4 Lessons Learned In 4 Years Of Management

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?

10 thoughts on “4 Lessons Learned In 4 Years Of Management

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  1. No, not a team in the context as a project leader in a larger organisation or company. However, I have managed a very diverse portfolio of customers for some years now – small business owners, each client with their own priorities, idiosyncrasies and cooperation-skills and I must say it is remarkable how many of those four insights apply to my situation as well.

    For example, as a small business owner myself who deliver services I have often come in situations where results were not achieved right away, or there were errors which were not wholly my responsibility – for example hosting environment that someone else chose. But I always see that it works better to take responsibility for it, and give the client an extra hour’s worth of work as compensation for a site that had a small error for an afternoon, than try to make excuses.

    Whether or not the client accepts that compensation – and, more importantly, does not abuse my level of service – in turn is very dependent on said client’s aptitude for working with other human beings, and not believing he or she is god’s gift to man because they have 30 years’ experience with doing whatever in their field.

    Like I said, some interesting overlaps. Probably because ‘human skills’ are the basis of pretty much any type of business or organisation’s success.

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    1. I think you are spot on with “human skills” being the basis of any business’ success. I personally notice where service is exemplary, which results in generous tips and repeat business. With employees, I have much greater for those who take responsibilities for mistakes (even if it *wasn’t* actually their fault), along with ownership of finding a solution. I’m sure the same is true with your clients–I think most are more interested in coming to a resolution than assigning blame, so whoever takes it upon themselves to initiate the solution is viewed more favorably, even if they just admitted fault. Seeing young people glued to their devices, I worry for the future of “human skills,” which are–I believe–going to be increasingly important and valuable with the rise of AI. In a world where technologies exist that are smarter than the most brilliant human, what will set us apart except being able to connect on a human level?

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  2. I feel like your last two points have been the hardest two points for me to get across to other managers in my time in the working world. There’s this odd fear that people have where they don’t want to hire people they perceive as smarter than them. I’ve never quite understood that. I’d rather be the dumbest person in the room than the smartest person in the room, especially if I’m a manager. Additionally, I think a lot of managers forget the be human part of working with people, instead focusing much more on the authority part of the equation. If you can’t also be kind to people you have to manage, they’re going to leave you and your company so fast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you are completely right. My boss used to say, “I want you to chase after my position. If you take over my position, it pushes me higher up the ladder.” I’ve really held on to that mindset moving forward–hire smart and driven people who are hungry for advancement. If they are so good that I’m let go so they can take over my position, good for them–they probably earned it. I heard once that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. From my experience, this is absolutely true.

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  3. Yes! I def think giving opportunities for ownership is key to engagement. And also hiring based on aptitude and attitude. Technical stuff can be taught, but not being a jerk and being sincerely interested in doing a good job are almost always a recipe for a good team. Great tips!!

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    1. It’s so easy to get employees engaged, and yet so few managers do it! Our organization went through a restructure several months ago, and I quickly went from having full ownership of my department to being constantly micromanaged. It is hard to get motivated when you have someone breathing down you neck all day! Yes, the technical stuff is easy to pick up on, but picking someone who is capable of picking up the technical stuff is a good prerequisite haha!!

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  4. Great points.
    However, when it comes to autonomy vs. micro-management it depends on the people you work with. Some people need you to be hovering the whole time for them to stay motivated.
    My experience shows that taking experience can be taken completely the opposite way. But hopefully that will change and my previous workplace was just toxic.

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    1. Yes, this is absolutely true! I have definitely encountered those that can’t figure out how to motivate themselves, and require their boss to constantly check in. I think this is exhausting for both parties and not ideal, but it definitely does happen. Good luck finding a workplace that is a better fit for you!

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