Can you think of the best experience you ever had in a work environment? How would you describe it? How about the worst work experience? How would you describe that time?
To understand the dynamics underlying the best and worst working experiences, identify a major goal or project you were working on in the best of times. Then, diagnose your development level on that goal. Which of these four levels of development best reflect your competence and commitment on the goal or project?
- D1—Enthusiastic Beginner. Your competence is low (you have never demonstrated the skill or ability demanded by the goal or project before), but your commitment (motivation and confidence) is high.
- D2—Disillusioned Learner. Your competence is still not where it needs to be (low to some), but because of reality shock (the difference between your expectations going into the goal and the reality of your experience), your commitment has fallen to low.
- D3—Capable, but Cautious, Performer. Your competence is steadily improving (moderate to high), but your commitment fluctuates (variable).
- D4—Self-Reliant Achiever. Your competence and commitment are both high.
Now think about the worst of times. How would you diagnose your development level on a major goal or project? D1, D2, D3, or D4?
Over the years, I have led thousands of people through this “best and worst of times” activity. First, people examine their emotions in the best and worst of times. Then, they diagnose their development level on significant goals. Their aha moment comes by answering these questions.
“For the best of times, raise your hand if you were at D1, D2, D3, D4. For the worst of times, raise your hand if you were at D1, D2, D3, D4.”
Regardless of the participants’ roles, language, culture, or age, the same pattern emerges. Hands go up for every development level for both the best and worst of times. Sometimes, in a small group, I might not see a hand go up for D2 in the best of times, but otherwise, a person’s development level is not what distinguishes the best of times from the worst of times.
I take another poll based on the Situational Leadership II model — the most popular leadership model in the world — which depicts a leadership style that matches the needs for each of the four development levels:
“For the best of times, raise your hand if you received a leadership style from your manager that matched your development level. In the worst of times, raise your hand if you received a matching leadership style.”
Again, a pattern emerges. In the best of times, people received a leadership style that matched their development level needs—they received the appropriate direction and support. In the worst of times, their manager either over-supervised or under-supervised them.
I remember one exception. A young man described how he was in the best of times at the D4 level of development with high competence and high commitment. But, he didn’t get a matching leadership style. Instead of giving him the low direction and support appropriate for a self-reliant achiever, his boss gave him high direction and support. Perplexed, I asked him, “How could you experience the best of times when your boss was micromanaging you?” The young man smiled, “I realized micromanaging me was his need, not mine, so I simply ignored him.”
I admire the young man’s ability to self-regulate, but hope you’ll consider three strategies that have proven more effective for creating the best of times.
- Assume good intent. Most managers don’t wake up every morning with the intent of making you miserable. Most managers want to be effective leaders. They, too, want to experience the best of times.
- Realize that managers are not mind readers. In our personal relationships, we are encouraged to communicate our needs. If the people who love you most in the world don’t know what you need unless you express it, why do you expect your manager to know? It’s not wise, nor is it fair to expect your manager to know what you’re thinking or what you need.
- Manage up. It’s in everyone’s best interest to ask for what you need to succeed. Learn how to diagnose your own development level and then use the most powerful phrase for getting direction and support: “I need.” Your well-intentioned manager will be happy to know what you need without having to read your mind.
Self-leadership is having the mindset and the skill set for getting what you need to succeed. That also means accepting responsibility for your own growth and progress. I hope you agree that if you can create the best of times by proactively getting the direction and support you need, it’s well worth the effort.