At the start of October, I will be celebrating four years as a department manager with my current employer. As with any job, the experience has been filled with ups and downs. In that time, people have filed in and out of my office, and countless projects have flowed through my hands.
Considering the milestone, I’ve been reflecting back on what I’ve learned in my time managing projects, people, and my department. It is both a tangible item for me to revisit in future leaderships roles and a tool for anyone else in currently in a management position or hoping to climb the ladder to management in the future.
Without further ado, here are the top four lessons I’ve learned in my four years of management.
Take Responsibly For Your Mistakes and Successes
We all make mistakes. When they happen in the workplace, we need to swallow our pride, admit to our failure, and propose a way to make things right. Your boss may not be happy, but they will respect you for acknowledging your shortcomings and devising a ways to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Similarly, celebrate your successes and take pride in your hard work. You put time and effort into achieving your latest accomplishment, so acknowledge the traits and habits that brought you there. Just don’t let your ego get too big.
Direction + Autonomy = Big Wins
I’ve found the best way to achieve results is to give a team clear objectives and then allow them to approach the problem in whatever manner makes sense to them. I’ll often suggest deadlines, schedule check-in appointments, and make myself available for questions, but it’s clear to me that people tend to take more pride in their work when they are not being micro-managed.
Additionally, it’s helpful to observe the strengths and weakness of your team members, assigning tasks based what will allow individuals to thrive. If you have a larger team, you may also delegate based on expressed interests. When an employee feels invested in a project, whether because they volunteered for it or because it utilizes their strengths, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and excel on the project.
Practice Authority and Humanity
It’s important to establish yourself as the expert and demand respect from your team. Explain how you run your department, what you’ve accomplished in your career, and what you expect from your team. Set the bar high and motivate your team to aim above those high standards. You’re their boss, not their friend.
However, it is just as integral to be approachable and understanding. Just as your boss appreciates when you address your failures and shortcomings, you want your team to feel comfortable updating you when they’re falling behind schedule or need to miss work due to illness. Give your team bonuses for successful projects (even if it’s out of your own pocket), time off and a sympathy card if they lose a loved one, and a deserved vacation after the busy season has wrapped up. We are all imperfect humans and we all have lives outside of work, so always keep that at the forefront of your mind.
Hire for Aptitude, Not Experience
When I started out as a manager, I looked for candidates with impressive resumes and extensive credentials. Not only were they out-of-budget, but they often carried a pretentious attitude into the interview. I quickly learned that you don’t need the best people, but you do want to build the best team. The best employees are those who come in with an eagerness to learn and grow, which is a trait that no manager can teach.
Research studies have shown that diverse teams outperform others that are more homogeneous, even if more uniform teams are composed of people with higher ability. In my own experience, I eventually realized that the main attributes to look for are curiosity and temperament. A curious person can learn just about anything they set their mind to, and if they pair that with the temperament to work on a team, they can achieve far more than a high-skills egomaniac.
What are your thoughts?
Have you ever managed a team? If so, do you agree with my lessons learned or would you add something else? If you’ve ever had an especially good (or bad) manager, what did you learn from them?