The Accurate Manager: 4 Essential Leadership Lessons in Your 20s
Most managers fall somewhere on the spectrum between micro-managing helicopter parent asking for updates, approvals, and gossip at all hours of the day, and directionless, distant, and completely absent, leaving their employees to fend for themselves. Too much or too little management is a drain on both the employee and the manager. The Accurate Manager falls somewhere in the middle (depending on the team) and uses their energy efficiently. This way, their employees can grow into their roles, leaving ample time for the manager to focus on their most important tasks.
According to a 2017 survey, 93% of participants said managers need training on how to coach their employees. While looking for resources for managers in their 20s online, I couldn’t find blogs, books, or any other media that had much substance. So, the following lessons are take-aways I wish someone would have shared with me when I began leading a team. My hope is at least one of my lessons makes you go “ah-ha!” and adds immediate value to your career as a supervisor.
Ask More. Say Less.
You should be doing 10% of the talking and 90% of the listening. The role of a manager is not to solve problems, it’s to clarify them. The expression, If you treat your employees like children, you will get children, is true, and so is the opposite. If you listen and ask clarifying questions, you will build a culture that fosters creative and independent employees.
Be careful when giving advice, because being too helpful will eventually work against you. First off, it creates an unhealthy power dynamic where the advice giver is superior. As a manager, there will be times when you will need to be direct, but when you can, avoid flexing the power muscle—your goal is to empower your employees, not use them to boost your ego. Second, when you give advice, you are training your direct reports to come to you whenever an issue arises. If this goes unregulated, you end up doing all their work. My goal is to help employees develop their skills so they can solve problems on their own. Instead of giving an answer, I ask questions (the Socratic method). The result is strong employees who solve the issues on their own. Since they did the work, they will know how to solve the problem when it comes up again (the expression: teach a (wo)man to fish… is the same for creative-problem solving).
Be specific. Ask direct questions using words like “you” and “today” to draw in the person you’re talking to. In a 1997 study that involved asking a series of difficult math problems, when the word "you" was part of the math problem's description, the question was asked to be repeated fewer times and the problems were solved in a shorter amount of time with more accuracy. Another way to attract focus from your listener is using time-based words, such as “today”, “morning,” and “afternoon.” Asking, how are you doing this morning? prompts detailed responses, as opposed to the vague good or fine, which are more common when someone simply asks, how are you?
Lead People. Manage Work.
When you manage, you control everything from the tools to the timeline to make sure your goal is accomplished on time and on budget. Leadership, however, is about inspiring and motivating others to work together on a common goal. Don’t confuse the two. You should control things like the timeline, tools, budget, and your own personal tasks; you should never control an employee. Instead, your leadership should inspire employees to use their strengths where they are needed and to the best of their ability.
Develop Skills. Invest in People.
People are your company’s most important asset. Making sure they have continuous training is important for three reasons. The first is, nobody wants to buy a product or service from someone who isn’t trained routinely. Second, the world is constantly changing, and if you’re not proactive, you’re reactive, which means you’re falling behind your competition. Third, a dedicated employee (the ones you should be hiring) are there because they love using the skills. This means they want to develop those skills, which means practice and education, which eventually leads to forward mobility in the company. It’s a win for them (because it’s something they care about), a win for you (because them doing a good job makes you look good), and a win for the company (because they make you look good to the customer). AND it’s a win for the consumer (because they like the product they are receiving). Win-Win-Win-WIN.
Scrap the Golden Rule. Follow the Platinum Rule.
We all know the golden rule: Treat others how you would want to be treated. It’s good advice until you realize that not everyone likes to be treated like you do. The employee that stops by your office to talk multiple times during the day is motivated differently than the one who only communicates by email. That’s where the platinum rule comes in: Treat others the way they want to be treated.
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” This is one of Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing fiction. It’s good advice because it’s true in real life: everyone wants something. Find out what that is, because a good leader knows how to motivate each of their employees—and no two employees are the same.
More than luck,
Have a lesson you want to share with me? Email me here.
Andrew J. Wilt is the author of Age of Agility, a book that addresses the skill gap between school and work. He can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @andrewjwilt