When I started my career, I was fairly self-reliant. As an individual contributor, I was described as a fast learner, hard-working, and capable. Then I was given my first opportunity to manage a team. Like most first-time managers, I found it exciting, challenging, and sometimes frustrating. Though I had some management training, I mostly managed by instinct. I often thought, “How would I want to be managed in this situation?” Having empathy for your team is helpful, but good managers find ways to align their teams’ objectives with their organizations’ objectives.
Once I realized managing is more than doing situationally right things, I began my journey to becoming a good manager. Here are some things I learned along the way, in roughly the order I learned them:
- I learned to trust others to do tasks I knew how to do. Trust is required at all levels of management, but one can’t assume tasks will be done with timeliness and fidelity to the request. Occasionally checking the team’s work and respectfully holding them accountable is essential to building trust. As good as I believed I was at jobs I was now managing, some people were better than I was. That was my first clue that humility is required to be an effective leader.
- When I asked high performers to share their methods so we could all up our game, I learned. people didn’t always want to share secrets that gave them edges over their peers. I needed to expand objectives beyond personal achievement to include collaboration and team achievement. That was difficult for me and for some of the traditionally high performers. Discussing how someone met personal objectives but missed the mark on collaboration and team achievement wasn’t easy at first. But as people began to collaborate and to contribute to the team, they began to trust me.
- I learned people have different motivations and skills. As we shared methods, people still excelled at some things and not others. So, I recognized areas of specialization that allowed people to develop while enjoying their jobs. There were two conditions: 1. Everyone had to be willing to do all parts of their job when asked. 2. Everybody had to continue sharing their expertise. I learned to provide objectives that motivated people to achieve, to remove organizational barriers, and to stay out of the way.
I was eventually given another team to manage — a team doing work I’d never done. I wasn’t able to troubleshoot issues and solve their problems. Then I realized I hadn’t been solving problems for my first team for some time. The team’s expertise had exceeded mine, and I trusted them to deliver. I took the same approach with the second team, facilitating collaboration and recognizing personal and team achievement. I learned to be an effective manager, even without the expertise to do all the jobs required to meet objectives.
As I earned more responsibility, I had to work with my peers to help the organization run effectively. This was a challenge. When I had clear responsibility and authority, I was comfortable managing a group to be successful. But I was less effective at collaborating with my peers. Beyond the organizational imperative that its leaders cooperate, I realized I wasn’t walking my talk. If I recognized the benefit in getting my teams to collaborate, I now had to require the same of myself.
With uncertainty and some fear of being manipulated by my peers, I initiated one-on-one discussions about ways in which we could work more effectively together. I began coordinating group discussions, and my peers responded positively. I was careful not to presume authority. It took some time, but we all began to trust each other. We realized we needed each other to succeed. I learned how to seek and to value multiple perspectives. I tried to get us to avoid groupthink, to listen, and to understand other points of view. I also became willing to share my perspective, even when I knew it may not be popular.
Everything that worked while managing small groups applied while working with peers in the executive suite. We needed to trust each other. We needed to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and we needed to collaborate to be successful. As we addressed challenges, there was less finger pointing and more shared success. I learned leadership is not a title, a budget, or an organization: It’s service to your colleagues.
All this experience is why I am so excited to be working with Mark O’Brien and Ripi Singh at EinSource. They know everything I’ve shared here. We bring our own perspectives, and we respect each other to our shared benefit. When we work together, it’s not just a merger of experience, capability, and capacity — it’s a force multiplier.
If you want something done well, do it yourself. If you want it done better, collaborate with really good people.