When I was an individual contributor reporting into a manager who lived far away in another country and had to work with other local management as well, I remember feeling a bit alone. I also remember that I didn’t quite understand why I had to report to everyone when not one of them would really help me out.
After some time I understood that the fact managers were not that present could be an opportunity…and I found out the hard way, that not everything that looks like an opportunity ends up being one.
I also discovered that managers don’t need to be all-knowing or always present as long as they did their jobs. The amazing part was coming to the realization that they could make mistakes too. Some of them would make me angry, some I didn’t understand and some others I didn’t even want to hear about, as if managers didn’t have the right to make those mistakes.
Then I became a manager and it all changed. Gradually of course, these things never happen in one day or one awesome moment of self-enlightenment. You learn the same way as any other human being: by observation and repetition.
I guess there are hundreds of things we could be discussing about but I decided to focus this article in just 5 major areas. This of course comes from my own experience, meaning you might like it or not. I did learn a few things though, and I grouped them in just 5 areas I believe all managers should know about or be able to handle.
1.You need to be ready. Always.
Sounds ominous but it’s not about being the Messiah or anything like that. What I mean is that a manager, people will depend on you. Your employees will, your manager will. You will be expected to make decisions and will be far more accountable than you were as an individual contributor. You will be asked questions and for some of those you won’t have a solution or an answer. You will also be put on the spot a lot and you can’t miss a beat. You my friend, need to be ready for all of that and whatever comes your way.
Being ready does not mean having all the answers. It means being able to react as well as to plan, being able to follow-up and find a solution if you don’t have one. It could be as simple as saying “I don’t know, but I will find out” or as complex as preparing, presenting and pitching a complete plan in 12 hours.
It is not about you being one step ahead of everyone…but actually being able to take that step when required to. It is after all, about accountability.
2. The suit doesn’t make the man, but it doesn’t hurt him.
Not long ago I was talking to a manager I recently met, when another manager came in, interrupted our talk and addressed the other person directly. I remember he wasn’t wearing a suit and he hadn’t shaved properly…but he was so engaged, and so clear on what he was telling the other person that I wasn’t bothered by his interruption. I was just surprised.
I later found out that he was very good at what he did yet he was internally perceived as rude, not very polite and kind of a “lone wolf”. I asked what his role was about and I was even more surprised because it was 100% customer facing. I once saw him with actual customers and I was surprised to see he was all dressed up, properly shaved and his attitude was completely different.
Then I finally remember him discussing with the other person I was talking to, about the importance of being someone other than being well dressed and he got me thinking after all: how important is what we do, as compared to the perception others have of what we do?
Never judge a book by its cover and all, I get it, but sometimes the cover IS important and relevant. To this manager for instance there was a clear distinction between customers and co-workers: as if we wouldn’t need to see him in his suit. Your image matters and even if your knowledge, security and any other leaderships skills don’t depend on your image they can only benefit from a proper one.
I prefer to call it “the plus sign”. It can only add up to how you are perceived.
3. NO and YES are powerful words.
Have you ever counted how many times you say “no” or “yes” in a day? Week? Month? I would be surprised if you did. No one does but even then, some suspect they say those words either too often or not often at all. Those people are, not by chance, the ones that make better leaders in my opinion.
Pick the time to agree with someone or something. Pick your time to disagree as well but mostly, choose carefully when to be vocal about it. If you abuse them there are always consequences to that.
Say “yes” too often and it will affect the strength of your opinions and your judgment will be perceived as feeble.
Say “no” too often and you will appear as closed, hard to discuss with or not very accessible.
Any excess on the use of these will affect one of the key skills your role is based upon: the ability to be strategic (as in consider all options and make the best decision possible).
4. Being busy does not equal being productive
After all accountability’s sister is called productivity and you are measured on both. You can be great at hitting the numbers and you can also be very good at micro-managing your employees but as a manager you are most likely compensated differently.
If you are compensated differently, then your metrics are different and you probably have a clearer, deeper view on the goals your division, area or even Company are after. What are your metrics saying?
I bet productivity is not one of them, but that’s only because that’s a skill that’s assumed you have as a manager: the ability to properly manage your time, delegate when needed and affect results in such a way that you’re servicing all, hitting the numbers and not becoming a bottleneck.
Not a small treat I would say. You need to stay productive, as in everything you do should eventually lead to better results.
What worked for me is actually a mixture of learning when to say YES/NO, delegating and of course, not biting more than I can actually chew unless the price is worth.
5. Happy people make happy teams
This might be the most relevant point but I put it last for a reason: so far it’s been about you as a manager, your projection and such and of course your team will reflect that at one point. It was important that we cleared the “you” part.
Now let’s talk about who’s going to benefit from all of that: they are. And if they benefit from you, then you will.
Happy doesn’t mean they need to laugh the whole time though. It doesn’t mean they deserve the best the Company can do for them, and last time I checked it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll comply to everything they request.
It means you should be committed to being there for them, with them. Helping, nurturing, learning from and with them. Humble yourself and they will deliver. Show them your appreciation and they will fight for you.
That’s what happy means: people who is not just grateful but willing to go miles and miles for you, for the mission you set, for the values you represent to them.
As mentioned above, I know there are quite a lot more than just these five groups or premises. I feel confident enough that with time I will be able to develop more categories and share them but in the meantime these 5 are my commandments, the bar I use every day to measure the work I do, the job I have and the ends I’m pursuing.
Oh and if you’re wondering why King Julien is up there you should definitely watch Madagascar. He who is a manager and has never felt a little bit like him…hasn’t been a manager at all 😉
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