributions to the team and your conversations with your manager. You can come up with a win-win solution for yourself and your employer, but only if you stand up for your career!