Our newest blogger, Mandy Gresh, is a coach and strategist devoted to helping others hone their plans for their career. Which parts of your current job are the most important for your future? Why is it so important to think like an entrepreneur? And how do you know when it’s time to head out on your own? These are the kinds of questions she’ll be helping us answer….
Becoming a manager is a little like becoming a parent. Although you can do a lot to prep for the job (reading books, observing others, coming up with lots of mental notes, thinking about best practices), it’s not until the day you actually have a staff that you get a clue what it’s really about.
I’m speaking from experience, on the management side at least. At 26 years old I was handed a team in a foreign country, with my manager in New York. The truth is that I was a nightmare to work for: micromanaging, with a very top-down style; only telling people things on a need-to-know basis; keeping track of when people arrived and left…. in other words, the exact person you don’t want to work for.
Later, after years of experience and soliciting feedback about my management style, I was able to develop a few strategies that took me from a monster to a mentor. Today, my advice is still sought by former employees. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:
1) The best leaders don’t need to shout “I’m the leader!”
Regardless of your rank in the corporate ladder, respect is something you earn. Being placed into a position of authority may make you a manager, but it doesn’t make you a leader: that comes through effort. Earning the respect of your direct reports is just as important as impressing those above you.
2) Schedule one-on-one meetings . . . and keep them.
To avoid becoming a micromanager, schedule weekly meetings with your team to check in on their projects, status, and overall mood. This won’t replace day-to-day communication, but it should save the “What’s the status of xyz?” conversations that can become overbearing. That said, respect the fact that your employees’ time is just as valuable as yours, so keep appointments that you set with them. Just as you look forward to face time with your boss, they (probably!) look forward to face time with you.
3) Respect those with more experience than you.
No matter what your position in the corporate food chain, there’s always a ton to learn. If you’ve been put into a role where you’re managing those with more years of experience than you, then respect that. In my first management role, my direct report had more than 20 years of experience in the travel industry. I had had three years’ experience understanding the company’s workings (and six years’ total working time) — her years in the field obviously trumped my experiences in, well… everything. Through time, I learned to respect and incorporate her knowledge into my decisions, which not only made her feel valuable and more open to hearing my feedback, but also taught me a lot about the industry. Mutual respect for each other’s strengths created a much better working relationship.
4) Ask for feedback, and be humble.
It might seem a bit awkward to ask your direct report for feedback, but as they’re the ones working with you on a day-to-day basis, they probably have the best understanding of your management style. A typical conversation I had would sound something like, “I really enjoy managing people, and it’s something I’d like to do for the long-term in my career. Do you have any feedback or tips you could suggest for me to get better?” The key here isn’t so much in how you frame the question, but in how you make sure to listen to the feedback without getting defensive. I suggest being open to what your staff says, thanking them afterward, and reflecting on their words in private. Obviously, you don’t have to act on everything you hear (e.g., “You’d be a better manager if you let us have all Fridays off….”), but if someone tells you that you’re difficult to approach, think about why that employee feels that way. Valuing employee feedback can benefit everyone.
5) Practice makes perfect.
No one comes out of the gate as the perfect manager. The key is to realize that and be willing to continuously learn. Whether it’s leveraging the experience of those more senior than you, asking for feedback, taking classes, or working through challenges with a mentor or a coach, the best leaders are the ones that understand that improving managerial skills is a never-ending process.