Management balancing act

I’ve become a manager of a Unit of some size (7 direct reports and 2 vacant positions). And I find that it’s eating my brain.

More specifically, I find myself spending a very large amount of my time, both at work and at home, stressing about being a manager. Am I doing it right? Am I phrasing that correctly and clearly? Am I being consistent? Am I being fair? Have I accurately articulated my expectations? Do I have a solid foundation (reasons) for my expectations (can I back them up)? Have I explained and documented the policies/procedures? Where does this thing/part/question/decision/procedure/policy fit into the “big picture”? Am I going to regret making this change? Will this decision come back to haunt me later? Am I communicating (the right) things regularly? Too much communication? Not enough communication? And on and on and on…the questions never really stop. I’m constantly second-guessing everything.

[UPDATE:] My least favorite questions that constantly echo in my head: Am I setting/establishing precedence with this? What is the message being sent to everyone else? How will this affect my fellow managers?

I want to be a good manager. I want my staff to feel supported and challenged yet not overwhelmed. I want my staff to be successful and respected by their peers both within the library and in the larger world of libraries and librarianship. I want us to produce consistent and high quality work that means we’re meeting our goal of ensuring access for users to the “stuff” of the library/institution. I want my Unit to be productive and be a place where people *want* to work.

Like most people, I’ve had the bad manager experience. The one where you feel like they’ve put a target on your back and no matter what you do you’re doing it wrong. And there’s no guidance or direction. Just you floundering trying to read their mind. It’s toxic.

I’ve also had the good manager experience. The one where you feel like you are free to try new things and if you screw it up it will be OK. The one where the criticism they give is constructive and you’re always given the room to improve/correct. But they also give you clear guidelines and expectations so there’s no guessing game about what you are supposed to be doing.

That’s the manager I want to be. That good manager. And I’m finding it hard to balance stressing about being a manager with the actual doing part of management and also balancing it with the other non-management parts of my job. I’ve unfortunately been neglecting much of my professional and non-professional life because of the stress and time spent on being or trying to be a good manager.

Fellow (library) managers – how do you do it? How do you not spend all your time stressing about management and being a good manager? How do you not feel overwhelmed by it all the time? I want to be fair and kind/understanding yet not be a push-over. How do you strike that balance?

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About slmcdanold

I’m learning to laugh at myself on a daily basis. I’m a librarian (cataloger) and I love it. My job involves all things metadata related in any and all formats. I have been known to cause a ruckus when necessary (aka troublesome cataloger) and make no apologies for it. I have a passion for continuing education and teaching. I’m a newbie coder (still learning). I like to cook. I’m a fan of rugby (go Australian Wallabies!) and ice hockey (go Detroit Red Wings!). I’m car-free and bike/walk a lot. I’m learning to love running one stride at a time. I own (and love) a very mouthy cat with a punk attitude and a slightly neurotic rescue mutt.
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8 Responses to Management balancing act

  1. If you’re worrying about being a good manager, it’s safe to say that you are not a bad one. ;c) The worst managers I’ve had just didn’t care about their staff. So there’s that. :c)

    I’m not sure what the performance review policies look like for YPOW, but I have used the goals listed in the annual performance review (set by both the staff person and myself) to give guidance as to what each employee should be working towards throughout the year. [1]

    Communication-wise, I try to do a brief check-in with each employee on a daily basis, but sometimes work schedules don’t allow for that. I schedule a weekly meeting with each direct supervisee. We usually never take up the entire allotted time, but at least there is once a week where we sit down and discuss updates, issues, plan of attack for the week ahead, etc. The main goal is to make sure that we both are on the same page. There should be *no* surprises at the annual performance review, so having this dedicated meeting time helps a lot with managing multiple employees in terms of performance management. Also, by the time the annual performance review process rolls around, most of my work is already done with the meeting notes. :cP

    Hopefully [2], I am the type of manager that provides the tools necessary for my employees to do their work and then gets the hell out of their way so they can do their work. I’ve been lucky in having several employees that are motivated and can work with a minimal amount of supervision. I hate being a micromanager, but some employees require a closer watch to be productive. This is where I struggle a lot – how can I give effective guidance to these employees while trying to empower them to become more self-sufficient?

    But, yeah, everything I wrote above still doesn’t alleviate all the worries, the amount of time spent on making things are on the right track, and, when things start turning south, discipline procedures. I try to make my time spent managing as efficient as possible with my staff, not only to keep things sane on my end, but out of respect for the employee’s time as well. However, the employee also has to acknowledge and respect the fact that I have other duties outside of management, some of which might take me away from managerial duties for periods of time. Sometimes I have to remind staff of that, as well as that the manager-employee relationship is cannot be a “manager gives and employee takes” type. It needs to be a mutual relationship where responsibility and growth is shared.

    Also, does your workplace offer any professional development for managers? If so, they are usually a good resource in learning new ways in dealing with management issues. There are also management-related interest groups in ALA and various state library associations that are good resources for all things library management.

    Last words – you will fail at times. I have failed in the past. Some past management failures still haunt me. All I can do is learn from those failures. And care enough to learn from future failures.

    [1]Experience: I directly supervise 2 FTE; however the nature of my job leads me with a lot of “unofficial” supervision duties for up to 6-8 staff. Supervising when there’s not even a dotted line reporting structure has its own quirks.

    [2] You’ll have to ask my staff for their assessment of my style, but I think they would say the same. :c)

    • slmcdanold says:

      I have weekly meeting with each of my staff to check in and to ensure we have time to check in (my days are often eaten by meetings). We don’t always use it (I ask my staff to see if they have anything they need to discuss), but it’s there.

