This is a translation of a text from my Polish blog from a few months ago. This text is more about the professional area of my life, but it is important to me, it is sincere and it is personal. Therefore, I would like you to read it as well.
The statement that everyone makes mistakes is a cliché. But it is also true. A banal truth. Writing one of the texts on the Polish blog, I wished everyone, but especially myself – courage and honesty. Announcing the changes on that blog, I declared that there would be more about my mistakes. So it’s time for my five biggest failures. Without wrapping it in cotton and powdering it. Above all, however, I will not write a single word of justification below.
I believed that I knew everything
Self-confidence is not a problem, on the contrary – it helps a lot both in life and at work. However, belief in one’s own infallibility is not a desirable trait for a manager. It gets in the way in two areas: building yourself and building a team. And in the case of a team leader, these are two planes that intertwine. When a manager builds a team, he builds it based on his values and principles, over time expanding this set to include the values and principles of his colleagues. At least, this is how it should be, this is how it is healthy and hygienic. However, the conviction of one’s own omniscience results in blocking oneself to other people’s values and points of view. This limits the development of the individual and is the foundation for creating a dysfunctional team. Only a diversity of attitudes and drawing from a wide range of experiences allows projects to be successfully commanded and crises to be experienced as a positive and strengthening phenomenon. An unwarranted belief in my own omnipotence resulted in, on the one hand, closing off to the messages I was trying to convey, and on the other hand, surrounding myself with people who think like me. I created a bubble in which only ideas and values that coincided with my view of the world could survive.
I treated everything as a battlefield
Every meeting, every project, every interaction was an opportunity to show my strength and my knowledge. This was quite easy, given the functioning in the bubble created by the attitude described in the previous section. Only in retrospect did I see that many fights were not necessary, and many battles – I fought against the will of the other side. Because the other side often extended its hand in a gesture of reconciliation, and the company and the people around me needed peace and to seek a solution together, instead of another brawl. If I had listened more then, too, I might have avoided being trapped in my omniscience and solved most problems faster and easier. Or let them be solved by others who were more competent to do so, but less powerful.
I created more tools and procedures
Another schedule created in an even newer tool when the previous one has not yet been decently implemented and tested by the team is a straight road to disaster. Creating one procedure after another isn’t the best solution either, and certainly won’t resolve the conflicts that come from treating every project like a battlefield. I fell into this trap very often, because I have a natural tendency to create new tools. However, I often found that the tools didn’t work. I myself never had a problem because I was abandoning them at the time, but it worked for my individual work, the dynamics of a team are different from those of an individual, and people were very often confused and did not know which table was up to date and which template they should use.
I did not step down when it was time to do so.
The ability to admit defeat shows the maturity of a manager, but it also shows the maturity of a person. Failure is not a bad thing when it becomes an opportunity for the successor. In retrospect, I know that one of the most important responsibilities of a manager is to select and develop a successor – to have someone to hand over the reins to when the time comes. Management is not a sprint, it’s not even a marathon, it’s a relay race, and you have to know when to remove yourself into the shadows and find another place for yourself. To be able to do that, however, you need a successor, and you need to have the courage to admit to yourself that maybe someone will lead our team better.
I believed I was indestructible.
The moment when a manager starts to harm his team always comes, but we have a big influence on when it happens. One important factor is fatigue and then burnout, which can be avoided or definitely delayed by taking care of yourself. These are often very mundane measures: sleep, rest, recovery, the ability to switch off for a few hours or days. Being able to set boundaries also helps a lot, as does knowing your limits. However, it’s hard to know these limits while stuck in the belief of one’s own infallibility and indestructibility. You can function like this for several years, achieving success and building your ego, but there will always come a point when you have to suffer the consequences. Exceeding one’s own limitations is an action on credit, and every credit must be repaid at some point. This was the most important lesson I had the opportunity to learn, and I already know that I will never forget it.
Conclusions will be, of course. There will be no excuses or explanations as to why I did what I did, but the conclusions will be. In order of importance.
I am not indestructible. And neither are you. I have tested it and I know, although if I could do something again, I would take the word of those who warned and not test it on myself.
I am not omniscient. Neither are you. No one is. By working together and being able to find agreement, you can survive any crisis and solve any problem.
Nothing is forever. Everything will end at some point. Our energy runs out, our power runs out, our competence runs out. It is wise to know where the limit is, which is not worth crossing, because it will start the fall.
There is no need to fight all the time. You can, but it’s stupid. Stupid and tiring. Calm, composure, listening to the other side and talking – can really work wonders. It’s worth a try, they certainly won’t make it worse than it is.
Don’t multiply entities beyond the need. Another procedure, tool, table – there is no point if the previous ones don’t work. If you feel a strong need to do another excel – it is worth starting with a simple text file or a sketch on a piece of paper. It should be enough to get through.