Good leadership is an essential for any successful company, but it’s not always easy for junior or first-time managers to adapt to their role. Many times, leaders look back on their career and have a whole host of new insights and knowledge they wish they’d known all along.
When we started Impraise 3 years ago, the focus was on the product. As the company grew and we brought more people on board, we faced the challenges of also becoming first time leaders. Managing people for the first time, whilst challenging, was also rewarding, but it was always helpful hearing from people with more experience, and understanding what helped them progress and become the best leaders possible.
With recent failures at Uber showing many young leaders were neither trained or equipped for their roles, we wanted to find out just what people wish they’d known when they began on their leadership path. We talked to five top leaders to find out what they wish they’d known when they started their management careers, and collected their most valuable insights…
“In an organization that’s fast moving, with lots of young people… we need to be proactive. We shouldn’t expect people to know how to manage without any training.”
CEO Harry West shares with us the things he’s learnt whilst managing the rapidly growing design company.
Historically, he shares, during the company’s earlier days, when potential future leaders were trained, there was a lack of knowledge and structure in place concerning the skills required and how they should be developed. The company now have in place a management training program to ensure these things are addressed before young leaders are put in charge of teams. Reflecting on earlier practices, he muses that this less than thought out approach to systematic training was not good enough for such a fast moving, young tech company. West soon learnt that this wasn’t working, and began reshaping their training process to be more systematic, now ensuring young leaders go into their positions equipped and confident.
“One of the most important elements is the people themselves.”
Martin Jellema, Werkspot & Instapro’s Chief Commercial Officer, responsible for a 70+ team, shares the top three lessons he’s learnt since he began managing.
Jellema maintains that, after all his years of managing people, one of the most important elements is the people themselves. Finding and recruiting candidates that fit the company and can handle every aspect of the role remains one of the most important aspects of managing.
Besides this, he maintains, asking for help where needed remains the second most important thing. He now values collaboration over feeling the pressure to perform flawlessly and prove yourself as manager, saying it’s more useful to discuss issues, allowing people to help you come up with solutions you wouldn’t necessarily think of. In Jellema’s experience, both your boss and your team will see you reaching out for help as a strength not a weakness: understanding that something needs to be done or changed and using the resources you have to make that positive change won’t be frowned upon. You have a great team around you for a reason: use their knowledge and skills! He also outlines the importance of keeping focus on ‘high leverage’ activities: rather than taking time on minor activities, delegate, and dedicate the time to things like team training which ups productivity.
“If you have great team members, and you get them energized by a great scoreboard, then you’ll be unstoppable.”
Bob Kastner, Director of Marketing at Meeting Tomorrow shares the one thing he wishes he knew as a junior manager: how useful scoreboards are when it comes to keeping the team engaged, energized and on track.
Kaster says things should be easy to read at a glance. People should be able to tell what’s going on by looking at a few, important metrics: only use the ones that are essential to productivity. Kaster’s next must-do for these metrics is keep things constant: update the board as often as possible; keep information relevant and updated in real-time, and have it on display, keeping things in the forefronts of people’s minds, and discussing them regularly in team meetings or daily stand ups.
You can decide whether to create a competitive friendly vibe, seeing who tops the scoreboard, or create a collective vibe: how close is the team to hitting goals? Kaster has learnt to put this focus on striving for more motivating ‘best’ results rather than encouraging people to beat averages, always ensuring most importantly, to celebrate these successes as a team when they occur!
“Trust holds everything together. It takes huge amounts of time to accumulate… As a manager, your success depends on the preservation and enhancement of trust.”
We spoke to Brett Remington, of the Wisconsin Centre for Performance Excellence, and he outlined the things he’s learnt: his experience based ‘truths of management’.
Remington’s first learning was the importance of trust and fostering good relationships with those around you. He shares he’s also learnt to see managers as administrative functions, believing that “if you’re going into management because you want to change the face of what’s possible in your organization, you are applying for the wrong job.” The second, he says, is it’s essential to have a curiosity about the processes your team use: you could have a great team, but, if the processes being followed are ineffective, they’re going to be disengaged and unsuccessful.
He also sets a lot of store by keeping metrics simple and useful, and learnt to focus on 3-5 key performance metrics. He says attempting to stay on top of more than 5 performance measures at once makes for accomplishing less, whilst having focus on fewer than 3 at any time means you’ll likely miss opportunities for continuous improvement and innovation.
His next learning? Humility and the need to embrace change.
“You are only about 2/3rds as good at your job as you think. The 1/3rd you don’t know about, don’t believe, or don’t pay attention to is going to determine how long you’ve got left in this job. Find ways of eliminating blind spots and practice humility. Eventually, you may find that your role as manager is vastly different than when you started. People, processes, policies, and potential change. Know when the accumulated changes no longer fit with your skills, aspirations, or interests. When that time comes, be ready to change out of your manager role and reflect on what you have accomplished as you pursue a better future for yourself.”
“Most importantly learning how to react and behave when you are out of your comfort zone will better prepare you for being out of it.”
Barry Curry, Technical Director at Systeme, also brings back the key point of positive feedback, recognition, and acknowledging your team for their accomplishments: it’s always key to ensure people know they’re valued.
He shared his biggest learnings with us, beginning with the importance of keeping sight of the big picture. It can be easy to get drawn into the small details: stay focused on key details, and don’t take things personally. If things become heated during stressful projects or periods, it’s okay to let people vent. Acknowledge people’s perspectives, never make responses personal and keep things respectful, with co-workers and clients alike.
He also suggests using goals to ensure what you’re doing has direction. This ensures that problem solving for others doesn’t totally overtake your other responsibilities. Another learning is resist the temptation to always check your emails first thing: first complete one of the daily tasks you’ve set yourself, without distraction or prioritising other’s needs.
He also says that although sometimes sharing problems is difficult, having thought about solutions before sharing the problem will show you’ve thought things through and instill confidence in you. Similarly, having a process in place for when unplanned or unexpected things arise is key: have a consistent process in place to help you deal with things more efficiently.