      There have been several people that have also said that because I am worried about it, I’m doing something right. If I stop caring, that’s when I should worry. 🙂 Also that inevitably I will piss people off occasionally, and that’s OK. I have to work at remembering that and not trying to make everyone happy.

      I am taking a certificate program series on management from the university’s HR department continuing education office. I’m hoping that I’ll get some ideas/help for balancing the management and non-management parts of my job, but so far it’s been very procedure focused.

      • I have to remind myself regularly that my job is not to make everyone happy. If I had to name one thing about management that I struggle with the most, it would be that.

        Another thing I started to think about after posting this is if the organizational structure is contributing to the management/non-management balance issues. Are other managers at your library having the same issue? Or maybe that your managerial load is disproportional to what other managers have? [This whole line of thought stems from the book chapter that I am co-authoring about certain library organizational structures, if you’re wondering.]

        Also, I suspect that the cataloger in you is contributing to “getting things right” feeling. ;c) Again, I think it goes back to the “making everyone happy” view of management that sinks a lot of folks…

  2. slmcdanold says:

    Most of the comments I’ve received via Twitter and Facebook revolve around letting go and trusting that since I’m worrying about it, I am doing my job as a manager. I clearly care. When I need to worry is if I stop asking myself questions because that is an indication that I’ve given up and checked out. Of course, the “letting go” is piece is harder than it sounds. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m not so good at letting go because I want so badly to do it *right*.

  3. Robert Capuano says:

    Some of my managerial philosophy:

    Set the goals or parameters of what you are doing as a department and communicate those with your staff on a regular basis. Any changes you make to these should be communicated and explained so that everyone has an understanding. No one later can say “I didn’t know that”. The explaining is very important because I have found that once staff understand the reasons that something is being done, they are much more likely to buy into it.

    Stay out of their way while they do their jobs, but keep communication open so that you can monitor how staff members are doing and whether or not all work is getting done. You can make course corrections along the way (whether those ideas come from you or the staff).

    Know that staff members respond to different motivations. I have found that the biggest problem I run into with my own bosses (that’s another story) is when they try to force one way on everyone. A one size fits all never works, because everyone doesn’t really hear the same message. Even when I am giving out assignments, I will approach different staff in a completely different way. I may have one staff member that jumps at every assignment and with them I will say “Hey, please do this…” They will then likely go on to their work and you won’t have to be involved any more. Another staff member may take more coaxing to get going. I will approach them more privately, easing them into a new assignment and offering more reasons why something is happening. I will spend more time getting them comfortable with the change (usually just talking, and reinforcing the goals or parameters that you have set). This is why I think they should teach psychology to managers!

    Treat everyone fairly and consistently, so that they always know what to expect from you. Always be approachable and open to suggestions, even if you have to turn them down. Staff that know you are open to suggestions are staff that are thinking about how to do a better job. When you do turn down someone’s suggestion, always explain the reasons why, and let them know you appreciated their idea.

    Be open to making exceptions to rules when it is fair and make sense. Sometimes the rules create an unfair situation, and when you can bend things to make it work more fairly, the staff will know that you have their best interests at heart. Just make sure that you apply any exceptions fairly. The staff will notice if you don’t!

    Don’t show that you are worried even if you are worried. The staff will feed off of this and it will affect morale. Put the best face on commands that come down from above, even if you think they are not the best decisions. I always tell staff, the best way to prove that something will not work is by trying our best to make it work. If it really doesn’t work, a change will be made. If it does work, then maybe we were wrong about our concerns.

    Be OK when mistakes happen, because they will. This is another place where I have had conflicts with my own bosses. They have they expectation that perfection is attainable if we just implement the correct procedures. Develop good procedures and safeguards so that under normal circumstances, things should go right. When they go wrong (and they will), don’t freak out. Correct the mistake, correct the staff that made the mistake, make sure their mistake wasn’t based on a misunderstanding of the procedures, and move on. They will appreciate the way you dealt with it and that you are trusting them to do a good job.

    As someone that has never been comfortable telling people what to do or correcting them, I try to keep everything as informal as possible. If I feel like we are having a conversation instead of ordering you around, things go much more smoothly. The staff already knows that I am in charge, so I do not have to make our relationship “formal” to reinforce it. You need to be comfortable in your authority, but not lord it over people.

    Sorry if this is a little long. It was kind of stream of consciousness, since I rarely put all this together outside of job interviews. I won’t claim to be a “great” manager, but I do believe I am good at many things and I have had good relationships with most of the people I have supervised.

  4. cg474 says:

    When I started managing “only” 5 people I had a meeting with each team member every 4 weeks; after a year, I asked in an anonymous survey about frequency and a couple of other things, and I had 5 replies: 1x more often than every 4 weeks, 1x every 4 weeks is good, 1x every 6 weeks is better, 1x I don’t want to meet with you (I suspect that she has left now), 1x every 8 weeks. I then changed interval to “once every 6-8 weeks”, and make clear that they should always ask me for talks in between. I would advise you to meet your colleagues less often – once every week is way too much, for them and for you.

    • slmcdanold says:

      My “weekly” meetings are actually a bit more complicated. I meet with 2 staff weekly (professionals), and the other 5 (support staff) I have on rotation so I meet with two each week and then the third week we have an all unit meeting. I’m hoping as we all become more familiar with each other and communication patterns and other procedures/policies/workflows are put in place I can change to a monthly all-unit meeting and meet with individuals on an “as needed” basis instead. The current meeting pattern was created to help establish the lines of communication, etc. during my first year as unit head.

  5. Dawn Rapoza says:

    I’m having my first doubtful day as an administrator this afternoon. Questioning “did I do the right thing?” Will post again later as I am currently typing (surprise surprise) minutes from the weekly meeting I have with the supervisors that I supervise…

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