I’ve been a manager for the past 4 years and a leadership coach for the last 2 years. Someone asked me if I could share my learnings and experiences and here are the 10 things I learned.
1. The fastest way to get better at something is to find a mentor or coach.
I really struggled when I first transitioned to a manager. I second-guessed myself at every decision and was quite stressed out for the first six months until I worked with a coach. Figure out if your organization can shorten your learning curve by investing in you working with a coach. If not, reach out to other managers whom you admire and ask if you can ask them for their advice.
2. Everyone is unique, so your management style should cater to their uniqueness
Some direct reports will need you to challenge them. Some will need you to be more gentle with them. The key is to understand each one of them as unique, figure out what drives them, what makes them happy, what they’ll need to grow within the company, what support they’d like from a manager and then adjust accordingly.
Being a great manager is like being a chameleon. You’ll have to be a different leader for different people.
3. It’s about the team and people, not about you.
Being a great manager is figuring out how to empower individuals and then supporting them to become high-performing teams. It’s all about them and never about you. Your job is to serve the team and individuals within that team.
4. Be quick about positive feedback, gather information for negative feedback
If you see or hear that your direct report did well on something, give them that feedback right away. Leverage the power of positive reinforcement.
If you hear of negative feedback, gather more information by getting feedback from other people or even better, try to personally observe that behavior. If you’ve gathered enough evidence and/or you’re able to personally observe that negative behaviour, give that feedback privately and directly to your direct report.
For an example in terms of how to phrase what you say: “I observed that you <did this negative behaviour> and it <impacted negatively in what way to the team or person>.”
There will be a video on how to give feedback in a future post.
5. You have to build a team’s trust. And this takes time.
I’ve used this equation when I first join a team, or when I first work with someone. If you follow the math, it’s pretty much figuring out how to build credibility, authenticity (be yourself!) and reliability (follow-through) for the first 3-6 months without focusing on what you’re going to get (self-interest).
Trust = (Credibility + Authenticity + Reliability) / Self-Interest
6. Re-frame what it means to be productive
Being a productive manager is different from being a productive individual contributor. No longer are you checking things off and moving things to completion daily. Sometimes you’ll do something like provide feedback and you won’t see results until months later. Instead of measuring yourself by the things you “complete”, measure your activities.
For example, making sure you meet 1-on-1 regularly with every team member. Making sure you provide feedback (positive/negative) as and when you have that information. Provide a process/environment where team members can receive formal feedback and follow through on your plan and be consistent.
7. You won’t have the answers to everything, and that’s okay!
At some point, you’ll cease to be the most technical person as your role changes to a manager. Please, do not think you should have the final say or have to be the smartest person in your team because this is the fastest way to erode trust. Instead, ask the team, consult with them and work together to reach the best decision for the team and company.
8. It is okay to admit to your team that you don’t have the answers
You’ve become a manager, not someone who has to have all the answers. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know something. The team will respect you for it. The worst is to assume you have to know it all and make a call that is wrong for the team without working through it with the team.
9. There’s no “us” vs “them”. Your first team is not the team you manage
Your first team is your team of peers. For the company and department’s interest, it’s possible that you’ll have to make a decision that is less than ideal for your team but one that serves other team. It’s your job to help your team understand why, the bigger goal, the long game we’re playing. Patrick Lencioni’s The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team describes this well.
10. To be a great manager, learn basic coaching techniques.
Read The Coaching Habit book. It is a good primer to get you started on using coaching techniques as an additional tool in your toolkit. Google’s research into what makes a great manager covers coaching as one of ten qualities in managers.
Bonus 11. Imposter syndrome is real as you first transition to this role
Every great manager I’ve spoken to experienced imposter syndrome. Understand how you manifest it and find support to help you. It’s normal and even Neil Gaiman experienced it.
Comment/email me: Which bullet-point above resonates with you the most and why?