Five Management Lessons I Learned Through Trial and Error

Five Management Lessons I Learned Through Trial and ErrorBeing a manager is not something I particularly enjoyed. That’s not to say I wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to work in an environment where I had the responsibilities of being in management, but I don’t think anyone with their head on correctly actually wakes up looking forward to telling employees what they are and aren’t doing correctly. This is especially true if you happen to be the messenger that delivers this feedback from the business owner (not a situation I’m in today, but one I have some experience with).

Of all the lessons I’ve learned working in environments ranging from small businesses to local government and even enterprises, there are five basic principles on which I’ve formed my own personal management philosophy around.

Some of these tips come not from working in management, but from being managed by someone else and recognizing what exactly did and didn’t make them a good manager.

People Hate Being Told What They’re Doing Wrong

If you’ve ever thought about snapping at your manager, or been snapped at by someone you’ve managed, there’s a good chance it happened while someone involved in the conversation was being told what they were doing wrong. Frankly, you have to be told what you’re doing wrong in order to improve upon it, but approach is far more important than anything else.

“Let’s try this” is one of my favorite phrases to use when attempting to explain where something went wrong. I used this phrase constantly in a call center environment where I had to coach representatives with escalated calls. My advice was usually ignored, but the reps never bit back at me. Likewise, I’ve never felt the urge to strangle a manager that used a phrase similar to this one with me.

Telling someone they can improve is more about instilling confidence and less about pointing out the errors. “This is great, but do you think this might work better?” is far more effective than “This isn’t good enough.”

You’re Not the Expert — They Are

Once you take on a management role, you’re responsible for the success or failure of your team. It is your team’s job to fulfill their end of the bargain and deliver results based on the instruction given. If you ask a team of designers to come up with an interface that works for the average person and immediately take over the process with your own thoughts and vision, you’re not a manager but a director.

There’s a good chance, at least in larger companies, that you are in a management position because you’ve expressed some leadership ability that the company feels will help guide employees, increase productivity, and drive innovation. All those buzzwords combined will never happen if you attempt to run the show yourself.

Managers are managers. Experts are experts. Managers of experts are usually not experts.

Don’t Try to Manage. Try to Facilitate Success

Trying to be a more effective manager can lead to more problems than solutions. Let’s be honest here, your employees were hired because someone somewhere felt that they were capable of doing the job. It’s your role as a manager not to keep them in line like prisoners in a chain gang, but to make it possible for them to exceed the goals set before them.

One of my favorite managers of all time treated their employees like equals, but still had the respect of the team because they went out of their way to facilitate the team’s success rather than crack a whip to force it. Not everyone can be managed this way, but if you have the right team, this is exactly what a good manager should do.

Instead of asking how to get employees to work harder or be more productive, ask yourself how you can make it easier for them to get more done. You might find the answers are very different between the two questions, and one will earn you quite a bit more respect from the staff.

Bottom line: people work better when they WANT to work harder for their boss.

Micromanagement Leads to Poor Results

Some of the most creative people I’ve ever met have done very little with their career because of micromanagement. As stated before, if you take a creative position and treat it like an assembly line position, you’re misusing your employee. You have to give them the ability to be experts in their own field.

Software developers are often cocky, self-righteous people who believe that they are the answer to everything and anything the company they work for needs. In some cases, this could be more true than it sounds. An over-managed software developer may skip over a potentially profitable idea for the company in order to achieve goals set by an overpowering manager.

Talented designers with work on their portfolio that would make most people’s jaw drop are often shackled with preconceived notions of productivity based on previous success measurements. If five more minutes spent on a project adds that little something that turns it into a smashing success, wouldn’t you want to be the person that facilitated the designer’s ideas and allowed them to give it a try?

Call centers are havens for micromanagement and reps that would otherwise be honest and productive may be heavily tempted to break or bend the rules when the rules imposed are being enforced in a manner that may be perceived as micromanaging. Probably one of my most memorable examples comes from average call time, a measurement used to gauge the efficiency of a call center representative. If the number is set too low, or the rep feels as though the number is making their work harder, you might notice that rep rushing customers off the phone or spending more time in ACW (After Call Work) mode after the call, which leads to less overall productivity.

Read, but Don’t Call out Perceived Tension

Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned through working with managers is that it’s easy to mistake tension for anger, and acting on a perceived hint of rebellion without confirming the assumption first can lead to reduced productivity or even human resource issues.

