Managing people. Probably one of the most difficult skills you need to learn in order to become an effective leader and let’s be real, if you are a strategist in whatever kind of capacity, you need to know how to rally the troops around you. You need to know how to get everyone on the same page and have them passionate about the direction you need them to go to get the job done.
I’ve managed a variety of characters over my career. The first bunch was my actual “team mates” during honours year. We were divided into syndicates who needed to operate like a business unit. Not my most successful management stint I must admit. I made three BIG mistakes. First (and quite frankly the biggest as it spilled over into all the other problems) I thought I could do things better than everyone else, resulting in me not only doing a LOT more work, but also dis-empowering the team. That resulted in my second mistake, I put a massive amount of pressure on MYSELF when I should have shared the responsibility with my team mates. And the third and last mistake was that I allowed people to get away with laziness. Whether that was due to really being lazy or just a result because of my “management style” back then is a bit unclear, but that was my start.
I got a bit of my own medicine though. I worked for a micro-management queen who checked every single thing I did. I was a good employee if I do say so myself 😉 BUT as there is no such thing as a perfect person, I made some minor mistakes. That resulted in her dis-empowering ME, making me believe I could do NOTHING right. Needless to say, that was not a nice feeling, giving me some compassion for what I put my team mates through at varsity.
Another big lesson: if you treat adults like kids, with “punishment” as the motivation, you will experience a backlash of those you are supposed to manage. How? By doing those same things on purpose just to tick you off because what can you reaaaaaally do to them? Put them in the naughty corner?
You can see that my management strategies weren’t that great back then. Luckily with the years came some pearls of wisdom – four main ones to be exact. Firstly I realised that I needed to be more flexible in my approach and get to know my people. We are ALL different. Our motivations, personalities, strengths and weaknesses… not one of us are exactly the same. How can we then expect to get the best out of people by treating them all the same? Someone might just need an encouraging word, while another needs to be reigned in with some tough love.
The second was to let go and empower others. There is NOTHING worse than a micro-manager (my sincere apologies to anyone who experienced it from me first hand!). However, do not assume that everyone knows their contribution to the bigger picture. If you can inspire your team and rally them around the same goal, showing them how their contribution will benefit the team to achieve the bigger goal, you wouldn’t need to micro-manage everyone constantly. Note that I’m NOT saying leave them alone. Check in, make sure your team knows you’re always available if they need you, BUT, know when to stop yourself from taking over completely.
There is of course exceptions to the rule, with people NOT contributing like they should, no matter what, and that is where my third pearl comes in. Call a spade a spade. If someone is not pulling their weight, have the hard conversation. It sucks to have them, yet sometimes it’s the only thing that will save your team. One bad apple eventually spreads to the whole bunch. So, be honest and open, yet constructive. Always play the ball, NOT the player, as it’s ultimately about the work, not the personality. Hide from it and “leave it to sort itself out” and I guarantee you problems for the rest of your company days.
And last but not least, be human. Remember that people ultimately work for people and not really for companies. People have lives outside of work and sometimes life just happens. I will always be grateful to DDB for being so caring, supportive and humane, allowing me to take days to recuperate without expecting a leave form filled in the moment I get back. My loyalty to them does not lie within the salary they pay me every month, but rather in the respect, understanding and genuine concern they’ve given me when I needed it the most, without expecting anything in return. It didn’t happen over night! I had to prove myself, but the point is: have a people-perspective instead of a company-perspective to those who have proven themselves over and over again.
Told you, strategy is more than just a job…it’s a lifestyle!
(see the “Living strategy” post).