capitalizing on new opportunities with old lessons

21 days wrapped up my shortest time without work – ever. But, this blog entry isn’t about patting myself on the back for landing a sweet new job [that three weeks in, I absolutely love.] No, this blog entry is about second chances. It’s about life offering me an opportunity to prove that I have learned everything I was suppose to learn from my past experience to put in me in a position to succeed personally and professionally – despite what anyone else may think. I closed myself off to being in a leadership and management position after I felt like I failed at it – but I was given the opportunity to take on a leadership role yet again. Instead of fearing that I am not cut out for it, I see it as a challenge and an opportunity for me to be better and make the companies that I am working with better.

I know what bad management looks like. And I’m using today as an opportunity to admit that the reason I know what it takes to be a good manager, a good leader and a good person – is because I was a terrible manager. But that’s the purpose of experience. Whether its good or bad, it’s going to teach you something valuable that is going to shape you. I was recently given a new team to work with of incredibly smart, passionate, welcome and hard working people – and I’m #blessed and excited to have a second chance to be the good manager I know I’m capable of being.

You can look at this “list of learnings” a few ways. You can look at it as an apology (if you were on the receiving end of my bad management). You can look at it as the standards to which I want to hold myself to when it comes to managing some new and amazing teams (if you are currently working with me, or want to team up in the future!). Or you can look at it generally in a way that you can apply to your own career as a manager.

  • There are infinite ways to get from Point A to Point B. As a manager, our jobs are sometimes to assure that things get done in a certain set of standards. We don’t stop to realize that getting to those standards could be done in a variety of different ways. I spent a long time developing intricate and detailed processes outlining how to get from Point A to Point B – and when I stopped? People were still getting to Point B. Stop focusing on how to get there and start focusing on communicating what therelooks like. What are the expectations, what must be done? What are your expectations and standards? If someone has no clue, give them a process. But sometimes it’s just as important, as a manager, to give someone looser instruction. It allows for creativity, improvements to existing processes, production and new ideas.
  •  Tone is everything. Email writing is an art. We habitually write how we talk, and furthermore, we interpret how we talk, leading to loads of miscommunication and misperception via email. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of this. Many say that the solution is to simply pick up the phone, but we know that phone calls are sometimes a luxury – and getting good at email communication is a skill you should master. Take the time to over explain, use more words than less. Add in fluff. Sometimes emails written in a short, concise matter can make it look like your language is short. That the “shortness” can be a sign of anger to some people. Even simple questions that aren’t meant to be malicious or assign blame – given the context – can come off as rude and disrespectful. Re-read your emails. Think about how the other person could interpret it before hitting send, and ask yourself if this is really better for the phone.
  • Leadership, not management. There is a HUGE difference. Yes, as a manager, you are required to manage. But that simply means that you are responsible for assuring that the team delivers on its promise, on time and succeeds its goals. You are responsible for things like deadlines and goal attainment, but that does not mean your sole job is to direct others to do their job. Pitch in and help when the team is cutting it close. Show the team how you want things done through example, not direction. Give people the benefit of the doubt first instead of questioning the status of everything. I failed to be leader. I thought my job was to make sure everyone did their job, and when their job wasn’t up to the expectation of the senior management above me? I thought the solution was to direct more and yell a bit. I asked the wrong questions. More on that in the upcoming points…
  • Avoid trickle down effects. If I was stressed, everyone knew it. I let things snowball. So if one bad thing were happening, everything else was bad, unfixable and just “icing on top of the already messed up cake”. Issues that essentially have nothing to do with each other can be passed along, and only end up frustrating an entire team. Do not let your stress become everyone else’s stress. When you’ve worked hard to build a team of people that are passionate about the vision, and the vision is falling apart, the tendency for your let downs to become let downs of the entire team is HIGHER.
  • Own things. Things were “rarely my fault”. They were “faulted” a level below me or “faulted” a level above me. I never took a second to think, I could have done XYZ and this would have never happened. Simply put, you can’t change things that have already happened, you can only change things going forward. And although maybe things weren’t always 100% my fault, it was easier to take ownership over them because it became easier to move forward from it. Have you ever had an argument where you realized, both of you just wanted to be right and the argument was never ending? Sometimes someone just needs to take the fall to end the argument and move on. It’s like that in business too. Sometimes it’s easier to admit you’ve failed at something, so you can move on and replace the mistake with successes.
  • You can create problems, or you can create solutions. This wasn’t a new mindset for me when I came into a new position – but I loved that my new company’s leadership made this such a huge focus. We never went back to anyone and said “we can’t do that”, instead we tried to figure out what we “can do” and presented a solution. I was never really terrible at doing this – sometimes it came really naturally to me. But because it came naturally, I wasn’t consciously thinking about the way I was reacting to problematic situations, and therefore – there were still times in which I banged my head with problems and not creative solutions. Bringing this to focus more helped me identify more opportunities that I needed to apply this – and therefore increase the percent of times in which I reacted to a problem with a solution.
  • Don’t be afraid of new ideas or of giving people a little freedom. I was the Queen of afraid of new ideas. But, have you studied any companies that have succeeded for decades without failing? Do you know what they all have in common? They are innovative. The world is changing faster than any one person can keep up. And while it’s definitely true that past experience can dictate future success, strategic innovation can also lead to success. I love the movie Jobs because each time I watch it; I get reminded of just how CRAZY Steve Jobs really was. But, that thought is passing through my head as I’m holding an iPhone 6+ in my hand. Steve Jobs was a visionary. And while you don’t have to believe in crazy ideas like Jobs, just being open to change, new ways of doing things and creative innovation – and then committing to being on board with change instead of against it, can create a better chance at success for you AND the company. I wish I did a better job of this both as a leader and a team member, but it’s something I’m dedicating myself to improving in a new role.
  • ABI – Always Be Improving. I’m a huge fan of reading. (Former Labor Studies & Management major right here!) I found myself, throughout the course of my early career, reading stuff and then realizing that when it came to application of the new ideas, I never followed through. You can’t read about being a text book manager and expect that it will magically translate into real life with no real effort. I didn’t have success initiating any of the ideas in anything I read until I started being proactive about applying them – one at a time! When it comes to being a better manager, you don’t have to do it all in a day. I found success with focusing on one improvement at a time, until it felt natural – then tackling a new one. Rome wasn’t built in one day.
  • Transparency. I bottle a lot. I see people rolling their eyes at me right now too – because if you know me right now, you would think I’m joking that’s how transparent I am. But it wasn’t always the case, I swear! Don’t underestimate the power of your team to help you solve your problems. And don’t underestimate the potential of your team to step up. I never wanted to admit when I needed help – because I didn’t think anyone could help me. But good people will do everything they can to help and step up when you need it. There is a fine line between sharing too much and sharing too little – but it’s a line worth exploring in business because it can mean great things and great progress for your relationships with your team and your company.
  • Have respect. It’s a no brainer. But, sometimes I failed at it. And sometimes, people don’t deserve your respect, right? Wrong. Just because you feel that someone doesn’t deserve respect, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to them. Giving respect is one of those things that reinforces your own character – and I wish that it was something I gave more freely throughout my tenure as a manager, even way back to 16-year-old-manager-me. It’s something that I plan to focus on in each new opportunity as well.

Are there any lessons to being a good manager that you’ve learned the hard way? Leave ‘em!