Five years ago, I welcomed my first direct report. It was an intern, I was set to manage them for the summer. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing and it was likely an utter failure. Even being at a big company, with fairly robust training, I wasn’t clear how to approach the situation in any way, shape, or form.
Fast forward five years later, I’ve been lucky enough to lead a couple of teams, a number of people, and have dealt with all the good (and bad) that comes with it. Wins, losses, hiring, firing, quitting, and navigating a number of awkward / intense situations (visa issues, team chemistry hiccups, operational tendencies, etc.).
I’m still early in this game, and by no means have it figured out, but leading people is one of those things where you never really understand the complexity of it until you go through it yourself. I recently took a step back and wrote down what I’ve learned. Here are 4 big learnings:
Be extremely upfront with expectations
- This is a mistake I made more than once than once throughout the past few years. Being up front with expectations is one of the biggest keys to success or failure. This could be about about work/life, deadlines, autonomy, etc… set the expectations and give them the trust to run.
Be a coach, not a manager
- A manager is telling people what to do, a coach is helping them figure it out and get better. Give them the tools and insight to become their own leader. The more they lead, the more it lifts all tides. It’s not about dictating, it’s about shaping, which is what a lot of leaders forget, especially in corporate organizations.
Be thoughtfully transparent
- I’ve skewed too transparent and not transparent enough over the years. Being too transparent too quick can create unrest. Being not transparent enough can create other issues. Transparency is one of the more tricky aspects of managing to navigate. I say the more transparency the better, but I now temper that with, “how will this impact my team?” before I share it. This will help you decide or shape the communication.
Understand what they care about, support them in all ways
- Do they want a title change? Do they want more compensation? Do they want more vacation? Do they want to build their skill set? Within any career, there are a few buckets that people care about – compensation, work/life balance, opportunity, team culture, company prestige, and probably one or two more. People always, in all ways, weigh one or two more than the others. Figure out what those are, go to bat for them on it consistently.
For all young leaders / managers, the first few years of leading teams can be super tricky. Focusing on a 2-5 things to support / lead your team can setup a long run as a successful group.