In my career, I was asked to be a manager on three different occasions. Each time I was selected because I was a capable doer and I was good with people. These two traits do not necessarily qualify you for management. I was honored each time I was asked to manage or lead a team. There were many lessons that I learned in each of these experiences.
Looking back these 6 lessons below were most impactful:
1.) The Lack of Control Is Hard – As a technical expert, you have more control or direct impact on the actual work. As a manager you are now obtaining results through others and that uncertainty can be challenging. I remember feeling this tension of wanting to stay on top of the team as a micro-manager and wanting to let go entirely. Eventually, I learned that a supportive cadence of coaching and accountability was the best approach.
2.) It Is Easy To Make It About You – It is human nature to turn inward and want to make the work about you. It is about the team. Their success is truly your success. It does sound cliche, yet this cliche is true. I was often tempted to take credit for the wins, yet in actuality it was the team that won.
3.) Being In The Middle – In one of my more recent roles, I found myself a true middle manager. I was seeking to manage and lead the team of direct reports, while managing my boss. My boss had this tendency to ‘swoop in’ and manage those below me. I was partially the issue because I was not managing him well. Looking back, it would have been ideal for him to have held me accountable to the sales goal vs. holding those that I lead to the goal. The impact of him ‘swooping down’ to my team caused me to feel undermined and took away a sense of authority. It also weakened my confidence.
If I had a chance to do this one over again, I would have asked him to let me hold the team accountable to the sales results and ask him to stop going below me. If the team came to him to complain or give feedback about my leadership, he should have stopped them and asked them to talk to me or have me talk to them directly. This would have solidified all relationships.
4.) Feedback Is A Trust Builder – What I now realize that gaining valuable feedback from your direct reports builds trust. I would have asked more frequently how I was doing as a leader. Additionally, giving my team positive encouragement more often on the work I was seeing always seemed to pay off. A specific set of behavioral and performance feedback is critical too.
5.) Clear Expectations – It is so easy to assume that your team knows what is expected of them. Assumptions create confusion and expectations create clarity. Seek to solidify your expectations of them and their expectations of you.
6.) Development – Your greatest return on investment as a manager is the development of your team. The more skilled your team becomes the more likely the results will be obtained. Find out what skills they want to enhance and clarify what skills they need to develop. There is a difference in a need and a want. A want is not always a need and vice versa. Try to match both the developmental need and want. This will provide the motivation necessary to help them gain the skill they need to continue to grow.
As you review these principles, consider the one that you have secured and the one that you would like to improve upon. Being a manager is a great opportunity for you to have an impact and help your team succeed. It is one of the most challenging roles, yet you will no doubt find yourself growing throughout the process.