You’re Not as Good of a Manager as You Think

September 4, 2013

11:00 am

Ask any leader if they think they’re good at managing people. Most will respond “yes” or “I try to be” or “I think so.” No one ever flat-out says no. It could be we’re too afraid to admit what we don’t know. More likely it’s that we really never learned.

Unlike the skills it takes to ship code, create a sales plan, or do a financial valuation, people management isn’t a specific, teachable skill. You can shadow a young developer and correct code errors in real-time. There’s often a clear right and wrong. Managing people – not so much.

Sure, if you’ve been working for a few years and managing people for a few more, you’ve learned some tricks along the way. But how do you know they’re the right ones? And how do you know you’re making an impact?

1. Start really talking to your employees

We’re so focused on launches, planning, and meeting deadlines, it’s sometimes easy to forget we’re working with human beings. No one takes a job at a startup or high-growth company for the hell of it. We all have some sort of personal growth goals. Make a conscious effort to ask your employees about theirs. Even if you don’t have a formal performance process, you’re still responsible for helping them grow and develop no matter how small or busy you are. Make an effort to do it.

2. Ask your team for feedback

If you ask your team casually “how are things?” or “how am I doing?” you’ll get canned responses. Instead, ask them regularly what you can do better as a leader and encourage them as a team to work together to give you some specifics. Sure, you’re swamped, and small, growing companies don’t have time for coddling. But if your behaviors are getting in the way of getting work done, and you’re not making a conscious effort to develop your team, what happens when the company grows? You need talent you’ve developed whom you can trust to pass it on. You don’t grow a company through an “I’m in charge so I can behave how I want” mentality.

3. Set performance goals that aren’t skills-based

As you think about what you want to accomplish as a leader in the coming year, are all your goals performance-based? Probably. They’re about getting things done. Not always about how you get them done. Consider one or two goals based on the how – use your upward feedback (see #2) to determine what those are. For example, it might be that you’ve coached one employee to launch part of a new product he previously knew nothing about. Or that you’ve trained a new salesperson to close deals on her own without your assistance.

4. Ask your employees how you’ve helped them get better 

Putting people on the spot is the best way to see if you’ve made an impact. Ask employees individually to cite a specific example or strength they’ve developed based on your leadership, coaching, or business development. And look for commonalities among the team. Are they all citing the same examples? Are they struggling to give specifics? That’s a sign you have some work to do.

Every day you assume you’re a great leader or don’t care about developing your team is a day lost for the growth of your business. It’s easy to place blame for problems on others. But looking in the mirror could be the true solution.

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Susan Strayer LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo. She helps startup and high-growth companies develop cultures, build employer brands, and create talent strategies to help scale and grow businesses. Follow her @SusanLaMotte.

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