Good Managers Watch the Actors, Not Just the Action

Movie seats, popcorn and movie propsIn 30 years of marriage, my wife and I have disagreed on only a few issues of consequence. One of those is our taste in movies. (Hey, movies are consequential!) I am addicted to character study and she loves action movies. Because marriage is built on compromise, we do just that. I let her pick and I make up for it by getting my fix of character-study in my professional pursuits!

It turns out our workplaces are filled with characters, although sometimes they are hard to see because of all of the action.

In my experience, the best managers are devoted students of the art of character study—not out of some desire to play armchair psychologist, but rather out of the desire to help. These managers are keen observers of how people perform and conduct themselves across a range of situations. They look for clues that point to superpowers and situations that expose or amplify gaps. And they use these insights to provide feedback and offer coaching.

I was surprised as a young professional when my manager offered her views on my ability to work with groups. “Your future will be about guiding groups to achieve big things,” she offered during one of my performance reviews. “Why do you think this?” I asked. “Because, I’ve watched how people react to you,” was her answer.

I filed that exchange away, but have appreciated her style of observation and have used it as my own model for many years. Ultimately, what she had observed is that guiding and teaching in group settings energizes me, allowing me to do my best at helping others.

The Bottom-line for Now:

Some managers thrive on the action. They want to be in the thick of the work knocking down bad guys and winning the day for the good guys. Good managers pay very, very close attention to the behaviors of the individuals involved in the action. There’s an important difference.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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  1. Art, character is everything. One way for a manager to discover someone’s character is to give them critical feedback. The best take it with grace; no excuses, no denying (even if they may disagree with it). They may even say thank you. That’s the kind of person we want to hang out with and coach!

    • Art Petty says:

      I love those people Mary Jo! Sadly, they are not always the ones we encounter in our travels. Thanks as always for sharing your wisdom! -Art

    • The challenge is turning the existing ones (that do not entirely make the grade) into more “desirable ones”. We very rarely inherit an ideal group of people. We have to make the best of what we have. It might sometimes even mean pruning out the really unwilling ones.

  2. Thanks a lot for inspiring ideas.

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