You likely made it into a manager position because you proved you could be successful at the job you were doing as an individual contributor, but not because you proved your ability to manage a group of individual contributors.
Those are two very different things! Just like you can’t wake up one day and play a concerto on the piano if you’ve never played before, you probably won’t wake up and automatically know what to do to be the world’s best manager. It’s a skill that must develop, just like any other skill.
So, consider yourself an apprentice. This is a time to learn how to step into the leadership role your team needs you to take, how to delegate effectively, and how to inspire your team to put in their best every day. If you make a mistake or two along the way, own it and then promise to do better.
Want your people to be highly productive? Motivated? Creative? Innovative? Then you need to learn how to adapt your work style to theirs. Everyone you’re managing will bring a different natural work style to the office, which means they all have different things that are going to inspire and motivate them or hold them back from doing their best work.
Sometimes you get lucky, have employees who have a very similar working style as you and you gel immediately without much fuss. More often, the opposite is true, and you end up with employees who just approach work differently. You must keep in mind that “different” is not necessarily bad or wrong. Each work style has it’s own set of strengths and challenges, and no work style is fundamentally better or worse than any other.
In an ideala world, we would all understand the work styles of our colleagues, and proactively adapt to meet somewhere in the middle. However, most of the time someone needs to take the step first. As a manager, that’s your job. You are the one in the power position, and if your goal is to support your team in performating at their highest level, you must work to understand their needs and adapt your work style to them. Remember, when they are successful, that means you’ve been successful.
Zappos made headlines several years ago when they restructured to a holacracy and effectively eliminated manager positions. The result? 18% of their workforce left the company, a huge turnover rate by any standard.
The idea of getting rid of managers and allowing lower-level employees to be more entrepreneurial sounds great, but rarely works in practice because from a psychological perspective, most people seek out structure and guidance. We’ve been trained to do this from the time we’re small children - we look to our parents, our teachers, our extended family, and our friends to know what to do and what not to do. When you enter the workforce, you can’t turn off 20+ years of programming - people want ongoing feedback.
Someone has to be in charge of providing that guidance and saying it’s everyone’s responsibility isn’t good enough. When something is everyone’s responsibility, it’s really no one’s responsibility. So it rests on managers to do it. In fact, 65% of people say they want more feedback from their boss that they are currently getting, even in traditional structures. As a manager, your job is to provide the structure and guidance your team members need to do their best work on an ongoing basis.
All that said from the last point, it’s important to know that managers need to walk the tightripe between providing guidance and micromanagement. Here are some critical differences between effective managers and micromanagers:
Managers get bad reputation because of all the micromanagers out there who refuse to let go of the control and empower their employees to succeed on their own. But remember that it is your job to delegate because that is the only way for your team members to learn and grow.
If you want your employees to be empowered to do their best work, that requires taking a step back. Remember, your role is to provide guidance, you cna do this by asking questions to make sure your team member has fully considered their approach.
But if their ideas are different that the way you would have done it, most of the time the best way to go is to let them go try what they want to do and see what happens. There’s always more than one way to meet a goal, and very few of us work in jobs that are truly life and death. If they fail, it’s a teaching moment, and if they succeed using a strategy that you wouldn’t have picked, that’s still a win for you!
Very few people want more meetings in their lives, but for managers, a monthly one-to-one meeting with every direct report is an absolute must. Think about it: If you can’t give each of your direct reports 30 minutes of your time every month, then you either have too many people reporting to you, or you haven’t fully embraced your role as a manager rather than an individual contributor.
Frequently, one-to-one meetings are the first meeting to be canceled with the excuse of “I have nothing to talk about.” Unless you have a valid reason, you should not cancel your one-to-one meetings. This face time is a critical component of building a relationship with each of your employees that is grounded in trust. It’s one of the most important things you can do to drive their success.
When you have your monthly one-to-one meetings, the most critical component is not what you have to say - it’s what your team members are contributing to it.
You’re going to head the good and the bad because that’s what happens when you have open communication. It’s essential that you hear your employees out and always assume they are coming to you with positive intent - they are complaining about the problems because they want your help in solving them. If your boss approaches you from the vein of distrust when you’re making a good faith effort to do the right thing, that can be incredibly demotivating.
Your goal should always be to have them leave that one-to-one meeting in a better, more empowered place than when they arrive. Listen carefully to what they’re asking for, read between the lines to get to the core of what’s going on, and then do your best to provide the support they are looking for.
A good rule of thumb to follow is this: Behavior + Impact + Expectation. You state the problematic behaviour, explain why it’s a problem, and set the expectation for future behaviour. For example:
When you come late to a standup (behaviour), you throw off our agenda andit takes 10 minutes longer than it needs to (impact). Please make it on time in the future (expectation)
And then, to the next point, thank them and provide positive feedback when they meet the expectation!
The previous example explains how to give ciritical feedback well, but the reality is that you should give out much more positive feedback than negative feedback for one simple reason: Positive feedback is significantly more motivating that critical feedback. In fact, every single business outcome that can be tested for rises when your brain is in a state of positivity.
And the fact is that most employees are doing most things right on any day, but they only get feedback when they are doing wrong. The way you give feedback will set the tone for your management style. If you’re consistently looking for reasons to offer praise, even with the little things, that will keep your team in the right headspace to give it their best.
At the end of the day, you will be judged based on the success of your team. That means that they are your priority. The minute you start deviating from that path is the minute you wander into “bad boss” territory. It might be helpful to do a quick exercise at the end of every day and make a list of the ways you set your employees up for success that day. It will help you to take stock, hold yourself accountable, and make sure you are focusing on the things that matter most.