I was a much better manager before I became one. I knew who was doing a great job without recognition and who was taking credit for other people’s work. I knew who should be fired and who deserved a promotion. I didn’t understand how the people in charge of leading the company could be so blind. I promised myself that one day I would become a great manager who governed with the wisdom of King Solomon.
When that magical day came, something unforeseen happened. The view changed. I could still see the great employees, credit thieves, slackers, and unrewarded people. But, I could also see the one year left until retirement, the family members (who knew nepotism was so prevalent?), the team players, and the laws/policies affecting management decisions.
I thought I was ready to be a manager. I’d read all the best books, been mentored by a great leader, and watched what others did. But there is nothing in a book or external view that prepares you for firing a man with seven children to feed because he stole from the company. Or, dealing with a man who is deaf and mute terrorizing the women in his department. Or, keeping a manager under control who knows that he will not be fired regardless of his behavior. Or, the 3:00 AM call from the jail when one of your team members decides that your number is the best for his one call (apparently, he was right because I trekked down to the Atlanta jail before dawn.)
People will surprise you (or maybe they just surprise me.) They will zig when you expect a zag, give when you expect them to take, and fail when you expect them to succeed. Through my trials by fire, I’ve learned a few things. They won’t prepare you for the long list of challenges that you face as a manager. At best, they may give you a little insight to the traits required to succeed. Great managers have:
- A genuine care and appreciation for others. If you care about the people in your life, they will care about what happens to you. Not everyone, of course, but the majority will and they can influence the ones who don’t.
- The ability to listen and hear what’s not being said as loudly as what is being said. People naturally tell their stories in a manner that puts them in the best light. The subject doesn’t matter. There is always an angle. Finding it so you can filter it out is the first step to the right decision.
- Vision to see challenges before they become problems. Much like listening, what you don’t see may be more important than what you see. Regular customers that don’t visit as often; employees that don’t smile as much as they used to; and vendors who are less responsive are signs that something is wrong. Don’t let them go unseen.
- An open mind and willingness to listen to everyone’s ideas. The best ones come from people doing the job every day. They know how everything works and will share their knowledge when asked nicely. Invite people to teach you. It will expand your views.
- The right balance of ego and humility. It takes a strong ego to withstand the criticism that comes with unpopular management decisions. It takes humility to accept that everyone knows something that you don’t.
- Wisdom to know when to manage with your head and when to use your heart. Sometimes they disagree and the one that is the loudest is wrong.
- A sense of humor. Use it freely when looking in the mirror.
What traits would you add?