Great manager

You may have read my blog post from last year on the five things managers should stop doing right now. I thought that this time I would focus on the flip side by sharing things that made me successful with my teams. At times I speak specifically to managing in the software industry, but themes can be extracted and applied to managers in all industries.

1. Develop rapport with your team members

Being on a higher rung of the proverbial ladder can create a barrier to developing meaningful relationships with individuals on your team. My strategy to combat this has always started with being really clear that the manager and the team member have a symbiotic relationship – meaning that when I help them, it helps me and vice versa – because we share a set of common goals.

To execute on this strategy, I sit down with the people on the team and explain that my job is no more or less important than theirs. My job is to create an environment that allows them to be successful at their jobs and it is important for them to know that. It is also to help create and guide strategy in our area, with information from the team. I tell each person that I want to be good at my job, just like they want to be good at theirs and that’s hard to do without feedback.

Be aware that it is very rare to get real, constructive feedback when you control someone’s paychecks. The only way I’ve found to combat this is by being yourself, being as transparent as possible and getting to know the strengths and needs of each person as individuals. When your actions start to back up your words, rapport starts to develop. When they see you as a real person and not an aloof authority figure, they start to treat you like a real person and are more honest with you about the good and the bad.

Of course, the work of developing rapport doesn’t stop there. It takes more than a conversation to create a great working relationship. The common saying is that people don’t leave jobs, they leave their managers. I think there’s a lot of truth in this. Keep this in mind and make sure that you are working to make your team your number 1 priority. If you can’t do that and be successful, that’s a red flag that needs to be addressed with your boss.

2. Practice what you preach

This one is short and simple. Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do. If you wouldn’t work every weekend for 6 months to get this project out the door, don’t ask your team to do it. (If you would, that’s a different blog post!) Similarly, if you expect your team to have certain behavior at the office, such as coming in on time then you need to set the example. The best way to lose a team’s trust and respect is to have double standards about how people should be treated.

3. Focus on Safety

Ensuring safety doesn’t stop with preventing physical injury. Knowledge workers (my shorthand term for those dealing with invisible work like bits in a computer) need protection from more than just carpal tunnel. Joshua Kerievsky speaks a lot about anzeneering. This is a new word that he coined and it stems from the Japanese word anzen (safety) and the English word engineering. I really encourage all managers to become familiar with this concept and start to think about becoming an Anzeneer. Below you’ll find a quick excerpt from Joshua’s website that gives you an idea of what Anzeneering is really all about.

Anzeneers protect:

Software users from programs that hurt their ability to perform their job well, waste their time, annoy them, lose or threaten their data or harm their reputation.

Software makers from poor working conditions, including hostile relationships, death marches, burnout, hazardous software (poorly designed, highly complex, deeply defective code, lacking even basic safety nets like automated builds or automated tests), insufficient testing infrastructure, poor lighting, uncomfortable seating, excessive work hours and insufficient exercise.

Software managers from the stress and consequences of not delivering, insufficient insight into progress, poor planning and sudden surprises.

Software purchasers from software that damages their reputation because it doesn’t meet expectations or isn’t used.

Software stakeholders from losing large investments and marketplace credibility because of doomed software efforts.

If you take care of your people, your company and your customers then your organization will thrive. Please read more on this topic!

4. Learn & teach (and repeat)

In our world, there isn’t much that is static. Many companies think they can stick with the status quo without consequences. You only have to remember Blockbuster to know that isn’t true. When you hit the “pause” button, everything else keeps moving. When you stay still you are actually falling behind. Good managers understand and embrace this. That allows them to bring a mindset of continuous improvement and learning to their team, which is key to long term viability.

Now, managers aren’t responsible for teaching their team members everything they need to know. But, managers should focus on giving teams a few key learning skills and cultivating the right conditions for those skills to be deployed. This goes well beyond traditional learning opportunities and focuses on the opportunities that are present in the day to day working environment.

At minimum, ensure the team understands the basic concept of the scientific method: find a problem, hypothesize a solution and an outcome, design and conduct an experiment, then measure and report back findings. Once that’s done, the team has new information to inform whatever is next. Scale is also important. Teach how to design experiments that avoid catastrophic and career limiting failures.

5. Be an advocate for your team

One of the easiest, but most crucial, parts of a manager’s job is to be an advocate for their team — internally to their team and externally to the rest of their company. This doesn’t mean purely sharing a team’s successes, which is very important to morale;  it also means helping the larger department or company understand what the team does and how it fits into the success of the organization as a whole.

A team will be respected if they are seen to be responsible, learning from their failures, and having a high record of successes. So, don’t be afraid to share the unfavorable outcomes and show how the team actually uses those opportunities to improve themselves. No team is perfect, but it is what a team does in those less-than-stellar situations that really shows what they are made of. And, yes, celebrate successes too! Just like other relationships, teams are made of people. They need to know they are appreciated and did good work. They want others to know that too, so don’t just tell them, tell the department and company as well.

In closing…

I often think of that phrase “everything I ever really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten” and wonder if it is really true. So much of life can be governed simply by honoring the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.  Managing teams definitely is.

If you would like to continue the conversation, comment here or find me on twitter at @everydaykanban.