So you’ve just gotten that management role for which you’ve been gunning for months or years now. Congratulations! You’re a few weeks in, and you’re realizing that you are in over your head, and that maybe this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’re looking for advice, and I’ve got some for you!
Have a story you want to tell
Some people call this a vision. I like the concept of ‘telling a story’. Think about what you want your story to be six months, a year, and 3 years down the road. Use some of your thinking time to put yourself into the future and look back on the time period you’re going for. Think about what the journey looked like, and write it down.
Here are some questions to ask when coming up with your story:
- What does your team look like?
- What have you accomplished together? What ‘next-level’ things did you achieve?
- How have you grown?
- What direct impact have you had?
- How are things better than when you found them?
You don’t have to know everything
In David Marquet’s book Turn the Ship Around he mentions how he had studied for over a year to take command of a certain type of submarine. He studied how everything worked, and was an absolute expert on every facet of that type of submarine. At the very last minute he was reassigned to one of the most underperforming submarines in the US Navy. To add insult to injury, it was a class of submarine that he was not familiar with. He learned some valuable lessons about how you don’t have to be an expert, and you don’t have to know everything to be an effective leader. In fact, the opposite was true. He was more effective because he empowered his crew to make decisions based on the information they had (which is often much more than the leader has.) This allowed him to be freed up to focus on more strategic issues affecting him and his crew. Ultimately, his crew and submarine went on to become one of the highest rated crews in US Navy history.
Here’s a great talk where he shares some of these ideas:
Give trust freely, but work to earn trust
You need to earn the trust of your employees by listening to them and acting on the insights you gain. You can earn trust by implicitly trusting those people who work for you without requiring them to earn it. If you extend trust to others, they will usually return the gesture. The counter to this is that people who have had trust extended to them need to be held accountable when they betray that trust. If you have a person on your team that you simply cannot trust (and you’ve made sure that it’s not you that is the problem), you need to remove that person from the team swiftly.
To the previous point, managers that don’t trust their employees micromanage them. Don’t be a micromanager. You don’t have time for that, and your employees don’t have time for that. You’ve got a team of professional adults, and if you have to micromanage them, you’ve probably got the wrong people on the bus (see the next point.)
Remove “Bad Apples” as quickly as possible
The old adage that one bad apple can ruin the whole bushel is absolutely true. If you have a person on your team that is constantly negative, or constantly looking to undermine you or the team, you need to take action. If the person is not willing to change and get on the bus, you need to make the hard decision of removing that person from your team. This can be one of the hardest things a manager has to do in her career, but it is extremely important that your team sees that you will not tolerate that kind of person on your team.
Be a positive example
People inside (and outside) your team are constantly looking to you to set the tone. Set a positive one. Don’t get involved in bickering or complaining. Keep the message positive. Fill your brain with positive thoughts, and constantly work on removing the negative ‘weeds’. These weeds can get in and choke off the positivity you need in order to lead people in positivity. Read books about being positive. One of my favorite authors in this category is Zig Ziglar. Find some of his videos on YouTube; listen to him on Spotify. Here’s a great video about how to change your attitude if you’ve gotten stuck with “stinkin’ thinkin’” as he’d say:
Get clarity of your biggest challenges and get quick wins
Immediately take stock of what your team’s biggest challenges are and set small, incremental goals to tackle them. When I joined Shazam, one of my team’s biggest problems was alert fatigue. People were getting woken up for no reason at all, and missing the important things because of the unimportant ones. One of the first things we did was to evaluate what was causing us the most pain in the regard and targeted tasks that would allow us to eliminate the pain. Do this for your team, and they will perform at a much higher level because they see you are invested in making their lives better.
Clearly set expectations
Sit down with your team early on and outline what you expect of them. This is the most important thing you can do to make sure that your team is aligned towards where you want them to go. Don’t assume that they know what your expectations of them are. Once you’ve level-set on expectations, make sure you are communicating them often, and finding daily or weekly examples of how people are meeting or exceeding your expectations. Once people are comfortable with your expectations and you’ve been highlighting good examples, start giving feedback (in a positive way, of course!) when people aren’t meeting expectations. This is a model I learned from The New One Minute Manager.
Find and report on key metrics
Find what your KPIs are for your team, measure them, and keep them visible. This will help you and your team see the progress you’re making, and understand the value of the things you do. This is especially true when you can see the positive (or negative) impact of work that has been done against the KPIs.
Never stop learning
There’s a saying that “Leaders are Readers”. This is absolutely true. People who are well read have more ideas kicking around in their giant brains, and they make more connections between different ideas better than their less well read counterparts.
Some of my favorite books are:
- First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham
- Good To Great by Jim Collins
- Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan
- Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
- Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager by Michael Lopp
A service that I think is amazing for getting key insights and ‘Cliff Notes’ is Blinkist. They give you a 2 or 15 minute summary of thousands of non-fiction books. Fantastic if you only have a few minutes to spare, and you want to get more than the ‘back of the dust jacket’ summary of a book before investing a bunch of time in reading it.
Have regular 1:1s with your direct reports
I cannot overstate the importance of having regular 1:1 meetings with your directs. This is when you focus on them as a person. Be intentional about learning as much about your employees as possible.
- How do they like to receive recognition?
- What motivates them?
- What are their values?
- What are some areas that they can work on to be even better at what they do?
- What are some areas you’ve noticed that they’ve excelled at in the previous week?
Make time to reflect and think
If you have a formal performance review process (or even if you don’t), it’s important to make sure that you spend time every month reflecting on the performance of each of your direct reports. In Shazam Engineering, we have a monthly ritual where we roll all of our thoughts on performance up into a monthly report that our CTO receives. It has been extremely helpful for me to be forced to sit down and really ponder the contribution and challenges that each of my directs have had in the past month. I use this data to quickly and easily complete my yearly reviews. Even if you don’t have a process like this in your company, I highly recommend that you develop a process like this for yourself.
Also spend time thinking about ways to improve yourself and your team as a whole. Think about the future, think about your past, think about anything that comes to mind. Write it down and come up with a plan of action for things you want to change.
Model great managers
Think back to the best manager you’ve ever had. What made them great? What did they do that made you single them out as the ‘best manager’ you’ve ever had? Do those things. Conversely, think back to the worst manager you’ve ever had. What did they do that made them the worst manager? Don’t do those things.
Be flexible, and learn from your mistakes
Above all else, be flexible. You will make mistakes, but how you respond to those mistakes is what’s important. Things won’t go the way you expect. If you adopt a posture of continual learning and improvement, you will be successful.
Good luck in your journey to become the Best Manager in the World!