Remember that your employees may not be mad at you, but at the situation or even things happening outside the workplace. Everyone has a life to live, and work is rarely at the forefront of their mind during a typical work day.

I used to come to work thinking about financial troubles, issues with my wife, sick family members, and a number of other problems that cropped up from time to time. If a manager approached me and gave me feedback or reprimanded me, it would be very difficult not to let some of this frustration show. Calling someone on it could escalate the situation and result in a number of unfortunate circumstances such as perceived bullying on your part or even an immediate resignation from the employee.

Learn to read people’s emotional signals and respond quietly to them. Unless someone is speaking aloud or being directly insubordinate, it’s probably best to hold your tongue until a later time and/or date.

4 comments On Five Management Lessons I Learned Through Trial and Error

  • Good points. Managing people is a creative dance of patience, insight and talent spotting.

  • I wish I’d known this

  • If you’re managing administrative, technical, or clerical persons, I’d suggest the following: Get to know your employees; usually people like to do what they’re good at — utilize their strengths and talents; respect everyone; ALWAYS tell the truth — if you can’t talk about something that hasn’t been announced yet, be honest that you can’t discuss that subject at this time; try to nip rumors in the bud — let your employees know that you’re open to hearing about any company rumors and, as much as possible, you’ll give them an honest response; schedule regular meetings with your employees (especially those with more responsibility); take an interest in their work and their progress; create an environment that promotes working together as a team; promote cross-training so that, when one person is out, there is someone who can fill in as much as possible; most employees should be encouraged to join professional associations and attend a couple of seminars each year to keep abreast of the latest developments in that field. And, perhaps most of all, support your employees — make absolutely sure that they have the tools and the training to do their jobs properly. After all, when they look competent and professional, they make you look competent and professional.

  • gringopeligroso

    Like the Author of this article, I learned these lessons and more, the hard way….but, once I grasped them…! WOW!! I had the BEST damn team on the Planet!!! Don’t get me wrong, we still had our squabbles and problems…no place is a perfect paradise.. But, as the months and years went on, they seemed to diminish to the point of being random and infrequent anomalies, instead of every-day occurrences. As well, because we also cross trained, my “Experts” WERE experts in their parts of the Gardens, but could also cover for one or more of the other team members for a few days in other areas, too. (Sickness, Family Emergencies, and Vacations DO happen.) (PS: Even tho my job was more of a desk jockey position, I ALSO crossed trained to be part of the team, and could step in for almost any of my employees for a few days, if/when necessary.)

    I’ll add two/three more points to the 5 excellent and basic ones presented in this article:

    1.) Never be stingy with Praise. And Never underestimate the power of Sincere Gratitude.
    I used to look for the little things which were done well, find out who was responsible, seek them out and make SURE they knew I noticed. These sometimes included projects which I (or those above me) had prescribed, and sometimes I was delightfully surprised when my Experts did somethings unexpected or above and beyond the Call of Duty.

    2.) By including myself in the Cross Training process, I became much more cognizant and sensitive of what each member of the team’s role was, and more importantly, some of the issues they tackled on a daily basis; of which I would not have been aware had I not “Walked a Mile in their Moccasins.” This training and “Boxing-Day-Role” also was invaluable to my position, not only when the rare disciplinary measures were called for, but, most importantly for realistic scheduling and especially for the annual Budget process/request. (How to increase efficiency, how to make their jobs easier, what’s the biggest bang for the buck?)

    3.) I REALLY appreciate the author’s point of getting to know your Experts. And, he’s right: Their lives and attention are not Job-Centered 100% of the time, even on the clock. (Neither are mine.) But, it goes farther than just getting to know their family’s names, and what they do in their spare time. By being open and genuinely interested, and by being honest with my team, I got to know what their individual career goals were. Perhaps the highest compliment I ever received as a Manager, was the fact that my Experts would ask me for advice when they were contemplating career changes…even and particularly when the change meant leaving for another firm. I appreciated their candor and appreciated their giving me the opportunity to “counter offer” their other options. After all, I really didn’t want to loose them to the competition. Mostly, I was grateful for their trust. Most people in ranking positions seem to think this gift comes with the job. And, while a certain amount, initially, does come with the title, it’s the individual who has the title who will either earn, or destroy that precious commodity.

    Finally, I can’t let this go out there without nodding to the Manager above me, who also recognized and employed these factors, and not only blessed our trails and modes of traversing, but by his examples, was ALSO a key member of that incredible journey! Thank You, Kimosabe. You’ve taught me much more than you can possibly realize, and much more than I can possibly re-pay!

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