When I first became a manager almost two decades years ago (there I go dating myself), I probably wasn’t quite ready for it. But then again, it’s like what they say about having a baby — you’re never quite ready until you actually do it. As I’ve learned since, managing other people (both those who report to you, and those you report to) isn’t so much the art of orchestrating plans as much as being able to guide teams through plans gone off course. To do it, most successfully, I have learned quite a few things — and I am still learning. But, these six things are what I find the most important to keep front and center:
1. Embrace change.
As a leader, your daily challenge should be to drive change, not avoid it. Technology, design trends, innovation can turn multi-billion dollar industries upside down overnight, and if you’re complacent and too set in your ways, you won’t see it coming. A big part of “seeing around corners” is being proactive about change when things are working well — before problems actually arise — and then you’re primed to adapt and hit the ground running.
2. Be decisive.
A reality for any leader is that many people need decisions from you, and if you can’t make them quickly your organization is going to suffer. Get high-level summaries, weigh the options and then make the call.
Don’t agonize, over analyze or second-guess yourself. Many times, no decision is worse than a wrong decision because inaction paralyzes staff, prevents progress and destroys morale.
3. You must like dealing with people to be a great leader.
People skills are the very attributes and competencies that allow one to play well with others. Having the ability to relate to others and their position or viewpoint is crucial. Sometimes being able to relate to others simply means that you’re willing to agree to disagree with mutual respect. The type of people who become great managers genuinely like working with people. They see problems of motivation, personal roadblocks, or unclear alignment as challenging, but fulfilling to tackle.
4. Having all the answers is not the goal. Motivating the team to find the answers..now, THAT is the goal.
Having all the answers is a leaders or managers job, right? Wrong! Thinking that way means you don’t question yours or their decisions enough. Sure, questioning decisions of others may often lead to some passive-aggressive resentment. But, if something feels off on the team, bring it up as a problem they should go solve, or come with your own recommendations towards a solution.
That kind of thinking is exactly the kind of thing that contributes to perfection-oriented culture, where people are afraid to admit weaknesses or failures, and we all pretend to wade on the surface while we’re really dog-paddling furiously underneath.
5. Never stop learning.
There are always new skills to learn and techniques for us to adopt. When you look at the most successful people in the world, they understand this. I regularly listen to podcasts on topics from technology, females in business and innovation to pop culture, movies, music, art and even wedding planning (yes, I am getting married in October). I read/listen to books and online media about subjects I don’t necessarily have any experience in, or that may even seem unlikely for me to have an interest in – like American history, crypto currency, finance, women geeking out, Chinese ancient art, cartography, psychological thriller mysteries, sports hero biographies and even cook books. When you constantly learn you’re able to be a better teammate, stay humble, be happier, and remain irreplaceable to your team.
6. Be authentic.
As time goes on, some leaders develop an artificial public persona which they believe is more “leader-like.”
Leaders can be introverts, extroverts, funny or serious, but to truly win respect you have to be authentic. Never waste time trying to be someone that you’re not, because it’s a recipe for failure.