I’m listening to my team and growing increasingly irritated.

One by one, they list off the reasons we can’t do better.

I was still new to my sales manager role, only six months removed from being one of their peers.

Most of the challenges they list are questionable. I can’t get anyone to offer up something that is in their control.

“Our customers don’t have the budget.”

Some were calling on the wrong market segments.

“We don’t have the right pricing.”

Most were selling on price and not consulting.

“Our operations team isn’t delivering.”

The sales reps saying this spent zero time attempting to help the operations team.

I’m finding it harder to mask my frustration. These obstacles are nothing new, and we’ve always found ways to overcome them in the past.

Finally, I make a cardinal management sin.

“Listen, when I was in your role . . . “

The record skips on the turntable.

I became everyone’s grumpy dad in the time it took to say those seven words.

It didn’t matter what I said next, they weren’t listening. I lost every one of them. They subconsciously turned the volume off on me as soon as I uttered those words.



You Damn Kids These Days

When your parents led with “When I was your age,” how effective were they in convincing you?

That line was typically followed by something like this:

  • “I walked three miles to school in the snow with holes in my shoes.”
  • “I worked on the farm milking cows when I was three.”
  • “We ate boiled potatoes for weeks straight. We would have killed for some Brussels Sprouts!”
  • “I had three jobs in high school!”

I shut down when adults pulled that crap on me.

I rolled my eyes and thought they were exaggerating. Whatever they did when they were my age was irrelevant because times were different.

  • They sounded old fashioned.
  • They came across as disconnected from the “struggle” of a current 12-year old.
  • They didn’t get it.

Employees Aren’t Kids

My gaff was made worse in that I was the youngest person in the room. Listing all the great things I did in their role came across as preachy and arrogant.

Even though it was only six months prior, they wanted me to know how much things had changed.

“It’s different since you were in this role, Ian.”

Huh? I was in that role earlier this year!

It didn’t matter. I learned that I was no longer one of them. I was management, especially if I was going to preach like an overbearing parent.

As a manager, you might have an opportunity to help someone who works for you by sharing one of your best practices. But, you need to get permission first.

Your team needs to ask for your opinion on how they should change. People have to want to change first. If not, you’re talking to a bunch of teenagers that want to listen to loud music and smoke cigarettes in the woods.

They are going to shut you out.

People will only be coached when they want to be coached.

A Better Approach to Coaching

Every person on your team will respond differently to your promotion to management, and I wrote extensively about the different type of people you will inherit. Over time, they will share one thing in common.

They want to feel in control.

Start by asking questions.

“We have our work cut out for us with all of these challenges:

  • What are your thoughts on how we can overcome them?
  • What are you changing about your approach?
  • Is anyone in this room facing that issue and finding some success?”

This line of questioning helps your team think about solutions, rather than dwelling on problems.

There will always be legitimate obstacles that a manager can remove to help their team. When you see one that you can tackle, get after it quickly and decisively.

Often, the obstacle is your mindset. As a manager, you can help your team overcome this hurdle.

Probing a successful person on the team to explain how they are overcoming an obstacle is a more practical approach. The team will be more open to listening to a current top performer than a has-been, like their manager.

This turns the conversation into a productive problem-solving exercise and away from playing the role of mom and dad.

Preach less, lead more.

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