Being a manager is hard, which is why there are approximately 12,000 books out there on how to do it better. There’s also no one-size-fits-all approach. My unique struggles as a manager aren’t necessarily the same as yours, but it’s always helpful to share tips and techniques. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a manager (don’t worry, there is more than one but you know what I mean), it’s that you never stop learning how to be a manager.
1. Communication is everything. Tell people what you expect of them. Don’t mince words. As an introvert, my natural inclination is to keep to myself. I fight that inclination every day; it leads to confusion. You can’t read my mind, and I can’t read yours. (A note: If you make a mistake or are having trouble, don’t hide it from your manager. I’d rather hear it from you than someone else. Then we can figure it out together.)
So if you’re shy, take a deep breath and just reach out. Tell your boss, or your direct report, that you need a regular check-in. Put it on the calendar. That way, it’s just another task that both of you are prepared for, and you don’t have to fight for their attention on a regular basis. Also, it’s less scary the more you do it, promise.
2. If someone isn’t doing their job, let them know. Give them an opportunity (and direction) to do better. This goes back to point numero uno — they should know what their job is, what is expected of them and what success looks like. And if it isn’t working out? Don’t drag your feet on firing someone, especially if they are affecting the moral of the team. But talk to them beforehand, and as I said above, give them a real opportunity to turn the ship around. Severing ties should never come as a surprise.
3. You’re not friends. You can be friendly, sure. But being close friends with people as a manager can make it really hard to give honest, fair feedback. Always stay professional. This goes both ways. When you are asking for a raise, don’t leverage our personal connection — “I broke up with my boyfriend, and now I am living on my own and it’s expensive,” etc. You don’t need to bring your personal life into negotiations; your work speaks for itself! Brag about the work, and what you are bringing to the table.
4. Demand time. Back to point number one! So often, women ask me for my time in an almost embarrassed way. I have also been that woman with my bosses. “I know I am doing a good job,” I think to myself, “and fulfilling my obligations at work, so it’s okay that my boss isn’t scheduling time with me for performance reviews. It’s okay that we rarely have one-on-one chats.”
It’s actually not okay. Because a big part of being a manager is negotiating on behalf of your reports to your own superiors. When you skip out on that face time, you might be doing a disservice to more than just yourself. And, in my experience, you know who wasn’t worried about demanding face time? All the other men in my position.
5. Be human. (But not too human). As Phil said in our Facebook Live show last week, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Check in with people simply for the purpose of checking in. Make sure they actually take their vacation days. But this can go too far; as a manager, you don’t want to find yourself making excuses for someone. Back to point number three: You work together, but you aren’t friends.
6. Try to learn your weaknesses and your biases. (We should all do this? As humans?) At the very least, be aware that you come pre-programmed with bias. Do your best to educate yourself to hopefully counteract this. There’s nothing more awkward (and in my experience, less productive) than pointing out your boss’s sexism or racism or what have you. UGH. Don’t make your direct reports do this work for you.
Finally, remember that you never stop learning how to be a manager. No one knows all! You will make mistakes, and hopefully you’ll learn from them. Try to lead by example, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Find a mentor who can advise you. Learn from your bad managers, I know there are plenty of those out there. Read books about management. One of my favorite (“favorite”) things to do is to read testimonials from employees online to get a sense of what people really, truly hate, so I can…not do those things. This can be eye-opening.
Illustration by Emily Zirimis.