How to be a good manager if you’ve never had one

- Leadership

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by Jennifer Riggins

Yes, there are some truly awful managers out there. Truth is, many startups I’ve worked with are run by people who wanted to run their own business, but didn’t seem to have any interest in managing a team. And the typical startup owner isn’t the MBA type, so they aren’t even getting the theory like Fortune-500 execs do.

But this article isn’t really about that. It’s about fellow entrepreneurs. What if you’ve never worked for anybody else? Yes, these are few and far between, but this group is growing rapidly, particularly in the millennial generation who came out of university without great job prospects and a desire to create work for themselves.

But now the next trick is these founders have never had a good — or bad for that matter — example of a manager, and as their business grows, they, often quite suddenly, have a team to manage.

A strong aspect in Management 3.0 is to lead by example, but what if you’ve never had examples yourself? We offer you small ways to shine disinfecting sunlight onto your management style and to improve your leadership immediately.

Hire Those with More Experience than you

Don’t be threatened! A true sign of a rotten manager is a bossy control freak who won’t hire the over-qualified for fear of being out-shined. You should actually be proactively looking for the yin to your yang, people who bring diversity of thought and experience and fill holes in your company.

Co-founders of eCommerce hub Bradley and Richard Arkell were basically born entrepreneurs, starting out when they fulfilled the need for chocolate, selling candy bars when their school vending machines were closed. And they’ve been successful and organized from the start, to this day, holding onto the spreadsheet of each candy bar sold. The struggle for them is that, by being cradle-to-grave entrepreneurs, they’ve never actually had to work for anyone else.

“We’ve pretty much worked for ourselves as entrepreneurs since we were ten, so we’ve never really had a true boss that we could have gleaned management skills from. When our company was still pretty young, it wasn’t hard to manage everyone as long as you showed them how much you cared,” Bradley said. This is still a great practice to continue with, but, as  their company is growing fast, their team is outgrowing this technique.
Bradley continued, “As we grow, we are realizing that one of the most important things we can do is hire people with exceptional management skills and experience. There are a lot of great books and online resources for how to manage people effectively, but strategically hiring people with a proven track record of management success has helped the entire team refine their managerial skills – and it’s been an immense help to us in refining our own management skills.”

Aren’t sure of where your team’s holes lie? Try going through an exercise like the Team Competency Matrix both before and after new hires to revisit where you can improve as a growing team. And, of course, ask your team for feedback early and often.

Feedback is a two-way street


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You as a manager should be constantly focused on how to improve how your team communicates and works together, and working on how to help them improve processes and services overall. 360-degree feedback is a great way to do this because it draws direct feedback from various levels of an organization, peers, managers, and even clients and business partners. A manager sitting down one-on-one only once a year for employee performance appraisals is really an utterly absurd activity, particularly for the rapidly changing world of a startup. Yes, having an official annual check-in isn’t bad (though quarterly is better,) but employee feedback should be continual and, whenever possible, written down.

Find a system that works for you and your team to facilitate these feedback sessions, whether it’s in retrospectives at marked stages in a project, client surveys, or simply a Happiness Door. Ask for feedback and work together to find solutions.

But as a manager — whether first-time or super experienced — you need not only to give but receive feedback.

Cliff Gilley, product manager at K2 business apps put the secret to being a good manager in a concise way: “Listen to your people.” And that’s all that really matters. Cliff continued, “If you honestly take the time to listen to what your people are saying, and strive to understand why they’re doing the things they are, you’ll naturally come to build a relationship with them that allows you to direct them through influence rather than power.”
Of course this involves asking for feedback regularly in the form of open-ended questions, like:

  • What did you think of this project?
  • Where do you think you could’ve improved and how can we help you learn that?
  • Where do you think I could’ve done better?

In Cliff’s words, “That is the sign of a good manager — people follow you because they want to, not because they have to.”

How do you fill in the gaps in your management style? Tell us below!

One thought on "How to be a good manager if you’ve never had one"

  • William Harris says:

    I have always believe that someone’s attitude is a direct reflection of their leader – how effective we are as leaders can be seen in those we are leading.

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