The Manager Practitioner Series Part 1: Please Don't Say It's Another Meme
Updated: Feb 22
Pros become practitioners of their craft by studying and practicing the right things. Anything you do as a manager or leader can affect those around you and is essential to the job description. These aren’t passive roles you just come by, but positions that require a skillset you can practice and employ. This series will dive deep into what managing like a practitioner looks like and focus on aspects of the role you don't typically see in workshops, textbooks, and social media. Behavior science doesn’t claim to know all the answers. Instead, it provides a methodology and skillset to help you find them yourself. This series' purpose is to translate those tools to help you better inform your experiences as a manager, leader, or coach.
Almost everything you do as a manager affects the behavior of someone. It's a central part of the job description. Whether you are a powerful executive or shift manager – it's not just a position you hold; it's a skillset you employ. Often taking the form of a title earned, a raise, and access to better stuff, a manager can take on different meanings and fill various roles across an organization. It obviously means more responsibility and longer hours. Usually, the subtle shift in the job description gets missed – from being a pro at doing tasks to understanding why and how others are doing their jobs. Your job is to get people to respond reliably to the things you say and do. In this way, management and leadership relate to behavior science - they both aim to understand and predict people's behavior. Even if you're managing budgets, computers, or schedules, it doesn't change. This is possible because people respond reliably to company goals and directives – mainly through their relationship with money. This is true for all management positions, whether dealing with customers, suppliers, or internal operations. The leadership (with management and coaching) role is one of the most nuanced and innovative positions out there, and maybe the most opinionated.
We have serial passive-income-preneurs with targeted workshops. Bro-science wizzes with newly revealed, never seen before secrets. MBAs with mounds of management theories and case studies. Coaches and speakers with 3-easy-step-systems to a successful everything. Tried-and-true lifers that just "know how things are done." Social media networking pros with quotes and memes (#leadership). And consultant know-it-alls writing blog posts about it. With all of this, ask yourself: what do you hear the most while at work? The left side or the right side?
There's still lots of work to do. There are so many "experts" in behavior because we're constantly surrounded by people doing things. That's what humans do – for better or worse, we're very good at drawing conclusions based on what we've seen, smelled, heard, and touched. It's a truly remarkable skill. However, when we rely on these conclusions, we take shortcuts and miss important details. This becomes a problem when things, like behavior, become nuanced. We start to rely on potentially inaccurate information that doesn't match the exact needs of the situation in front of us.
Let's look at an example. Can you name the 3 laws of physics or calculate a moving object's mass/velocity ratio? Kudos to you if you can. Even without this knowledge, you can still manage the laws of physics like a superhero. This happens every time you turn the steering wheel of a massive chunk of metal around a corner without killing yourself – a monumental but relatively routine task. You start driving around a lot of corners and have become good at it. You can explain what steps you take to go around corners and show others how to go around corners. But if I told you to round the corner faster, would you just increase your speed and hit the gas pedal? To round the corner more efficiently, you need to approach the turn from a wider angle, recognize the apex of the turn, be in the right gear, apply the correct brake pressure, etc. It's not a physics degree but understanding this basic approach to cornering gives you the tools to better inform your experience. Not just to manage this turn more efficiently but other turns you haven't yet experienced. It gives you specific skills to practice and concepts to base goals around to track improvements. You become more proficient at turning through our approach to the task.
Management is a dynamic position. You can study models, read case studies, have years on the job, and be a leadership meme aficionado. Still, you'll probably run into a situation in the next few weeks that doesn't look like anything else. There are policies, processes, models, data, systems, checks, and balances to use as a guide. It takes a proficient manager to know when to apply them and how to use them, or if they're even working. Or else you're just out there going for the gas pedal. The most useful application of behavior science is to help provide a practical framework for approaching your role as manager, leader, and coach. Providing skills to learn and practice to apply your experience, education, and resources more effectively.
Good practitioners are aware of the pitfalls and traps that come along with their profession. Let's go over two of the biggest things to look out for, really anywhere in life that can pressure us and others to start taking shortcuts and drawing wrong conclusions. This often takes the form of name-calling, lazy explanations, emotional outbursts, power trips, self-preservation, avoidance, biases, not enforcing policies, fudging data, reactive management, unequal treatment, and so on.
The most overlooked factors affecting our job performance don't even happen at work. We often talk about burnout as working too many hours, but there is more to the story than just the number of hours worked. When you work more, you are doing less of other things. No matter how good you've gotten at compartmentalizing or hiding, it's impossible to separate your work and personal life. You can say, "not me," it doesn't matter. We need the other things. We're humans. We're all unique, complicated, and notoriously bad workers. We have weird habits, desires, and hobbies. We have emotions and secret motivations. And kids, appointments, and pets, we get sick and need to sleep, and there is just…so much good YouTube content. We may get better at hiding it, become pros even, but we can't just turn things off.
Most managers easily spend over 40 hours a week at work, and fatigue, family life, and health issues can change how we approach the job. Hell, it may be just because of traffic. This also works both ways. Our work schedules change the way approach our personal life as well. On any day, your plate is filled with dozens of different activities and pressures to manage. Just to get to work and direct people going through the same things. Oh, and don't forget - put on a smile on your face, go after those goals, and don't let anything hold you back! #leadership
Our life's daily pressures and demands are good enough to see how easy and valuable it can be to take shortcuts and draw conclusions. This can look like something small, like eating unhealthy fast food to save time, or something big like fudging numbers to get a raise. There are many good time-management and self-management tools out there and a vast world of checklists, reminders, and productivity managers. Be wary, they don't just magically work. You have to be sure to dedicate the time to use them. You can also utilize professional allies and therapists. Of course, these tools will help improve your approach to work and life. I always recommend taking the time to find some that work for you. Even something as simple as a checklist can help you from taking shortcuts in your day. The thing is, none of them will make it go away. Things will always keep happening, and you have to adjust. The right approach is to be aware of it, plan for it, and understand how these variables affect your work life and those around you. Allow it to inform your experiences about managing your life, work, and the people around you. When these pressures start to pile up, you will be warier, and you can practice skills to help you become more proficient in avoiding the pitfalls.