So you just got promoted and now you are leading a team. First, congratulations! One of the fastest ways to FIRE is to accelerate your income and one of the fastest ways to do that is to move up into the management ranks. As someone who did just that during a corporate career ending up with over seven hundred employees on my teams, I intended to someday share the things I learned and borrowed that seemed to work.
But I did not plan to make this post so early in my fledgling blogging career until something happened a couple of weeks ago that changed my plans. A profoundly meaningful event overtook me by surprise. It had nothing to do with the new year of 2018 or resolutions or goals. Instead it reached back twenty years or more into my past.
A friend was in town, an engineer who had briefly worked for me as an intern at the plant when she was still in college getting her chemical engineering degree. I was in my first management position in those days running a group of eight young engineers and a few paid interns. Since graduation she has worked at a major chemical corporation out of state but she was back in our little town visiting family and friends. She had looked me up just to tell me in person that she was now managing a young group of engineers and interns very much like mine when we worked together.
But what she said next was one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten, something unexpected and wondrous. She said that she loved her job and that her model and her daily goal was to lead her team exactly the way I had led mine. She said that it was so much fun it didn’t seem like work at all to be a part of our team. She said that I was the best boss she had ever worked for and she just wanted me to know. That’s big to me, so affirming!
I hate opening this post this way because I know it sounds like the least humble brag imaginable and that isn’t my point. I’m thrilled to get feedback that I was not a terrible manager, it is the kind of thing that lights us older guys up in a way I could not begin to communicate to a younger version of myself. But the reason for the story is that it spurred me to take some time to ask myself, why was that such a great time in my life and hers? What exactly did I do as a manager to not suck the life out of my people and to not kill their spirits as seems to be all too common then and now?
I think any ideas I can share within this community on leading and managing teams and departments could be useful stuff for young millennials entering into management for the first time. So here is everything I can remember that worked to create a little happy and successful Camelot of a department of incredible young professionals. Very few of these are Steveark originals, I tried to steal from only the very best.
This got kind of lengthy so I’m putting in two parts, here is Part 1.
Treat Everyone as an Equal
Sure you just got promoted to be the boss/leader/manager but why would you think that makes you of any higher value than the newest or least paid employee in the company? It doesn’t, all that promotion means is that the bar just got raised for you and now you need to step up your game to an even higher level than the one that got you promoted in the first place. It is a verifiable fact that everyone on your team knows some things that you don’t know and is better at some parts of the job than you will ever be. Do not ever see yourself as being better than your team, you just have a different job description. It is not just a matter of what you do, you have to believe in your core that your team members are just as valuable and their hopes and dreams and fears matter just as much as yours do. You cannot fake this, if you don’t feel this deep in your heart then you need to find another job.
Hire Talent, You Cannot Teach It
I don’t care if you are Nick Saban (arguably best college football coach ever even if I am an Arkansas fan), you cannot win with a team of “C” class players. Happy productive teams need “A” class talent, not in every position but in most of them. This can be tough because as a new manager you probably did not get to hire your team, they were already there. But over time you may get to have some say in bringing new people in. Realize that picking talented people that can play nicely with others is the most important thing you can do to win in the corporate world. Your future promotions depend far more on the talent of your team than they do on your own talent.
Understand Your Job
As the team leader your job is no longer the job that got you promoted. It is perverse and counter intuitive at first, I know, but your job is to get excellence out of your team and most likely that will limit the amount of work product you get to produce yourself. That can be frustrating because you know you are good, it is why you got put in charge, and now you do not have time to spend on what you were so good at. Frustrating, sure, get over it! Once you learn to focus on building the capability of your team and improving the quality and quantity of their work and their overall enjoyment of the team’s mission and their engagement with the company they will absolutely blow the tiny amount of work you used to be able to produce on your own out of the water. When it is working like it should some days on your commute home you will realize you did not do any work at all. You just helped others get their work done, that is when you know you have got it going on!
Fight for Your People
If you are getting this then you now realize that your success is no longer going to be based on your ability to produce work. It is completely in the hands of your team. That is what management and leadership is, getting sustainable results out of people. To do that you have to have a team that trusts you, loves you and wants to win for you. And to do that you have to be a leader that trusts them, loves them and wants them to win individually and together. So you fight to get them raises much harder than you fight to get one yourself. If you elevate them then your compensation will take care of itself generally. Give them full credit, maybe even too much credit for their work. Don’t you dare put your name on their work and pass it off as yours. If you have to have your name on the report or you have to give the presentation based on their work because of company protocol you make sure you write or speak the full name of the person who did the work and compliment the work they did in front of everyone at the meeting. You want the CEO to know you’ve got a talented team, it is the kind of thing that lights up young talent and makes them happy and it really helps when you are fighting to get them more money if the top dogs know who they are! And if worse comes to worse, which it will at times, fight to keep their jobs in the face of a layoff. Make a case as to why your team needs every member, let them hunt elsewhere for sacrificial lambs. You may not, probably will not win that fight but they are your people. Fight like they matter to you because they should.
Train Your Team
We sent every team member to at least one out of state seminar or class every year. Sometimes they went to several. I heard old guard managers grumble that if you train them that well then someone will want to hire them away. How incredibly ignorant that view is! People do not leave jobs because they have employable skills, they leave their jobs because they fear they are becoming unemployable. If you train them in the latest greatest of whatever it is they do then you give them the confidence that they can get a job anywhere. Paradoxically that makes it much less likely they will even look for another job. And it is not just the information they will learn that builds this confidence but the network they build from interfacing with other companies at these events.
The other thing we did, and I did steal this idea from a mentor, was to wait for the aging giants in our sector to retire from competitors or large engineering companies and then to hire them to come in and teach my young engineers the absolute best practices they had developed over their 40 year careers. I do not know of anyone else that did this but we gained incredible guidelines, principles, practices, procedures and ideas that we never could have come up with on our own. Every sector has a few Einstein’s and they are eventually retired by their companies. They often still feel they have useful knowledge and sometimes they are thrilled to feed young minds. We were careful to stay away from proprietary information and patents. I just wanted to expose my young padawans to Jedi masters and the way they thought. It was big! I am still sharing many of the ideas I was taught by these masters in my consulting side gigs today. And I still cannot fathom why more companies do not do this.
But Wait, There’s More!
Indeed there is and I’ll put it in a post in the very near future! The second and concluding installment of the very few things I may have done right in my early 9 to 5 career. But first I’m headed to Colorado to ski for a week, if I post from there it will probably be about new powder!