on August 5, 2015 (last modified on February 25, 2022) • 4 minute read
“So what’s your management style?”
I get asked this question in almost every interview I conduct. It’s a critical question for many candidates, especially given that it’s been well documented that employees tend not to leave bad companies — rather, they leave bad managers.
But I’ve found that more often than not, most managers will answer this the same way (often regardless of how they actually manage, but that’s a separate issue). They’ll say: “I don’t like to micromanage.” That’s a safe answer in the sense that I’ve never met an employee who enjoys being micromanaged, but it doesn’t address the core question that’s often in the candidate’s head — how are you going to set me up for success?
What you actually do as a manager to set your employees up to succeed is so much more than just not micromanaging. After years of both good managers and bad managers, plus countless interviews where I’ve been asked this question, I’ve boiled my management approach down to four key tenets. Here’s what you should pay attention to if you aspire to be a better manager:
The first is border patrol. In an organization of any size, there are always more things to be done than can realistically be done. Many of these things are important, many are urgent, some are both, and quite a few are neither. As a manager, it’s my job to ensure that when non-essential inbound requests come flying in, they don’t turn into distractions for the team. I need to keep the team paying attention to the things that really matter. This often involves setting boundaries, finding creative alternatives, and negotiating with other team leads — all things that take time and finesse. But the time I spend playing ambassador pales in comparison to the effect those distractions would have created for the team.
The second element is related to the first: prioritization. In growing companies, even once you’ve eliminated the “non-essential” projects from an employee’s to do list, there are still likely to be too many things on the list. That’s where prioritization comes in. It never feels good to have to put an important project at the bottom of someone’s to do list, but if you don’t strategically choose which things are most important to get done, then you may end up with everything done halfway. Or worse — the most important stuff won’t get done at all.
The third is clearing roadblocks. No matter how great the employee, there are some things that just need a little more muscle to get over the finish line. Sometimes it’s getting reluctant stakeholders on board, sometimes it’s smoothing over ruffled feathers, and sometimes it’s just pushing things through for approval… but clearing the obstacles that stand in your employees’ way is a critical part of a manager’s role.
And the final, but often forgotten, element is professional development. Everyone wants to feel like they have a path forward and clear direction for how to take the next step forward, but it’s hard to remember this amongst the day-to-day craziness. To make sure it doesn’t get lost, I set aside time dedicated to professional development with each employee every month. Although it never feels urgent, it’s incredibly important — and ultimately leads to better employee performance, motivation, and retention. Plus, it’s in those meetings that I’ve gotten the greatest productivity gains from my team. Conversations about professional development are invaluable when it comes to finding out what motivates, frustrates, and helps my direct reports. It’s amazing what you can learn when you zoom out from the to do list. Look out for more thoughts on how important professional development is in an upcoming post.
That’s my management philosophy. Yours may be similar or different, but regardless of what items are on your list — make sure there is a list. Being someone’s manager is too important a role to leave up to fate.
P.S. Do I sound like someone you want to work for? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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