Do you want to be a great manager? What no one tells you before you get promoted is to discover how to be selfish…

...And continue to be a leader people want to work for.​

The biggest misconception I had when I became a manager was that being good at the technical, procedural parts of the job would be needed the most to succeed.

The second misconception was that I was ready for what laid ahead.

I was not ready. I had no idea that driving numbers, delivering on priorities, setting objectives, managing day to day operations, removing obstacles related to process and procedures, fostering a growth culture, et cetera, had to happen concurrently with being a mother, confessor, financial advisor, life coach, medical consultant, spiritual leader, family counsellor, cheerleader, childcare facilitator, softener of terrible news and broad shoulder to cry on to a group of individuals who were supposed to “just to report to me”. Everyday.

Two years ago, nearly to the day, I left the company I had been with for 19 years. I wanted to help other leaders avoid those feelings of overwhelm and stress that can lead to burnout and support organisations in creating an ecosystem that leads to healthy, sustainable growth for their employees.

I spent 16 of those 19 years in leadership roles, taking responsibility for large teams, new teams, teams that were not doing great, units that were being integrated as part of an acquisition, remote teams, cross-functional teams, sales teams, operations teams, marketing teams, leadership teams.

The unspoken reality of becoming a manager, a leader or having any responsibility for a group of other human beings is that everything in your team’s universe impacts your ability to deliver on your role.

We are bringing everything we experience in other aspects of life with us everywhere we go.

No degree or course sets you quite up for the task ahead when you decided to become a leader of people.

No one spells out the impact your teams will have on you, and no one warns you how you could affect others.

For all we try, we are just human beings.

When you hear a manager, say “leave your personal life at the door “, remember that bringing it with you is not only normal, but it should also be advisable.

Let’s be honest it is incredibly energy draining having to operate on a split persona basis.

From my experience as a coach and mentor and in my previous career, I know that most companies focus on how good you have been as an individual contributor to determine your readiness to take on a role.

When your time comes, you get the “badge”, a pat on the back of sorts, promises of support and you are sent off into the wild.

You are armed with much enthusiasm, a healthy dose of goodwill, and the equivalent of a toy gun to conquer the beaches of Normandy on D-day.

It took me a couple of years to realise I felt exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

My light was being snuffled out as I started dreading every knock on my door accompanied by a “do you have 5 minutes? “.

I had a clear sense that I needed to change things for myself and, in all honestly, for the team around me and the people waiting at home.

knock on manager doorI did not start by changing everything around me. Thankfully, I had come across the concept of emotional intelligence and read Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” and “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, which gave me a good grounding on EI and how to use it to my benefit. I was also starting on my mindfulness and spiritual journey.

I realised I needed to improve my ability to recognise and understand my own emotions and those of others and use that awareness to manage my behaviours and relationships with others.

I also understood that I needed to relook at my values because they informed my beliefs about myself and what I was experiencing.

I learned how to be a better listener. I had to figure how to stop taking on the emotional charge of what I was hearing. I also discovered the importance of understanding my strengths and weaknesses because it allowed me to be more autonomous from other people’s perceptions.

I wanted to do good for my people because integrity and empathy have always been important values of mine. Still, I also had to learn to be ok with doing the right thing when that was not a popular option.

In attaining clarity on my values, I gained self-awareness. I was able to reframe my vision for what I wanted to stand for.

That was my start to creating Inner Mastery for myself and the moment when I started loving being a leader.

I found a way to be my whole self in work and outside work, embrace my empathic self, be a nurturer, and allow the perfectionist and the achiever in me to exist in peace.

I believe it made a difference to my people because my door stayed open – my willingness to listen grew. I wanted to help my team to feel they could equally be their whole self in work and tried to find ways to do that. In turn, the feedback I got from the team at the end of each year became more and more positive.

I did not stop caring about making numbers, achieving goals, or delivering KPIs because, at heart, I remain competitive.

As one of my mentors drilled into me, “if you take care of your people, they will take care of your business”. I did that consistently.

I seldom missed a quarter for my business, and if we did, we recovered the following one.

Amongst over 300,000 employees, I was rated as a top performer 17 times out of 19 assessment periods.

So let me share one piece of advice if you are in a leadership/ management role or plan to get on that trajectory, invest in yourself.

Be selfish and get “a village” to support you: coaches, mentors, wellness therapists, counsellors, et cetera.

Work on your strengths and be aware of your weaknesses. Build solid foundations for yourself so that you can build a reliable platform to grow your career and have a fulfilling life while enabling those around you to do the same.

And remember:

You are an ever-evolving Masterpiece, and the work is never entirely done.

Gaia Dal Ferro

Gaia Dal Ferro

After 23 years working in large multinational organisations, Gaia founded the INNER WORKS FACTORY in 2020 to help organisations in creating an ecosystem that leads to healthy, sustainable growth for their leaders and employees.
She is passionate about INNER MASTERY, and she is studying for an undergraduate degree in psychology to continue developing her own.

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