Good leadership is an essential for any successful company, but it’s not always easy for junior or first-time managers to adapt to their role. Many times, leaders look back on their career and have a whole host of new insights and knowledge they wish they’d known all along.
"When we started impraise 3 years ago, the focus was on the product. as the company grew and we brought more people on board, we faced the challenges of also becoming first time leaders. Managing people for the first time, whilst challenging, was also rewarding, but it was always helpful hearing from people with more experience, and understanding what helped them progress and become the best leaders possible"
Co-Founder at Impraise, The Real-time, 360-degree Feedback Tool
With recent failures at Uber showing many young leaders were neither trained or equipped for their roles, we wanted to find out just what people wish they’d known when they began on their leadership path. We talked to five top leaders to find out what they wish they’d known when they started their management careers, and collected their most valuable insights...
“In an organization that’s fast moving,with lots of young people...we need to be proactive. We shouldn’t expect people to know how to manage without any training.”
CEO Harry West shares with us the things he’s learnt whilst managing the rapidly growing design company.
Historically, he shares, during the company’s earlier days, when potential future leaders were being trained, there was a lack of knowledge and structure in place concerning the skill sets required and how they can and should be developed. The company now have put in place a management training program to ensure these things are addressed before young leaders are put in charge of teams. In the earlier days, he shares, there was a sense of learning “on the job” once people were already in their first leadership positions; people were expected to pick things up along the way and develop based on learnings from peers and those they were reporting to. Reflecting on these earlier practices, he muses that this less than thought out approach to systematic training was not good enough for such a fast moving, young tech company. At a certain point, the need to be proactive about these practices kicked in and West and his team began reshaping their training process to incorporate a more systematic approach to ensuring training was consistent and young leaders were going into their positions equipped and confident to tackle anything that arises. He thinks back, reflecting that they were expecting people to know things that they would have had no way of doing so. “Quote- find. Something like we were expecting these young people to know things that they would have had no way of knowing without being told”. Bout being more proactive > led to running the programme
Most of the people in leadership positions there were originally hired in entry level positions and have progressed to their management roles. A handful of the people there entered the company at a higher level, but for the most part, particularly that they have the development process in place, people work their way up and are nurtured by the company into becoming great leaders, with all the skills they need.
He also reflects on the differences from leading the team as founder, in its early stages, to where things are now. Looking back to how things used to run, West discusses the way leadership in general was done, reflecting that skill sets should have been more clearly outlined and focused upon. As a company grows, the skills required to make it work successfully change, and this should be reflected in what we see in leaders and their roles. In his early stages as co-founder, he says, the focus was more in leading the company itself; finding funding, launching things and scaling up. As things start to scale, it becomes more about managing an organization and leading the people you have to achieving success for the organization.
“One of the most important elements is the people themselves”
Martin Jellema, Werkspot & Instapro’s Chief Commercial Officer, responsible for a 70+ team, shares the top three lessons he’s learnt since he began managing.
Jellema maintains that, after all his years of managing people, one of the most important elements is the people themselves. Finding and recruiting candidates that fit the company and can handle every aspect of the role remains one of the most important aspects of managing.
Besides this, he maintains, asking for help where needed remains the second most important thing. He now values collaboration over feeling the pressure to perform flawlessly and prove yourself as manager, saying it’s more useful to discuss issues, allowing people to help you come up with solutions you wouldn’t necessarily think of. In Jellema’s experience, both your boss and your team will see you reaching out for help as a strength not a weakness: understanding that something needs to be done or changed and using the resources you have to make that positive change won’t be frowned upon. You have a great team around you for a reason: use their knowledge and skills! He also outlines the importance of keeping focus on ‘high leverage’ activities: rather than taking time on minor activities, delegate, and dedicate the time to things like team training which ups productivity.
“If you have great team members, and you get them energized by a great scoreboard, then you'll be unstoppable.”
Bob Kastner, director of marketing at Meeting Tomorrow shares the one thing he wish he knew as a junior manager: using scoreboards to keep the team engaged, energized and on track.
He says there’s three simple steps behind keeping people engaged and passionate about their work with a scoreboard, and outlines the three essential factors for us that he wishes he’d been told earlier in his career: always keep things simple, constant and motivating.
