Leadership/Management Series – Part 1 (Thoughts for aspiring Managers)

“What is your definition of the Best Manager?” I asked to one of my team member while having a team lunch. To get to know my team better and to help them progress in their career path, I leverage team lunches that provide a greater deal of getting insights of individual team members. I prepare well in advance on the topics or the questions to be discussed during this event. Sometimes, I request everybody to share a funny moment, an embarrassing situation, happy incidents etc. It also helps other team members to understand the other person that helps to collaborate better; to produce better results.

He didn’t take long to answer which was evident to everybody except me. The response to my question was that the Manager should be 10 times more intelligent than team members, should take decisions on his own and should be expert in all the fields. I am glad that he didn’t expect Manager to be a god albeit some people do. Many expect Managers to solve ALL their problems or their ALL problems!

I have been into IT (Information Technology, not Income Tax :-)) industry for several years and I think that I can be of help to newbie Managers with some of my learnings. I believe that IT is one such industry, especially in India where people expect and have climbed up the organization ladder fairly quicker than any other industry. The IT industry and its titles have always been a part of regular and fascinated or boasting discussions. “My son has become manager last month”, “My daughter is leading a group of 8 people”, “Has your nephew got promoted?” etc are the topics discussed amongst many of previous generation people.

There are 3 distinct points that I would like aspiring managers to focus –

  1. Ability to see ‘bigger’ picture
  2. Responsibility towards careers of team members
  3. Exceution (‘Getting’ the work done, ethically)

Of course there are lot many other skills that a ‘good’ Manager aquires over a period like strategizing, motivating, mentoring, training, recognizing and rewarding etc. Eventually, I am convinced that a good manager is the path to become a great leader. However, I intend to focus on the above 3 points in this blog. I will cover other aspects in the forthcoming blogs of this Management series. As I admitted in my previous blog, I will try to hide my funny bone while writing this blog series and focus more towards the management aspects seriously.

1. Ability to see ‘bigger’ picture

An aspiring manager must be able to see the ‘bigger’ picture in order to share and explain the details with his team. Without this, he will almost be unable to manage the team effectively. This quality helps to resolve the conflicts amongst team members, get to evaluate performance without bias, keep emotions away while making critical decisions, relate individual and team’s goals with organizational objectives, understand benefits/drawbacks for the team when re-organization occurs at a high level.

Before asking his team to think “out of box”, he should show them what or where the “box” is. He should sync up with his manager and peers to validate the facts, put the pieces of puzzle together and understand what does it mean to get the work allocated to his team mean to the business/org overall. It is his responsibility to ensure that the work he is assigning to the team is indeed a value addition towards the business.

2. Responsibility towards careers of team members

This is one of the most important aspect that the aspiring managers do not usually have in mind. It is very important to be able to distinguish between professional and career development. Professional development comes into picture to ensure that they have skills to do the current job. Career development is taken into account when the Manager needs to groom the team member(s) to take on challenges at the next or different role. It becomes imperative to invest time in regular one-on-ones with them to understand what do they aspire, measure progress, align to goals and guage their “engagement index”. The engagement index should be able to tell how keen the team member is interested in doing the work and how satisfied he is with the job.

Most of the times when people are promoted to Managers, their thoughts are around how many people they have control over. The early they forego this thought, the better it is for them. Indeed they have to exercise control, however, not on the people, but on processes. The manager needs to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each individual team member and work out a development and career plan, in discussion with them. Most importantly, put a checkpoint to measure the progress regularly. 9-box model is one of the effective method of keeping a tab on who’s doing how. For instance, you measure the people on performance v/s potential scale and rate them accordingly. Based on this rating; you place the people in development or promotion buckets.

3. Execution (‘Getting’ the job done, ethically)

It is true that it is obstacles that people see when they take off their focus from the goal. It is very easy to get distracted on things that are not relevant in achieving the objectives. It takes a good Manager to get the team to focus on important tasks and priorities. Sometimes, due to issues, many people tend to take easier paths that may not be ethical. The Manager needs to set the example for ethics. He should be a brand ambassador of ethics and integrity. Without this, no team member can have trust and confidence to follow the leader. Having appropriate backup for critical tasks, motivating the team members enough and giving them necessary tools makes it easier to get the job done. Recently, I also learnt that Managers tend to play parenting role that is not always a good behavior style as it makes team members comfortable to whine rather than propose solutions to problems.

It is his duty to chalk out a plan in discussion with the team members, get a commitment from them, ensure that they understand their respective deliverables, deduce risk management and mitigation plans, ensure that tasks are appropriately loaded for resources, reasonable buffers are considered, training plans are chalked out etc.

His focus should not be on how many people he is managing; it should be rather on how much of revenue is he contributing to.

While the above 3 points put a stress on getting the activities done, it is important to understand that your team members are human beings. I hate when they are merely referred as resources. Hence, it is equally critical that you take out time to explain how valuable their efforts are by giving timely feedback to poor or average performers and appreciating top performers. Taking them out for lunches/movies/team outings help them ease out stress. Until you master the above techniques, I intend to take some time off and then return with the second blog on this Management series. Till then, HAPPY LEARNING !

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