After a year in management at the world’s biggest online retailer, I’ve learnt some things the hard way. Here’s 6 life lessons that’ll show you how to be a better manager.
Don’t burn your bridges
You never know who will be your next manager. Too often I have blatantly distanced myself from a colleague – either because they were a tart or just made me want to put my hand in a blender to shut them up – only to find out, a year later, that they were my new boss.
Lesson: Try to remain on good terms with people.
The bad people always push the good ones out.
Everyone knows at work you get some nice colleagues and some absolute mongs. The same goes for managers. When aggressive/biased/unproductive managers come in and begin promoting a negative culture, those who preferred a more positive culture end up jumping ship.
The bad people usually make the good ones want to leave. So, enjoy workplace banter while you can.
Lesson: Promote a nice culture to give people a happier work life.
Learn people’s names
Take an interest in them – ‘how are you’, ‘how was your weekend’, that sort of thing. Take an interest in their problems. It doesn’t take much time or effort, but that colleague might have really needed somebody to ask how their day was (so they could vent etc).
Also, when it comes to asking for favours and getting in people’s good books, it really helps to know their names and a bit about their lives – their family, their car, the name of their pet radiator.
Lesson: Remember, everyone’s favourite subject is ‘I’.
If someone is being uncharacteristically nice, it’s because they’ve done something horrible behind your back.
A management job means slightly more money and “power” over others. That means that, from the outside, it looks like a desirable job. People will want to take your job. And if they can’t earn it themselves the hard way, they will resort to getting there the mean way.
This means you’ll have people trying to catch you and get you in trouble, report you, gossip, and throw you under the bus at any given opportunity. It’s part of the stress of being a leader, and something you have to learn to handle. Generally, doing the right thing and collecting evidence/taking notes to back it up is sufficient. After all, in most situations you’re open to criticism no matter how pro you are.
One of the key signs to look out for is someone who’s not in your good books, not your ally, suddenly being friendly to you. In my experience as a manager and an employee, it means that person has done something sketchy s*** behind your back. They’re being nice either because they feel a tad guilty, or because they’re proud of being so clever about having figured out the meaning of subterfuge.
Lesson: Be careful when someone acts out of character – a leopard never changes its spots.
A good manager doesn’t feel a sense of power; he feels a sense of responsibility
Don’t let the ‘power’ get to your head. People will see, and let’s be honest, you’re only in middle management, not NASA.
Instead, be humble, be noble, and take the brilliant oppoertunity you’ve been given to make people’s work lives as best they can be.
That’s not to say you should let people walk all over you. Still be fair and firm. Striking a balance, that is the real responsibility. Nail that, and you will be a better manager.
You’re used to calling the shots, and that leaks into personal life.
Being a manager doesn’t mean you get to decide what to do. It simply gives you a smidge of freedom to control when you do those tasks. It means you can decide when to call people for meetings, when you want to present to people, what everyone spends their days doing, etc. You’re like the president of your little retail building.
That control over people then becomes the standard you expect at home, too, if you’re not careful. You want people to arrive and leave on your schedule. It’s something to look out for – when you start micromanaging people to organise the fridge, there’s a problem.
Lesson: Choose your battles. Let people make their own decisions in things that really aren’t important to you, to give them a sense of autonomy and appear generous.
I hope these lessons help you decide whether being a leader is for you, and if so, how to be a better manager.
How to Win Friends & Influence People is a great book I recommend. It teaches several principles on how to be a better manager, colleague, and friend.