The truth is, the only thing that can set you up for success in management is hands-on experience and reflection. No amount of advice, reading or research can inform on how to use your natural abilities and strengths to excel in management. Similarly, you may not become fully aware of your weakness until they’re revealed under pressure.
It’s important to self-analyze and identify areas for personal improvement. I find myself reflecting almost daily on the successes and failures of my interactions with my team and my time management. In order to improve, you have to take action and expose yourself to situations that will strengthen your ‘problem’ areas.
Here are some of the things I have learned to this point and will continue to focus on:
1. Challenging Myself
Seek opportunity to improve your weaknesses. For me, public speaking and directness with regard to expectations, deadlines and quality of work don’t come extremely naturally. I have started to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve realized that feeling uneasy about something means you’ve put yourself in a position to strengthen a weakness and you’re nervous because you care about the outcome. Embrace the awkward until it starts to feel normal.
2. Efficiency in Meetings
Wasted time in meetings is detrimental to productivity and morale. Busy people who care about what they’re doing don’t want to sit around for an hour listening to information that isn’t directly relevant to them. If someone or some group of people aren’t essential or only benefit from a small percentage of a meeting’s agenda, excuse them and fill them in later on an individual/small group basis. If it’s not immediately clear why something is relevant to a particular party, be sure to address it with them upfront. People need to know what their role is and why it’s important that they are attentive. In related advice, I have always feel more productive as part of a smaller group.
3. Taking Breaks
I don’t take pride in saying this, necessarily, but I am wired to work. A lot. I push myself and feel like I’m the best person to do a lot of things that come across my desk. In reality, many of these things probably should be delegated to another team member. It’s no surprise that taking on too much can result in burn out. To combat this, I take breaks. During the day, at night, and of course, on the weekends.
I try to go for a run on my lunch break at least 3 times a week. This is huge for my mental sharpness and clarity. My boss and I sometimes laugh about how many thoughts each of us have during our runs. I don’t fully realize how many breakthroughs I have while exercising until I’m explaining them and I start with “I had this idea on my run today…”
When you’re at home, be at home. I am still working on this. Be with your family, be present and enjoy your time away from work. You’ll find that even when you’re not actively thinking about work, your mind will sort things out. This is crucial. You can always re-focus and get back-on-track at work – sometimes rebounding from a fractured personal or family life isn’t so easy.
Don’t only delegate menial tasks or things you don’t want to do – challenge your team with tasks you think may be difficult. Your teammates (the good ones) will appreciate your trust in them and they will grow from being challenged beyond their normal day-to-day tasks. Although it’s still a bit unnatural to me, I am beginning to find freedom in spreading out the work. Of course, being able to do this while feeling comfortable with the outcome is reliant on having a great team. In this regard, I am fortunate.
5. Being Honest (with yourself and your team)
“Towing the company line” as they say, can be important. There are certainly times when frustration will creep in and you or your team will feel overwhelmed. On some of those occasions it’s important to let your co-workers know that you hear them, but that you need them to grit their teeth and push through.
In other times, though, it’s important to share in their frustrations to remind them that you’re human. I’ve reflected on some conversations I’ve had in the past year and worried I’ve been too candid or revealed too much about how I truly feel. I recently had a conversation with some co-workers who told me they appreciate my honesty and that it makes them feel like we’re fighting the same fight. Don’t be afraid to be honest about how you feel when things aren’t running as smoothly as you’d like.
6. Communicating: Early and Often
A little communication goes a long way. Include more people on important messages or memos than you think are necessary. Sometimes it’s not clear to you how something affects the broader team but it’s very obvious to them (or, they just want to be included). I recently sent out a proof of a quarterly external newsletter to a group I thought only included marketing. It turns out it also went to sales, finance and the rest of the company. I had more feedback from outside of marketing than from within my group. Lesson learned: people care.
7. Gaining Consensus
If you are in management, it’s safe to assume you have the final say on some things, and it’s within your rights to make the final call when appropriate. Still, in other situations you should ask your project team directly if everyone is in agreement on a course of action. If not? Talk it through. Make it clear to collaborators you only care about doing what’s right – not that you yourself are always right. It’s important to be able to revise a previous position – even one you may have stood strongly on just moments before. Yielding to a better suggestion from a co-worker adds more credibility to the times when you do need to take a stand and play your trump card.