What I Wish I Knew as a New Manager

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Being a new manager is tough. When I first became a manager in 2016 I remember feeling really excited about the promotion followed by paranoia that I am responsible for people and their lives. Okay, maybe some exaggeration but I would have some influence on whether coming to work was fun or not. I reached out to a few friends who were already leaders and got some great advice.

Here’s some of the advice my friends gave me as well as some of the things I learned later on that I think my past self would find useful. I hope some of this helps anyone reading this post. Let’s jump in!

Avoid becoming an “answer person”

As I started my journey as a new manager I would get questions from my team members from technical to strategy. It was great because I love helping and making things easier for them. After some time of going through this, I noticed the team members weren’t really getting better as specialists because I always took away the opportunity to learn.

A friend of mine sent me this great presentation that talked about this exact phenomenon. It turns out that being a great leader means when you get asked a question you let them arrive at their own answer and then discuss their plan afterwards. A few times of doing this I instantly saw my team members becoming more creative. They found solutions that I never considered. Not being an answer person really helped the team with two things:

  1. It help expand their learning process. Being forced to figure things out on your own means you’ll make your brain work that much harder and as a result learn things faster the next time around.
  2. They became more confident in what the strategy should be and anticipated problems.

Take the Socratic approach and teach through asking them questions and let them build their own way of learning. Bruce Lee said it best:

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” 

Bruce Lee

Action: Ask your team the same question back and give them a clear timeline of when you will both review it.

Trust your gut after the facts are in

I’m someone who likes to think rationally and find the best path that has many benefits. It’s how I generally think about the way I live my life and also work. I think it’s worked out well for me. However, sometimes walking down the rational path can still leave you with a fuzzy road. After all, the world lives in the grey. This is where trusting your gut comes in after you’ve taken in all the facts. It helps us navigate those complex areas. Here’s an example of how I used my gut or intuition.

I was doing a series of interviews for a role on the team. I had a candidate who had good technical skills but the technical problems we were having were complex and overwhelming. On top of that having to transition into a larger enterprise business adds another layer of complexity which can act as a multiplier for stress. On the other hand, a huge plus is this candidate communicated well, thought critically, and fit culturally like a glove. Shouldn’t that be enough?

The other candidates weren’t strong but some may have a leg up on the technical front. Should I keep looking although it took us about a month and a half to get here? Would I be doing right by the business? Or should I consider this person and roll the dice? I chatted with my manager who also interviewed this candidate with me and their advice is one that changed my perspective on decision making. They said “When hiring good candidates look at all the things you like and don’t like and then go with your gut. You’ll rarely regret it.” As they say, the rest is history and this candidate really did a fantastic job at the role and contributed a lot to the team culture.

Action: when making difficult decisions write down all the facts on paper. Then listen to what your gut is saying and make the decision. Your intuition is a valuable tool.

Constructive feedback vs. criticsm

This is a lesson well worth reinforcing multiple times throughout your career. Giving constructive feedback is truly a gift but is arguably one of the hardest aspects of being a manager.

The difference between constructive vs. criticism is massive. Constructive you aren’t pointing what they did wrong but rather how they could have done it in a different way to generate better results. Criticism is pointing out they did something wrong and providing no clear example of how to do it better. It’s the difference between a positive conversation where learning takes place vs. a negative experience where the relationship deteriorates.

Here’s an example:

“Hey, I noticed today in the meeting you came off in a way that didn’t feel like we were partners with the marketing team. Here’s what I mean. They asked ‘Hey is there a way we could add this piece of content to your page?’ and you said ‘No that’s not something we can do. This does not make sense. Sorry.’ vs. if you say ‘This content could actually work better on its own page. If we do that we can drive more traffic and have a better customer experience. I can help provide you with some metrics for the business case. What do you think?'”

After this, you explain what the outcome would be such as the other team will feel like you’re on their side and helping them. Next time you have a problem they’ll do the same for you. The conversation for me has always been positive because my team member knows I want them to be their best self and I’ll do everything I can to help them.

Timing is everything

This type of feedback must be timely. You need to tell your team member right after the meeting if you have a chance or perhaps towards the end of the day. Strike while the iron is hot because once a day or two have passed our memories become a little fuzzy. As a result, the lesson becomes less relevant because now they have today’s work and problems to solve and may not have time to keep tabs on what happened 10 meetings ago.

Here’s a great article I was given that really help me understand this concept. Check it out here.

Action: Keep an eye out for any time a team member could improve. Think about what you would do instead and write it down. Take these steps: 1) Slack them or ping them if they have 5 minutes so that you could give them some feedback on something you noticed. 2) Prepare for the conversation by describing what happened followed by how to improve it. 3) Ask them if they have any questions and gauge their body language and response. 4) Make any adjustments next time to help make the feedback easier. Pay attention to your tone, language, and body language.

Don’t make 100 decisions when 1 will do

I heard this idea from Tim Ferriss which was from a book by Peter Drucker called the “Effective Executive.” It’s a classic and highly recommended by most business professionals. What does it mean? How do you make 1 decision that takes care of 100? Well, the idea is we think we’re making a lot of different decisions but in fact, they all fall within a category of decision making. The key question is what decisions can you remove or take away to make room for seeing the bigger picture and finding gems? Here’s a direct quote from Jim Collins explaining what it means:

“Don’t make a hundred decisions when one will do. . . . Peter believed that you tend to think that you’re making a lot of different decisions. But then, actually, if you kind of strip it away, you can begin to realize that a whole lot of decisions that look like different decisions are really part of the same category of a decision.”

Jim Collins

One example from my digital marketing role was instead of trying to hunt down from senior leadership what goals they were trying to hit and infer. Instead to work with the analytics team to create baselines for all my programs and set good, better, best goals. This helps me see the bigger picture of carving out a path for digital marketing and discover areas where we hit our goals and areas where we needed to optimize.

That brought me to thinking about things in a systems way. I have to thank Scott Adams for introducing me to this way of thinking. Check out his blog post here on “Goals vs. Systems.” I found these two concepts of Peter Drucker with Scott Adams helped me see these in categories as well as systems.

Action: ask yourself what is something I could take away that will help me see the bigger picture and uncover gems? What do my current systems look like? Then understand the value you’re looking to get through each system and optimize. Discard distractions and ensure your systems are churning the way you’d like them to.

Final Thoughts

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Peter F. Drucker

There are a lot of things managers need to have. As an example managerial leaders must have several skills and attributes:

  • Think strategically and build effective teams
  • Create a healthy organizational culture
  • Resolve conflicts, embrace change and inspire others
  • Overcome volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity
  • Entrepreneurs that look to expand the frontier

As Peter Drucker says management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. You’ll come across many lessons just as I did and continue to do so. If you have your team’s best interest at heart you’re already well on your way to becoming a great manager.

Good luck with your journey and feel free to drop any other lessons you have learned in the comments below.

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