This is a guest post by Eric Bloom, Executive Director of IT Management and Leadership Institute.
When I was a child, my mother told me, it was dangerous to talk to strangers. When you are a small child, this is great advice that will help keep you safe and out of harm’s way.
Disadvantages of Not Talking to Strangers
As an IT Manager, however, not talking to strangers can dramatically:
- Reduce your ability to network professionally
- Minimize the chance of finding new potential opportunities
- Lessen your chances of expanding your professional contacts
- Decrease the likelihood of widening your professional horizons through chance discussions with interesting people
Before I continue, I would like to clarify what I mean by talking to strangers and say, that even as adults, we have to be somewhat on guard and cognizant of our environment. By talking to strangers, I mean:
- Meeting new fellow employees in your company’s cafeteria
- Discussing general business topics with the person sitting next to you on an airplane
- Striking up conversations with people at professional association meetings
- Getting to know the fellow participants at a professional seminar or class
In addition to face-to-face interactions with other like-minded professionals, you can also asynchronously have conversations with new people via professional discussion boards and blog posts.
Talk to Strangers to Develop Greater Understanding of People Different From You
All of the above activities can help you grow as a professional, grow as a person, and related to this column, grow as a manager. Having discussions with people working outside of your professional area, company, industry, and/or country can help broaden your thinking by helping you understand the priorities, needs, and concerns of:
- People of different ages (baby boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, etc.)
- People from different ethnic cultures
- People from different religions
- People from different countries
- People with other general outlooks on life
- . . . and people of all other types that are different from you
Understanding Different People Helps You be a Better Manager
Having a greater understanding of people who think differently from you helps you be a better manager because it will allow you to better understand the people working under your direction.
Having a good understanding of the people you are supervising makes it easier for you to motivate them, help them grow professionally, enhance your group’s teamwork, and as a result, increase their productivity, morale, and work satisfaction.
As a young IT Manager, I incorrectly thought that everyone thought like I did. As a result, I tried to motivate my team using the same exact types of techniques and opportunities that motivated me. Truth be told, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. The reason it sometimes worked is because some people are motivated by the same things as me. The problem, however, was there were also many more people who thought differently than I.
As their manager, I didn’t always recognize the difference. This was my mistake, not theirs. I always tried to do my best for those who worked for me, but my lack of management experience and understanding of people’s diverse needs, motivations, and outlooks, occasionally caused me to fall short when managing certain individuals.
Over the years, as I grew as a person and a professional manager, I became better able to understand the motivations of those on my team, which allowed me to better manage the groups within my responsibility. Did I always do the right thing? No, but my batting average increased. After all, none of us are perfect, personal and professional growth is a lifelong journey, not a final destination.
The reason that I told you this story is to try to illustrate to you the effect of how being more worldly and having a deeper understanding of others can affect your performance as a manager.
That said, one of the things that greatly facilitated my ability to understand others was my continual interest in speaking and learning about other people. I talk to people in airplanes, elevators, and every other business setting imaginable. In these discussions I have spoken to college professors, very senior executives, politicians, and people in virtually all other walks of life. These discussions ranged from fascinating to unmemorable, but in their aggregate, they helped me grow and learn.
As a result, I believe they helped me become a better manager and a more well-rounded person. My goal is that this story, my story, helps you do the same.
Until next time, lead well, innovate, and continue to grow.
Eric Bloom is the Executive Director of the IT Management and Leadership Institute, Founder of OfficeInfluence.com, author of the book “Office Influence: Get What You Want from The Mailroom to the Boardroom”, an Amazon bestselling author, speaker, trainer and executive coach.
Eric is also a former nationally syndicated columnist, TEDx speaker, and recognized thought leader on the use of influence in the workplace.
He is also a Past President of National Speakers Association New England, a Certified Professional Speaker (CSP), and the author of various other books, including “Productivity Driven Success” and “The CIO’s Guide to Staff Needs, Growth, and Productivity”. Prior to his current role, Eric was a senior IT executive at various firms including Fidelity Investments, Monster.com and Independence Investments.