Your first time as a manager is a learning experience as much as anything else. How do you lead your team well? Who should you hire? Where do you draw the boundaries with former colleagues who are now direct-reports?
Q: How do you start off on the right foot with your new team?
A: You have to set the tone yourself for the environment and how you want people to work. Lead by example. People learn through your actions what you prioritize—for better or worse! I’ve always believed that a boss has to work harder than everyone else around them. Most importantly, a great leader inspires those around them to achieve their fullest potential.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake a first-time manager can make?
A: Forgetting that being an effective manager means that you’re dealing with overseeing people—not things. I know a lot of really intelligent people who are terrible managers. Once you alienate your team it’s hard to win back their admiration, loyalty and respect.
Q: What’s the best way to build trust?
A: Be authentic. People have to feel like you care about them—and they won’t feel that way unless you actually care about them. To engender goodwill and loyalty, you need to be positive and highly competent.
Q: I’m younger than the people I’m managing. How can I be an effective leader when they’ve had more time at the company?
A: You have to be humble. Realize that you’re dealing with people who may have ego issues of their own (even if they’re not voicing them) in terms of having a boss who’s younger than they are. It’s very important that you’re deferential in the sense that you acknowledge their expertise and see the added value of the contribution they make to the team. That said, it’s a fine balance. You can’t equivocate. I’m a big believer of asking a lot of questions—for the purpose of gathering information and demonstrating your interest in the opinion of others—but at the end of the day, it has to be your call. You need to have the confidence to make decisions without the safety net of unanimous consent.
Q: How do you balance being friendly with being the boss?
A: You want the person working for you to know that you legitimately care for them and support them—in life, as well as in the office. But you do need to have boundaries. You don’t want to make people uncomfortable by being too personal. Your direct reports shouldn’t have to worry about spending their off-time entertaining you after work.
Q: I struggle with asking people to do things—especially when I can do them better myself. How can I delegate efficiently?
A: If you can do something better yourself and it’s important to the business—do it yourself. Likewise, you shouldn’t be doing anything that somebody else could do better than you or that isn’t highly valuable to the business. It’s hard (I have occasional micro-manager tendencies myself!), but in order to scale, you need to make very smart decisions about how your time is best spent.
Q: I’m making my first hire, but how do I know I’ve found the right person?
A: Reference checks are essential. I will contact up to five or six people per hire. I make it very clear at the beginning of the interview process that I expect them to provide references to all past employers and that I intend to call each of them. I’m always weary of someone who can only provide a couple of former bosses. If you are a great employee, former employers should be thrilled to give you a good reference and help you advance in your career. Ask direct questions about strengths and weaknesses to help you understand how best to manage your new hire when he or she does join the team.
Q: What type of people should I look for when building my team?
A: Build a team that supports your strengths and covers for your areas of weakness. It’s important to self-assess. Say, “Here are the areas where I’m strong and I’m going to focus the majority of my energy on making them better. I am not replicable in these specific arenas.” The areas where you’re weak, those skills are what you need to look for when you hire. It’s not a cop-out—you still need to possess a certain level of proficiency. If you’re not good with numbers, you can hire a great CFO, but you need to know enough to effectively manage her. If she’s not doing a good job, you have to be smart enough to realize it. Thinking about building a team to supplement your strengths and weaknesses is a good place to start.