Kaster reinforces these steps: things should be simple and easy to read at a glance: it should be clear how things are going and people should be able to tell what’s going on by looking at the few, but most important metrics, with the best practice in his experience being to use formatting to really get the essentials across: emphasize the most important metric you have to keep people focused, and only use the ones that are essential to productivity. Kaster’s next must-do for these metrics is keep things constant: update the board as often as possible; keep that information relevant and updated in real-time, and have it on constant display somewhere everyone can access it: it keeps things in the forefronts of people’s minds, and makes it easier to keep things relevant and frequently discussed: since the metrics you’re displaying are useful, when visible, they can and should be discussed regularly in team meetings or daily stand ups. The main purpose of the scoreboard, however, is to keep your team motivated: depending on the size of your team and how you prefer to do things, there are a number of ways to ensure this happens. You know your team best, so you can decide whether to create a competitive friendly vibe, seeing who tops the scoreboard in any particular week for example, or by creating a more collective vibe: how close is everyone as a team to hitting collective goals? Kaster has learnt to put this focus on striving for ‘best’ results, for example rather than encouraging people to aim for beating their, or other historical averages, he encourages people to think about creating new ‘bests’, always ensuring most importantly, to celebrate these successes as a team when they occur!
“Trust holds everything together. Trust demands daily care and feeding. Trust takes huge amounts of time to accumulate, but can be lost in a split second. As a manager, you are the trust broker in the organization. Your success depends on the preservation and enhancement of trust.”
We spoke to Brett Remington, of the Wisconsin Centre for Performance Excellence, which helps companies deliver practical sessions to aid performance, and he outlined the things he’s learnt throughout his management career, or, as he calls them, his experience based ‘truths of management’.
The first thing Remington shared with us was the importance of trust and fostering that all important, good and trusting relationship with the people around you. The next thing he’s learnt in how he views managerial roles, he shares, is that he sees managers as administrative functions. “If you’re going into management because you want to change the face of what’s possible in your organization, you are applying for the wrong job.” The second, he goes on to say, is it’s essential to have a curiosity about the processes used by your team, rather than necessarily about the people themselves: you could have a great team working with you, but, if the processes being followed are poor or ineffective, they’re going to be disengaged and ultimately unsuccessful. Remington reinforces that he’s learnt the best managers worry about processes first, whilst also needing an essential understanding of your customer and their requirements.
Remington also sets a lot of store by keeping metrics simple and useful: focus on 3-5 key performance metrics are the way forward, he maintains. He’s learnt that attempting to stay on top of more than 5 measures of performance at once makes for actually accomplishing less, whilst having focus on fewer than 3 at any time means you’ll likely miss opportunities for continuous improvement and innovation.
His next learning? Humility and the need to embrace change.
"You are only about 2/3rds as good at your job as you think you are. The 1/3rd you don’t know about, don’t believe, or don’t pay attention to is going to determine how long you’ve got left in this job. Find ways of eliminating blind spots and practice humility. Eventually, you may find that your role as manager is vastly different than when you started. People, processes, policies, and potential changes. Knowing when the accumulated changes no longer fit with your skills, aspirations, or interests is important. When that time comes, be ready to change out of your manager role and reflect fondly on what you have accomplished as you pursue a better future for yourself.”
"Most importantly learning how to react and behave when you are out of your comfort zone will better prepare you for being out of it.”
Barry Curry, Technical Director at Systeme, also brings back the key point of positive feedback, recognition, and acknowledging your team for their accomplishments: it’s always key to ensure people know they’re valued.
He shared his biggest learnings with us, beginning with the importance of keeping sight of the big picture. It can be easy to get drawn into the small details: stay focused on key details, and don’t take things personally. If things become heated during stressful projects or periods, it’s okay to let people vent. Acknowledge people’s perspectives, never make responses personal and keep things respectful, with co-workers and clients alike.
He also suggests using goals to ensure what you’re doing has direction. This ensures that problem solving for others doesn’t totally overtake your other responsibilities. Another learning is resist the temptation to always check your emails first thing: first complete one of the daily tasks you’ve set yourself, without distraction or prioritising other’s needs.
Curry also says that although sometimes sharing problems is difficult, having thought about solutions before sharing the problem will show you’ve thought things through and instill confidence in you. Similarly, having a process in place for when unplanned or unexpected things arise is key: have a consistent process in place to help you deal with things more efficiently.