The assumption of the corporate ladder is that once you’ve figured out how to do a certain role yourself, you’ll be able to manage others when you get promoted. But managing people is a very unique skill set, and many people find themselves ill-equipped to manage a team when they first get that opportunity. Some people figure it out -- but a lot don’t -- hence the fairly common complaint about incompetent bosses and supervisors.
There are many different management styles, each with their pros and cons. And while it’s unlikely that you’ll be a super effective manager just from reading this newsletter, here are five things to keep in mind as you develop your managerial skills:
1. You have to do your job. Unless your job is 100% team oversight, don’t think you can let your primary responsibilities lapse because you now have a team eager to prove themselves. Delegating tasks is all well and good, but you still need to do your own job. It can be really tempting to pass along the tasks that bore you to someone below you who can’t seem to say no, but don’t take advantage of your power. You can encourage your direct reports to grow by allowing them to take on more senior responsibilities, but if something is above their pay grade -- i.e. at your pay grade -- don’t force them to do it unless you’re prepared to pay them for it! And make sure you’re still carrying your weight. Just because your development coordinator is great at giving notes on sizzle reels doesn't mean they should manage the whole slate -- you should still handle a few projects exclusively.
2. You don’t have to do your direct reports' jobs. We’ve all had micromanaging bosses. The kind of person who proofreads every email you send, who complains if your organization system differs slightly from theirs, who, when you ask, “How do you want me to structure this presentation?” responds with “Run with it! Let’s see what you come up with!” and then hands you a laundry list of very specific, taste-oriented notes. Don’t be that person! Give your employees clear instructions, answer their questions, and if the work is satisfactory but not exactly how you’d do it, let it go. If you let your team do their jobs, you’ll have more time to do yours -- and more time to lean into innovation and growth for yourself and your company.
3. Give constructive feedback. A major part of your job is helping your team get better at what they do and encouraging their own professional development, so you’ll need to give them feedback when they make mistakes or could use improvement. But not all feedback is created equal! One of the best ways to give constructive feedback is a compliment sandwich (a genuine one, or it backfires). Start by acknowledging something good about their work, whether it’s about the work itself (“I think this is a great first start to the sizzle. I like the pacing and tone!”) or about their approach (“I really appreciate you spending so much effort on this cut.”). Then, offer feedback. You may think “I statements” belong here so as to be non-confrontational, but they can actually come off as micromanage-y and evoke the response of, “So why didn’t you just do it yourself then?!” Instead, be direct. Something like, “It’s really important that this sizzle showcases all eight of the characters equally, and it looks like Jane Doe is getting less screen time, while John Doe is dominating the cut.” Or “We need to make sure we hit our deadline for the network. I’ll need to see a rough cut by the end of the day in order to have time to give my notes.” Then, end on something positive -- you can reiterate the previous compliment, add a new one, or offer an encouraging piece of advice. And always say thank you! For example, “As you think about cutting down John’s screen time, make sure you keep the moment that's 30 seconds in -- it’s gold, and I can tell you have a good eye for buttons. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to seeing the next round. Thank you!” or “It’s awesome that you want to get it done perfectly the first time, but no first cut is perfect. I’m impressed with what you’ve come up with, even if it's rough around the edges! Thank you!"
4. Manage the difficult situations. This is where the truly good managers separate themselves from the rest of the pack. As a manager, the most important part of your job is to step in when there’s a difficult situation that your employees can’t handle on their own. This could be a toxic person on the team who needs to experience consequences for their behavior or managing a client who is taking advantage of your employee. If your team is starting to complain about clients, workload, or expectations, it’s up to you to figure out what’s bothering them. Are you advocating for them to get raises now that your business has grown, and their jobs along with it? Are you standing up for them when someone in another department asks them for a “quick favor” that’s beyond their scope of work? Typically, your employees won’t speak up until things get really bad, and by that time, you’ll be seen as part of the problem. On the other hand, if you can anticipate your team’s needs and show them you have their backs, they’ll be happier -- and a happy employee is a productive employee!
5. Remember that your employees are human. You may find it frustrating that Sally needs a day off for food poisoning the same month she's scheduled for a week-long vacation. It might irk you that Mitch's kids keep interrupting him with virtual school questions. But as long as your team isn’t violating your company’s policies in a major way and they get their work done, let them live their lives. A lot of managers give themselves leeway once they reach a position of power and then get angry when their employees have needs outside of work. Some managers are the opposite -- they’re workaholics who expect everyone to put career first. But consider that most people work to live, and if they don’t have a good work/life balance, they’ll find a new job. If you have a good team, retain them by respecting them. And to that end -- company fun should happen on company time. If you want to do team building exercises or holiday parties, good on you! But don’t take away people’s weekends or weeknights with mandatory “fun.”
Overall, an effective manager knows how to read people and empathize with them. When in doubt, turn to the work version of the golden rule: Manage others as you would have them manage you.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan