While the first few years of your career tend to be defined by the constant struggle for more; more money, more ownership, more freedom and more responsibility. A moment suddenly comes around where you land a very serious responsibility. The responsibility to help shape someone else’s career. 

While I’m sure many of us would love to consider that a privilege and relish the challenge, more often than not if becomes another a chore. Something we have to do and put time into alongside our full time jobs. 

As you continue to climb the ladder, you get more and more of these responsibilities (also known as direct reports). It gradually becomes the case in a broad range of professions, that managing people is your primary job, above all of the “doing” bits that you originally signed up for. 

Most of us, once we get to that stage, have had a range of different managers ourselves. Some good, some sufficient and some who we swore to be nothing like. Unfortunately though, not all of us get great ones to learn from and so, you can be left trying to figure out how to do the job properly from the bits you felt you were missing.

Worse than that, and the fear that motivates me to write this, is that, having never seen how powerful and wonderful it can be to be a great manager, many people end up doing the bare minimum. Focusing on who’s above them until review time when they suddenly remember their Direct Reports give feedback too. 

“Let’s all go for a drink team!” – The otherwise-always-too-busy Manager, during review time

Not cool. I don’t trust anyone who believes, in this day and age you can be a success with no people management skills. 

I also don’t believe the best managers work the hardest. If you build the right team and make conscious effort in the right places, your team will be much more efficient and swallow the lion share of your workload. 

So: conscious effort upfront = more engaged team = less work for you

It’s a no brainer.

But what does it actually take to be a good one?

Well, firstly the intention to be a good one. Sorry to start with the obvious, but being a good manager is not primarily about your ambitions for yourself. It is about valuing the growth and success of those in your care. Recognising how much of an impact a career can have on someone’s life and having the desire to have been a positive part of that. 

If you ever see documentaries, or read the memoirs, of very successful people they usually have one or two individuals they credit their drive or self-belief to. Often that’s parents or teachers but sometimes it’s a mentor or boss. That could be you! If you weren’t so encouraging, however, you may be sat in a pub one day with a glaring reminder, a-la Mr Wetherspoon

As with anything to succeed, the intention to be a good manager can’t just be something you kind of, in theory, want to be. It needs to be a part of your priority list. Something you take seriously and take pride in; just as being a good friend, or a good partner. 

Which brings me to principle number one: 

Time

The first thing you need to give is your time. A friend of mine has been trying to put 30minutes in with her manager for 3months, to have it moved or ignored every time. As a manager, if you need to move a meeting with someone you look after, it is your responsibility to find another alternative slot. Having a one-on-one slot monthly is a good guide. While a month can fly by when you’re busy, if you’re distressed about something, a day can feel long. The more frequent you have these, the less sizeable issues you’re likely to run into. It’s also a sign of consideration that you will find that time for someone.

 

Understanding the Individual

Ray Dalio is the Chairman of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. He is known for having very specific principles around employee management. As part of the recruitment process, Dalio has potential employees take a Myers-Briggs style personality test, knowing that different personality types thrive in different roles. 

Personality assessments are valuable tools for getting a quick picture of what people are like in terms of their abilities, preferences, and style. They are often more objective and reliable than interviews.” – Ray Dalio

Not all roles in your care will be done best by someone similar to you, so it’s important to create space in your team for different characters. The more we can try and take our personal biases out of management guidance, the more effective we’re able to be. 

 

Fighting for Them

Showing your junior team members that you’re prepared to stand up for them in conversations with your superiors will go a long way in winning their trust. I had managers in the past who would say things like, “I agree, you should be on the level above but I can’t do anything about it right now”. As an individual in that conversation, you don’t hear can’t, you hear either won’t or has no power, and neither is a good look for a manager. 

In the same way, as a manager you are ultimately responsible for any team cock-ups. A great manager is always prepared to take some responsibility for their team’s errors and offer up praise when they do something successfully. 

 

Looking Ahead 

As a senior, you’ve generally got more experience under your belt and therefore have the benefit of often being able to look further ahead, when it comes to your employees careers. You should work to guide them on what will be more important and powerful long term decisions. Not just what will be best right now, but what will be best five years from now. While ultimately an individual’s career is theirs to make, you can use your experience to guide and offer suggestions which may be more likely to get them where they want to go long term. 

And finally, one conclusion on management I heard a very successful founder arrive at…

“Maybe it’s about really listening.” 

Something that is as true of management as it is success in most things.