For most of my career, my managers have told me why I could never do their job. I wasn’t charismatic enough. I wasn’t diplomatic enough. I wasn’t results-oriented enough. I wasn’t outgoing enough. I didn’t talk like a manager. I didn’t think like a manager. I didn’t look(!) like a manager. And most of all, I wasn’t positive enough.
I have sat in a performance review, had my manager agree that I met all of the documented expectations for the next level already, and in the next breath have them deny my promotion with the line “you just need to be more positive”. Another manager thought that I was the reason the team couldn’t do six months of work in two months because, “how can the team believe in the goals if their team lead doesn’t?” I have had yet another explain to me that “a good manager needs to inspire people! They make others believe that they can accomplish anything! …and you just don’t do that” (I refrained from pointing out the contradiction).
They weren’t wrong in their assessments. I am a dour, cynical, introverted curmudgeon who is not particularly inspirational. But their conclusions were off. Because I didn’t lead people the way that they led people, they concluded I couldn’t be effective. How could I? Some of the things I do directly counter their core beliefs about themselves and why they were successful! If some grumpy, super-critical engineer-looking dude could lead a happy and effective team, it would call into question those core beliefs. Maybe they were wrong in their hiring/firing choices. Maybe they were wrong in how they managed their team’s culture. Maybe they were hired because they were tall, affable white guys who interview well, not because of their Can Do Attitude.
That was certainly the case for some of my past managers, but here’s the thing: I have had great managers who fit into that positive, inspirational mold. It worked for them, even though that approach doesn’t work well for me. The approach matters less than how well you tailor your approach to your own strengths. What these bad managers (and many others) miss is a relatively simple lesson: Not everyone can become a great leader, but a great leader can come from anywhere.