Be a Good Manager
Managers rarely solicit feedback from the people they manage, so I’m weighing in with my thoughts
I was intrigued by Jason Fried’s recent post on being a bad manager, so I decided to take the opposite tack. This post is about being a good manager from my point of view, as someone who’s been managed by a variety of people at companies large and small.
There are many reasons why it’s easy to be a bad manager, recognizes Fried, the founder and CEO at Basecamp. He rightly points out that “professional managers don’t start as managers. . . they’ve actually spen[t] most of their lives, and careers, doing something else.” He goes on to explain that “by the time they’ve made manager, they’re beginners again.” So how can a manager become good?
Gaining experience helps, but up to a point. I’ve had terrible managers with years of management experience. Reading management books can give you ideas. But seeking and implementing feedback is what makes good managers good. It’s much like becoming a great baseball or piano player. You can get to a certain level with experience and knowledge, but feedback from coaches and peers helps you get really good.
Managers rarely ask for feedback from the people they manage. Only once has a manager asked me for feedback. In addition to this anomaly, two different managers didn’t ask for feedback directly but they always listened to what I, or my teammates, had to say and acted upon it.
The lack of managerial feedback is odd to me because professionals in other fields ask for feedback from subordinates. For example, at the end of each semester in college I submitted a feedback form about my professors.
Since managers rarely ask for feedback, I’m providing it here. These are my thoughts on how to be a good manager.
1. Find us doing something right. What’s something we’re doing right that you want us to keep doing? Determine what it is and tell us.
2. Change your language. Instead of saying “yeah, but” when we approach you with an idea, try “what if.” This is a subtle change that can have a huge impact. “Yeah, but” emphasizes problems and shuts down new possibilities, whereas “what if” is more inviting and suggests an open mind.
3. Be flexible. It’s not a one-size-fits-all workplace today. Just because you’ve always done something the same way for the past ten years doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it that way for the next ten. Be open to new ideas.
4. Don’t micromanage. It’s not only uncomfortable to have someone constantly breathing down your neck, but also unnecessary and a waste of time for everyone. Unless there’s been an incident that warrants micromanagement, give us physical and mental space to think, create, and work.
5. Communicate. If you have a question or want something done differently, then tell us. At the same time, be available so we can communicate with you. Maybe it’s Wednesday afternoons by Skype or Friday’s in your office. Decide on a time and a means and tell us.
6. Provide feedback. We want to produce good work, so provide feedback on a regular basis. Tell us what’s working and what’s not — and why. Saying “that sales call didn’t go very well” isn’t helpful. Instead, tell us why you think the call went poorly, and what can be done differently next time. Give us something actionable to consider.
7. Invest in us. This can be an investment of money or time. Several years ago I worked for a company that willingly paid for books, journals, courses, and conferences. I enjoy learning and appreciated that the company gave me the tools to do my job, and do it well. As a result, I was a valuable employee because I had a strong knowledge base and kept on the pulse of industry trends. If you’re cash strapped, then invest your time: teach us something and help us improve. Small gestures are noticed and go a long way.
8. Remember where you came from. Fried’s point needs reiterated: “professional managers don’t start as managers. They’re generally promoted to management.” You, too, were once an intern and worked your way up. Be humble and treat people as you want to be treated. Not only will this simple advice serve you well as a manager, but also in life.
Management isn’t a one-way street; it’s a reciprocal relationship, which is why feedback should go both ways. The investment is worth it. Remember, when your employees do well, you also shine.
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