How to support growth as managers (and how much I like Ted Lasso)
Updated: Feb 10
As product leaders, one of our responsibility is often to support and mentor others in their growth.
This is one of the best parts of the job, but it can be challenging. Helping others grow is a big responsibility, and one we should not take lightly.
Below I have put together a few thoughts about how to approach this. This is by no means the last post about growth, and I wanted to start with dispelling a few misconceptions I have encountered along the way.
Also, while my primary experience is in product management, this can easily apply to other roles.
We don't always need to grow all the time
When you care about the people you manage, you will naturally end up feeling responsible for their progression.
We tend to assume that everyone wants to be challenged at all times and we sometimes look down on team members who have not expressed the wish to advance. And let's be honest, if someone we are managing is not advancing, we are afraid it reflects poorly on us.
Progression is not the same to everyone and because we are humans, it might as well be that this person has just gone through a personal challenge (which they may not want to share) and right now, they just want to do a good job and feel stability and control. This is completely OK, and should be normalised instead of regarded as something to "manage". You are human, working with other humans. Sometimes, like say, during a pandemic of historic proportions, we just want to feel safe.
Supporting growth means giving space & holding people accountable
Learning new skills takes time. It can be the time spent taking a class, reading a book or experimenting on something new. It is so important that as managers, we allow our team to take the space needed and hold them accountable.
If part of the growth is learning a new skill through a class, actively support that person with ensuring they know they can take that class during working hours. Day-to-day work will come up, emergencies will come up. But this is the exception, not the rule. It is incredibly detrimental to your team if they feel guilty about working on their professional growth during working hours. Be prepared to talk about guilt. When you are setting clear goals for growth, talk about how to make this fit into their schedule, work on a solution to make sure a good balance between job responsibilities and professional growth is struck.
Once that plan is in place, accountability is key: ask about progress in management one-to-ones, ask about obstacles to sticking to the plan and work together on ways to get around those obstacles.
One of my favourite things about the TV show Ted Lasso (seriously, a must watch), is how, while Ted may not be an expert on soccer, he knows how to create an environment where the players are supported and held accountable for their behaviours. He knows how to eliminate obstacles that stand in the team's way, not by doing their work for them, but by setting up the right environment, and by allowing them to fail.
Supporting growth means allowing people to branch out and make mistakes
As managers, we need to let go of the wish to completely control the process of someone's growth. Learning means making mistakes and mistakes are an integral part of the process.
Managers make mistakes and there is power is saying that aloud and admitting it to each other.
While this post is not an exhaustive list of things to do in order to be great managers, the main takeaways should be that with structure, kindness and accountability, a management relationship is one where every party involved grows. Being a mentor is a big responsibility, but it is also a privilege. You can positively influence someone's career, how they feel about the industry and how they manage their staff. This goes well beyond their current position at a company and will create ripple effects for years to come.