I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading experts on the topics of management and leadership development. I had the good fortune to share cookies and exchange a few words with the legendary Ken Blanchard about developing new managers; chat with EQ authority and LinkedIn innovator Travis Bradberry about the importance of self-awareness to being an effective manager; pick the brain of the great Harry Paul during a cab ride from Redmond to Seattle and discuss why fun has to be part of the equation for teams to succeed. I even had the benefit of spending a week with Yale’s finest professors to talk about the importance of accountability, collaboration, and the other components of ATD's ACCEL model.
It’s fair to say that these encounters gave me quite the edge as I began my journey into finding my own management style; I learned a ton from these masters of management and leadership. However, it occurred to me that much of the learning I needed would come from experiences—ones that aren’t mentioned in the business books.
Experience and learn, I did. Here are five things I’ve learned over the last few years that up-and-coming managers should know:
- You will be placed under a microscope. Your team's morale is very much determined by your attitude and demeanor. Any slight twitch, change in tone, or awkward smile can and will affect the morale of your team. Your actions quite literally speak volumes, so it’s super important to be mindful of how you carry yourself. It’s up to you what you want to display; but know that what you do and how you do it will influence your employees and how they interact with you.
- Showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. In his last scene as the character Q in the James Bond series, Desmond Llwelyn shares a piece of advice with James Bond. He says, “Never let them see you bleed”—never show a sign of weakness. As much as I love the James Bond series, I’m also aware that there are not many correlations between being a British super agent and being a manager. But my point here is that vulnerability, in our culture, has been mythicized as weakness. Although this may be true in some instances, the thing that is often understated is that vulnerability also indicates compassion and that one cares. I could be completely wrong about this, but I very much prefer a boss who isn’t afraid to show concern or worry. Wouldn’t you agree?
- You will fail several times before you figure it out. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the movie Batman Begins, as Bruce Wayne and his trusted confidant, Alfred, fall hundreds of feet down an old shaft and watch everything that they own go up in flames. Bruce turns to Alfred with a face of pure defeat and asks, “What have I done, Alfred?” Without missing a beat, Alfred looks at him and says, "Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up again." A manager's management style is perfected through trial and error. You won't get it right the first time, nor the second, nor the third. And in some cases, it may all go up in flames (hopefully not literally). However, your ability to learn from the previous iterations and make the adjustments toward improving is what sets the good managers from the mediocre ones (and the really sucky ones). Fail forward, as they say. But when you do, admit it, and tell your people what you're going to learn from it. What would’ve happened to Gotham if Bruce Wayne decided to just give it up?
- You never really figure it out; and once you do, it changes again. I know this one seems like a cop-out, but it's true. In their book Minds at Work, my friends David Grebow and Stephen Gill talk about the importance of adapting your management and leadership style to match the changing of the times. As a result of our access to information and technology, people within our workforce are smarter, faster, and more innovative than they once were. And whether we like it or not, change will remain the only constant within the foreseeable future. Don't get too comfortable with any one style. Managers who learn the skill of adaptability are the ones to whom companies will look to take over the reins one day.
- Not everyone will be good at it; and if you’re not, know when to call it quits. You’ve seen it happen: Organizations promote people who are really good at being individual contributors into management and leadership roles without first determining whether they have the aptitude to do it—or even if they really want to do it. Unfortunately, this has become a norm within our workplace culture; and it means that many managers out there never really wanted to become managers. In short, some will fail; but many will succeed. However, if you are failing, and you’ve tried to do everything in your power to figure it out but still haven’t, I implore you to consider that this might not be what you were meant to do. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. Do you know what Q’s second piece of advice to James Bond was?
“Always have an escape plan.”
If you want to figure out how to make it work, check out ATD’s resources for management development.
Our ATD ACCEL model focuses on helping managers become effective developers of talent. Find your inner Q (or Alfred).
This article was orginally posted on LinkedIn