The management skills required depends on the business stage. The following provides a visual of the change from functional skills to managerial skills required for managers during different business growth stages.
I became a manager before I was prepared: what I wish I knew…like every new manager I’ve ever known, I was promoted into management because I was good at something else. I received neither training nor mentoring, but the fates of several hard-working people were suddenly in my hands. My previous bosses had set examples, positive and negative, but really, I had to figure things out on my own.
Some new managers do eventually figure it out, and they end up fine. I did, but only after leaving a trail of mistakes and regrets in my wake. Many new managers (most), according to Gallup, never figure it out. They end up unhappy and insecure, which turns them into lousy managers who make their people miserable.
The impact on the bottom line is significant. Gallup estimates that unqualified managers cost US businesses hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Yet, we still don’t understand what it takes to be a skillful manager, and we still don’t equip our new managers for success.
So here, after years of trial, error, and some very gratifying wins, are the eight things I wish I’d known that day when I walked into my new office for the first time:
- The rules have changed…When you get promoted to management, it’s usually because you were good at your old job. But the skills that made you good in that role will not make you successful in the new one. You need to learn how to motivate your team members, manage your boss, and keep your focus on the business. Your success now depends on your team. You need to start learning how to do this job well.
- You have probably picked up bad habits…Most managers are not particularly good at managing. They can be arrogant and dismissive, and they are often poor communicators. They can focus too much on their needs or on making sure they look good to the boss. And they’ve been your role models. You have some un-learning to do.
- There’s a massive difference between respect, love, and fear…To succeed, you’ll need your team’s respect, and you’ll earn it through your words and actions. If your employees are afraid of you, they will neither trust nor respect you. If you try to be liked, you will not make tough decisions or have hard conversations. But it’s the hard conversations that often earn you the most respect.
- Your people know more than you do…When you become a manager, you’re no longer in the loop. You will not know who’s dating who, and you will not get the company gossip. But your people will still be very much in the loop. Everything you do and say will get back to them, along with everything all the other managers do and say. Remember this, and don’t say anything in conversations, texts, emails, posts, or messages that you wouldn’t want your employees to hear.
- Your ego is your enemy…OK, that’s only true if it’s large. If you have a small ego, it’s your best friend. But if you don’t control your ego, you’ll get defensive. You’ll take things personally and react to things that you should ignore. You’ll base decisions on your ego rather than the needs of the company or your team. And all of that will cost you respect and undermine your success.
- Your team’s success is your success…You must work hard to make sure each of your team members has what they need to be successful. Your will judge you based on the team’s output, the quality of their work, and the team culture you create. Your goal is to have a high functioning team that doesn’t get distracted by trivialities. This will take effort. It means you will work with each team member to bring out their specific skills, but it will pay off. Because…
- The better your people look, the better you look…When your team performs, you must praise them loudly and publicly. Recognition makes your people feel great, and it makes you look like a brilliant manager. It doesn’t hurt that you’ll look selfless and generous too, but make no mistake: people will see a strong, confident, capable manager.
- Think about what it’s like to manage you…Most new managers don’t think much about boss management, but it’s incredibly important. Managing your boss doesn’t mean sucking up; it means making sure that you are in sync with the company’s goals. It means giving your boss the information they need to appreciate your team. And it also means helping them to look good to their bosses. Just like the people who report to you, you want to be a high-functioning, focused employee. So, make sure your communication style and your interactions with your boss reinforce that.
Being a Strategic Leader Is About Asking the Right Questions
If you asked the most successful business leaders what it means to “be strategic”, how many different answers do you think you would get? Consider this number: 115,800,000. It is the number of unique links returned when I searched online for “strategic leadership”. There is a good reason for all of those links: Strategy is complex.
Thought leaders from all over the world have created sophisticated frameworks designed to help leaders grapple with their own strategies at an abstract level. The reality is that strategy succeeds or fails based on how well leaders at every level of an organization integrate strategic thinking into day- to-day operations. This is less about complexity and more about practical focus.
How can you personally be “more strategic” as a leader? Consider asking yourself and your team the five questions below to drive clarity, alignment, and strategic insight. The questions build on one another, leading to a well-aligned, strategic perspective. If you make these five questions part of your ongoing dialog, you will inevitably become more strategic and more successful as a team.
- What are we doing today? Leaders are often surprised at just how much they do not know about what team members are working on. Hereʼs why: Over time, organizations add more and more to the plates of various teams and employees. While leaders and team members talk at length about new initiatives and assignments, they focus less on legacy work that is still being done. At some point, leaders lose sight of just how much time people are investing in legacy priorities. Asking this question almost always brings to light significant work that managers arenʼt aware is being done or that is taking much more time than it should. You cannot move your team forward strategically without knowing the answer to this question with total clarity.
- Why are you doing the work you are doing? Why now? Once you have taken stock of all the work being done by your team, the next logical step is to examine the importance of the work being done. This serves two strategic purposes. First, you gain clarity on whatʼs important and why itʼs important from your teamʼs perspective. Youʼll likely uncover situations where you and your team are uncertain or in disagreement. This drives important conversations with your team about choices, resources, and trade-offs. Second, you have the opportunity to attach value and meaning to the work being done by your team. Everyone wants to believe that the work they do matters. Itʼs your job to understand and articulate that to your own team and across the organization. The only way you get there is with scrutiny.
- How does what we are doing today align with the bigger picture? Never underestimate the power of gaining total clarity about your own area of responsibility and then examining how well your work aligns with the broader goals of the organization. This is a discussion about gaps and outliers. If your team is working on something that does not align with the broader purpose or goals of the organization, you have a responsibility to challenge the value of doing that work. This is true even if your team believes the work is important or meaningful. Does it bring value to your customers? Does it contribute to the highest priorities of the business? Work that benefits both your customers and your business should be the top priority. If you identify gaps not currently being addressed, more strategic discussion is needed. Are you doing exactly, and only, what most benefits your organization?
- What does success look like for our team? Chances are that you have a handful of measures that others use to evaluate your success. Do they tell the story of what success really looks like for your team? If you asked your team what success looks like for them individually and for the team overall, could they articulate an answer? The best strategic thinkers invest time here — not in trying to pacify their boss with a few measures that can readily be achieved, but in trying to understand what really drives success in terms of activities, behaviors, relationships, and strategic outcomes. The better you are able to align your team around a strong vision of success, the more likely you are to achieve it.
- What else could we do to achieve more, better, faster? Most leaders want to demonstrate their ability to “be strategic” by jumping directly to this question. If you havenʼt done the work to answer the preceding questions, it almost does not matter what you come up with here because you may or may not be able to act on it. If you do the work to answer the preceding questions, you are well positioned to be strategic in answering this one. You may identify new and better ways to serve the broader goals of your company. You may choose to redirect resources from current work that matters less in relative importance when compared to other new possibilities. This question is the most important of the five; every great leader needs to challenge their team to do more, better, or faster over time. It is, however, inextricably linked to the previous questions if you want to generate the best strategic insights.
“I ask the managers to judge every action they take — not just by legal standards, though obviously, that’s the first test — but also by what I call the ‘newspaper test,’” explained Warren Buffett. Basically, if an article “written by a smart but pretty unfriendly reporter” appeared in a local newspaper about a decision or action you made, and your family, friends, and neighbors read it, how would you feel about it? “It’s pretty simple,” says Buffett. “If [your decision or action] passes that test, it’s okay. If anything is too close to the lines, it’s out.”It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.
For more thoughts on human resource management, view the free video entitled Human Resource Management.
Copyright ©John Trenary 2020