5 things I’ve learned about being a manager

November 24th 2014. Mark that in your calendars. It’s the day I officially started working for Microsoft. Not as a contractor as I’d been doing since 2010, but as a full-time employee, and a manager no less. Now that I’ve done the job for a few months I thought it probably wise to write what I’ve experienced.

What do I do? I’m a manager of a relatively large team of technology solutions specialists – a sales team. I never thought I’d be a sales manager. I’m the humble Office 365 deployment specialist, right? Funny where life takes you. I’m responsible, through my team, for striking up interest and demand with customers for some of Microsoft’s most successful and important products: Office, Windows, Office 365, Surface, etc. No pressure then.

5 things I’ve learned about being a manager

  1. Every single person you work with, whether you manage them or not, is battling with things you can’t begin to imagine. My team is fairly diverse; men and women, relatively inexperienced or veteran. It can lead to some pretty entertaining exchanges in sales meetings, but it also makes for some pretty testing 1:1 sessions. I’ve had to learn pretty quickly that not everyone adapts the same way I do, or as fast. Likewise that the only person who does something the way I like it done is me. Each person in the team has something going on in their personal life that you either don’t know about, or can’t effect. Sometimes that snide remark, vacant expression, or lateness to a meeting isn’t because that person hates you – being mindful of people is something everyone should be not just managers.
  2. Change takes time. I joined the team at a time of change (is there ever a time of no change?). When I started I had the ideal vision of how I wanted to be. In my mind I was going to be the perfect boss: the right mix of friend, mentor, coach, leader, disciplinarian, motivator, judge, cheerleader and role model. It’s really easy to snipe from the trenches about how managers and leaders get it wrong, but it’s only when you’re in the hot-seat you realise how challenging it can be (shed no tears – I chose this path). One of the things I most definitely got wrong in these first few months is estimating how quickly change lands within the team. The change curve – based on the model originally put forward by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross – couldn’t be more accurate from what I’ve seen.
  3. Time management is key. One of the things I urge my team to do is be “utterly selfish” with their time. They each have targets to hit, as do I. That doesn’t stop the world from coming to your desk throughout the day with things to distract you, or take up your time. The truth is that – most of the time – what they want is urgent and important for them but not you. Personally, I’m still having to make a conscious effort to categorise demands for my time, and one of the best ways for doing this is Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle. I also carve out chunks of time in my diary dedicated to doing things I need to be successful. Colour-coding my appointments to help easily see how I am spending my time helps too.
  4. Managing takes energy. This might sound obvious, but it’s true. I’m someone who spends a fair amount of time thinking things through in my mind. I’m also not the best at trumpeting my own successes. Neither of these two qualities make for a perfect leader. How will my team know I appreciate their work? How will my stakeholders know what I’m thinking and doing if I don’t shout it out? How can I expect my team to follow me if I don’t lead them? My first few months have taught me that I need to be my team’s biggest advocate, I need to tell them about the good and the bad, and I need to share with them my challenges and thoughts. If you put up too many walls between you and your team, how can you ever expect them to buy into you?
  5. It is impossible to please everyone all the time. I recently started having sessions with a mentor within the business. One of the first things she helped me realise is that with such a large team (12 at time of writing) I’m always going to have some people with a foot out of the door, some people needing performance management and some “core” players who just get on with it. I want my team to do well – I want them to love what they do, love where they work and feel the same way I do. The fact is, they don’t. I’m paid to run a business, I’m paid to get the best out of my people and to have the right people in my team. Sometimes that means making the tough call, or having the difficult conversation. That takes balls.

Needless to say, it’s been an interesting few months. I couldn’t have come this far without the expert guidance from my wife whose calm and insightful advice has helped me deal with many situations that have cropped up. Many of the points above come from her (she’s a management consultant, go figure). I also have a great team of peers and colleagues around the business who share their experiences and thoughts.

It’ll be interesting to look back at this in a few more months and see how I have progressed. Every day I learn something new, and I love it.