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If I was Managing/Leading People

In less than 2 years, fortunately or unfortunately I had 4 bosses at work. Fortunately because I was able to experience various managing/leadership styles, unfortunately because when the boss leaves, the team and its members gets affected at many levels. But this post is not about that.

This post is my own deep reflections on the various people whom I reported (and still report to one) to, to distill the good and the not-so-good traits I saw in each. If and when I happen to Manage/Lead I would aspire to have the following traits. What I missed, I would like others to have it.

(I have faced both the presence and the absence of the following traits and hence it’s a first hand experience of things.)

So here we go :

1.Stand behind or rather in front like a rock : This seems so obvious and if there is a book for one of those Dummies, this would surely be on top…and yet I found it shocking that not every one thinks this is important. Travesty.

Let me clarify before it gets misunderstood. Within the team the Boss should and must question where required, must cover all points to the topic to ensure nothing gets missed out. But when presenting/discussing outside the team with other teams/stakeholders, the Boss should be the face of the team or the team member even though he/she may not be leading/presenting. If any questions or counter arguments come, the Boss should be the first to come to defense.

If on the other hand the Boss questions their own team members outside the team, it’s a big and sure shot red flag and it questions the very behavior which a Boss must have and is absent in this case. Also it shows the team in poor light, with clear gaps in understanding and communication. Imagine if in a battle, the troops are fighting among themselves instead of the other side, yeah it’s the same thing metaphorically.

There may be chinks in what the team agreed on, but it should be taken with grace by the Boss and not blamed to any particular individual.

Take away — Always stand for your team members outside your team environment. Pass on the credit and take the blame on the chin. It really won’t kill you.

2. True people’s person : This one again is very obvious. Individual contributors prefer not having anyone as they work best when they are on their own. So when someone takes the jump and decides to lead a managerial role, that person must have or nourish people’s skills at all levels. Whether it’s working with various degree of skills and levels within their own team, or working cross-functional (super super important), this one skill can literally make or break things for the Boss and/or for the team.

Doing lip-service will just not work. One has to connect, one has to empathize with other people to understand difference of views and opinions and embrace them with open hands.

Take away — Learn to genuinely work with others, show compassion and empathy for different point of views.

3. Others before self : I have been reading/listening to many interviews of Design Managers at organizations such as Google, Facebook to name a few and the unanimous consensus is that a Manager’s role is to manage other people and help them do their work more efficiently and smoothly. It’s not about being in charge but taking care of those in your charge.

So when a Manager pushes their own agenda at the expense of a team member or at the expense of team/project/organization, it’s only a matter of time when things will start crumbling in the worst possible way.

If your trait is to hog the limelight and get credit, well being a Manager is not something one should get into it unless ready to make some hard changes in self.

Take away — Knowing when to back off is critical and important. Do your best behind the scenes.

4. Knowing when to not give “2 cents” : So 2 cents means giving a feedback. Problem is when it comes from someone you report to, it becomes an unsaid order even though the feedback won’t really help or in some cases even make the current situation worse.

At times, on a day to day basis the Manager is not involved as his/her team resource is working on a project with cross-functional team.

So giving 2-cents just because you feel you are not being involved and want to show that you are the boss can harm the project more than improve. This problem gets compounded when the domain/context is missing. So any decision becomes short-sighted and can lead to multiple issues going forward.

Take away — Empower others and don’t feel the need of giving your “2-cents” all the time. It is okay to NOT being involved or consulted on all things.

5. Be a stakeholder in your team’s growth : A team is as good as the person leading it and the person leading is as good as the team.

It is clearly and definitely in the best interest of the Manager that their team members are growing professionally and personally in various areas. Yet many feel what if others become better and take my place? It clearly comes from a place of insecurity and being self-centered. Two traits which a Manager can and should do without.

Be it encouraging, sponsoring or influencing the organization to sponsor, Managers must help their team members to grow. Medium can be books, courses, seminars, etc depending on the availability and the need of it. Another way to look at it is that make your team members “poaching-worthy”, make them so good in their work and otherwise that anyone else will be foolish not to poach them.

Take away — As a Manager, people-development should be one of the top most priority all the time.

6. Accept your mistake and say sorry : Saying sorry is a true sign of character and I don’t think saying sorry has killed anyone. Though it does kill ego which is a good outcome in any case.

This one is fairly big. I have worked with Managers who were always ready to accept their mistake, sometimes on behalf of the team members. This was so inspiring and made the Manager looks like a Leader in true spirit.

On the other hand, I have also worked with Managers who don’t seem to know that such a word even exists. Worst, even for their own mistakes they would blame the other person, even in external meetings with different teams. Nothing smells of arrogance than this. If you think you can never be at fault, then one is fooling no one but self.

Take away — Sorry is a magical word. Use it more often and genuinely.

7. Stand for something, ideally some self-decided values : This one is kind off fuzzy but important nonetheless.

There are some Bosses who believe in what they do, believe in their team, believe in their processes the team may have, believe in the project they are involved in. And they constantly stand by these and at the same time look for ways to improve upon.

And then there are some who only believe in what their Bosses say and blindly follow so that there performance reviews are all rosy. It may work on and off, but in the long run it definitely won’t work. Not to mention that the team morale gets affected badly and you lose respect and confidence of your own team members.

When you have a Boss who stands for nothing, it’s as good as not having a Boss because such Bosses change their decisions and thought processes likes weather which affects many decisions related to team and the work. If you need any help or guidance these Bosses always have a hidden agenda so that at every opportunity they can find benefit and exploit it for their own good.

These Bosses put everything(Organization/Project/Team’s goals and aspirations) at risk and their primary goal is to impress their immediate Boss. Complete and utter disaster.

What is even a concern is that the Bosses who don’t stand for anything will NOT stand by their team when they need and when they need the most. Period.

Take away — Values and principles are not merely fancy words but guide us in all our actions.

8. Open Communication — Communication is one of the biggest challenges any organization faces and since organizations are nothing but clusters of people, it’s people who face the challenge of communication at many different levels. Good clear communication leads to trust-building and transparency, two very important things in any organization. In absence of both or either one it’s only a matter of time when things start to break up eventually leading to people looking for other jobs as they no longer trust the system.

The worst thing a Boss can do is first not to communicate at all (be an information hoarder) and secondly communicating in silos. When a Boss talks 1 to 1 all the time even for things like assigning work, it means he/she is insecure (as they can’t handle if a particular issue is opposed by everyone) and wants to utilize at some point of time the policy of divide and rule.

If you want to create mistrust and lack of transparency this is a sure shot way of achieving both.

Eventually and I have experienced it consistently, these kind of Bosses use other people’s names and create even more problems between the team members. How it helps them is that the team members trust no one but the Boss and the Boss becomes the single point for all kind of information/gossip and then use it for their own vested interest.

Take away — There is no such thing as over-communication as far as mature team members go.

Managing/Leading people is a privilege. Do it in a selfless way and there is no other joy which you can find at workplace. Seeing your team members grow is incredibly rewarding only if you see it in that way.

Happy managing/leading people!


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  1. Great article !

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