Lessons I Learned the Hard Way About Being A Manager

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Nov 24, 2016

Note: This is the fifth and last in a series of interviews with industry leaders on the subject of managing the modern workforce. The interviews were conducted by Rob Cahill, CEO of the management-training and education firm Jhana. Find week 1 here; week 2 here; week 3 here; week 4 here.

When I became a manager for the first time, I was fully unprepared for how challenging and, surprisingly, how lonely my new role would be. I remember feeling like all eyes were on me, waiting to see if I would sink or swim. I wanted desperately to prove I had the chops for the job, and every mistake seemed like a fireable offense in my head. At the same time, former peers treated me with newfound coolness just when I most needed encouragement and support.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate how common this experience is for new managers. But over the past few months, I’ve spoken with many experienced executives, and nearly all of them felt the same way.

TLNT has already posted the insights from four of those interviews. I thought I’d share a few of my own lessons for the fifth — specifically, the things I wish I could hop in a time machine to help my younger self feel a little more in control and a little bit less alone.

1. The job will likely be harder, more stressful and more rewarding than you expect. When it comes to management, the first step is acknowledging that you can’t know or prepare for everything. Some things will be messy, even when you see them coming. There will be wins that make you want to cheer for your team. There will be train wrecks that make you want to hide under your desk.

And while you may not always believe it at the time, you will get through it. So will your team. And if you’re able to learn from your mistakes, you’ll bounce back even stronger.

2. It’s an intentional practice, like yoga. Management, like yoga, is a gradual process that can only be mastered through intentional repetition and practice. (Actually, I’m not sure you can ever completely master the art of being a great manager, but I’m willing to try!)

Also like yoga, you’ll learn best if you surround yourself with other people who are practicing, too. I can’t emphasize this enough. Seek out fellow managers, and talk about what’s working and where you’re stuck. You’ll all help each other learn faster. I can’t promise that it gets any easier, but you will get better at dealing with the challenges of being a manager.

3. You need to both treat people well and do right for your organization. New managers often tend to overshoot on one side, either coddling their direct reports or pushing them too hard. I’ve also seen many new managers avoid dealing with underperformers because they’re afraid of hurting the individual in question. Even with the best of intentions, these mistakes wind up harming both your team and your company.

Instead, it’s important to find a balance between doing right by individuals and prioritizing what your company needs. Be willing to push back on your leadership if their demands are hurting your team. On the flip side, don’t be a pushover if your team lags behind without good reason. And whatever you do, don’t put off difficult conversations!

In a nutshell, my management philosophy is actually pretty simple: Practice daily, seek help and support from fellow managers, and — above all else — don’t put off those difficult conversations! And when those hide-under-the desk moments come, take a few deep breaths and give it another go. As one of my colleagues likes to say, “Here’s to making better mistakes next time.”