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Why Great Managers Are Chameleons for Their Teams With Jack Altman, CEO & Co-Founder, Lattice

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Employees have different aspirations and motivations. Managers can follow best practices, but the most effective leaders are adaptable and shift their approach for employees goals and skill sets. 

This adaptable, people-centric approach has helped Jack Altman, CEO and Co-Founder, Lattice, build a successful, engaged team. Jack joined the LEARN podcast to explore the importance of adaptability in people management, experiential leadership development, purpose-driven company culture, and more. 

Great managers are chameleons

Jack emphasizes the importance of adaptability in management, describing great managers as chameleons. 

“The best managers are chameleons to their teams,” he says. “And so the world’s most expert manager, who has eight direct reports, will show up unbelievably differently to each of them. The longer I’ve been a manager and worked with other great managers, the more I believe that great managers are chameleons and don’t do everything the same way to such an extent that one manager might do one-on-ones with some employees this way; they might do them with other employees that way, and they might never have one-on-ones with other people.”

This analogy illustrates that effective managers use a different approach tailored to the unique needs of each team member. This underscores the significance of understanding and responding to individual differences within a team to optimize performance.

This process continues to adapt and evolve with more senior employees, who may need less traditional management than less experienced team members.

“Once you’re managing senior execs, managing is barely the right word at some point,” Jack says. “You’re more aligning with them. There’s still management, but the nature of it changes. It gets closer to a partnership the more senior the roles get. And everything from one-on-ones to performance feedback follows that arc.”

Read more: 6 Effective Ways to Support Employee Career Growth

HR’s role in driving operational excellence

Jack highlights the evolving role of HR leaders and why they must think like business owners and be involved in designing the company’s effectiveness. 

“The HR role to me is about designing the product of your company, and I think in its highest form, the role that HR can play is to help the company be designed to be as effective as possible and partner closely with the CEO to design that and ensure you’re staying close to doing this the way that you want,” Jack says. “I’ve been really inspired over the last year, talking to a bunch of HR leaders who are thinking like business owners, acting and operating that way, thinking about spans of control and what sort of org designs make sense.

“Where are there places where we have costs that are not only using money that we shouldn’t be spending but are slowing us down and creating inefficiencies? What are the ways we are not promoting our top talent or identifying our top talent as quickly and effectively as possible?”

In this mindset shift, HR leaders are operating more like COOs and thinking about how to build the strongest, most effective company possible. This reframes the traditional perception of HR, emphasizing the importance of designing processes that align with the company’s strategic goals and people-centric focus.

Read more: Align L&D With Business Strategy: Maximize Organizational Performance

Measuring culture with purpose

HR teams are tasked with building and maintaining company culture. And while there are tools, like engagement surveys, to measure employee engagement, it’s even more important to understand the why behind engagement survey scores to foster a purpose-driven culture. 

Jack compares this to the relationship between a parent and child because, like a parent, HR teams want to be liked by employees, but this needs to be for the right reasons.

“Besides being a founder, the other bulk of my time is being a parent,” Jack says. “It’s important to be liked, and it’s important to have people be engaged or demonstrate things that would show up well on an engagement survey, but it needs to be for the right reasons. My three-year-old should like me. Not because I give him candy every time he asks, but because I provide a safe and reliable space, I spend lots of quality time, and we have fun together. There’s a set of reasons I should be liked, and then there’s a set of things where he would like me for them, but they would not be good reasons for him to like me. And so I think it is really important to tease through one more layer there, to understand the why behind the engagement scores.”

Read more: 7 Things Employees Want From Employers

Experiential learning for leadership development

Influential leaders are crucial to motivate teams and drive organizational growth. At Lattice, Jack develops effective leaders by challenging them with new responsibilities, enabling them to learn and grow through hands-on experiences. 

“The best way is to give them challenges they haven’t been exposed to and want to be exposed to and let them learn experientially,” he says. “I think this has been true the whole way through. It’s especially true for early-stage companies that you grow talent by giving them responsibility. The people who grew the fastest at Lattice, we just trusted with unreasonable responsibilities, and they just made it work.

“For most founders, that’s how we grow, too. We don’t have a manager teaching us things in some classroom style. We’re just up against it, and we do our best, and we learn experiences. I think that’s the best way.”

This approach to leadership development provides a testament to the power of individuals taking on challenges that promote personal and professional growth.

Experiential leadership development uses real-world challenges and experiences to cultivate competent, agile leaders who build resilient teams and confidently lead in a constantly evolving business landscape. 

Listen to the full episode to get more tips and advice from Jack. Subscribe to the LEARN podcast on Apple, Spotify, or YouTube to get expert insights from top leaders in tech.  


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