During one of my career counselling sessions for a group of MBA students, I discovered that almost every one of them aspired to become a manager straight after their graduation. As I knew that people management skills are something you pick up through years of working experience, I put it to them that their ambitions were a little unrealistic.
I managed my first employee when I was 25. I had no management skills to speak of. I thought back on all the bosses I had worked under, their good and bad traits, and tried to emulate the former and refrain from the latter.
As my company hired more people, my frames of reference became more limited. Conflicts between co-workers — didn’t see that in my last workplace. Employee selling out the company — was there a guidebook for that? I hadn’t a clue how to deal effectively with these issues.
As a manager, you have to do what’s in the best interest of the company. That means terminating employees who continually cause conflict or give the company a bad name, issuing warnings to those who are more interested in socialising on Facebook than meeting their KPIs, and counselling employees who are habitually late.
These are tasks that I (or anyone else) do not love to do. But you need to light a spark in order to solve a bigger problem.
I learned this the hard way. Working in a call centre after my National Service, I was put on supervisory trial after a year and tasked with managing a team of my colleagues for a brief period. From being a peer to a team leader, and working with people I know — how hard could that be?
Then some of my colleagues started to take extra-long breaks in the pantry or log into the system late. Some even decided to go home after lunch. I kept quiet about it.
It was not long before the management got to know. I was suspended from the trial and went back to doing what I did before.
If I had had the courage to confront those situations, things would have been different. Yes, my colleagues would have disliked me at that point in time but as a team leader, I had to ensure things were going according to plan.
If you want to be a more effective manager, here is what you can do:
Acquire a high level of self-awareness
Regardless of your personality, whether you are an extrovert or introvert, you have to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. People who lack this quality sometimes think they are perfect and refuse to admit their mistakes.
The same Powerpoint slides will be delivered differently by different people. The same content can be communicated in various ways. At work, never forget that you are dealing with emotional human beings. That means no reprimanding in public and no curt e-mails.
Always look at the big picture
I failed in my supervisory trial as I was more concerned about my colleagues disliking me than doing the right thing. I failed to look at the bigger picture — the company’s interests and also my career development opportunity. Do not fear pointing out something you believe is wrong, but do it in the most appropriate manner, taking into consideration the feelings of the people concerned.
Managing people well is a skill you learn in real life, not something you pick up from a textbook, although the latter can give you good insights. You have to decide what your values are as a manager, and uphold them.
A variety of situations will test these values, and you may have to make some adjustments along the way, but the experiences will sharpen your management acumen and prepare you for higher leadership roles.