3 Things I’ve Learned In My First 3 Years Of Management

Coming up and climbing the corporate ladder, you look upon Management and think, “that’s the life!” You get to make decisions, people have to listen to you, and there are other people (me, at the time) that have to actually do the work. You just kick up your feet and make sure the wheels don’t come off.

Not true.

4 years ago, I left a soul-crushing job at a large corporation for a local small business doing digital marketing. I loved the feel of a small company. It was a welcome change to be at a company of about 20 people (contrast that with 50+ people being in my division alone previously). We did great work and you could see that work have an impact on the company itself, which is indescribably rewarding. Because I loved what I was doing, I put in the time and effort at my new company and was rewarded with a series of promotions that now has me on a management team of three that run the entire company.

I’d love to say that the transition has been smooth and I have all the answers, but I can’t. What I have done is taken every stumble as an opportunity to grow as a person and a professional (which I’ll share with you now).

1. Professional Distance Is Vital

Having been promoted from within, a lot of the people that ended up reporting into me were at one point my peers. These are people that I had beers with, spent time with out of work, and that I genuinely considered to be more friends than co-workers. This was a very challenging dynamic for all of us. For example, when it came to leaving early or coming in late, many assumed that since Justin’s so laid-back (I am) he won’t care (I did).

On the other side of that coin, I still acted in a way that was beneath someone with an elevated position like mine. I found myself still speaking candidly with my team about frustrations I had with co-workers, clients and the company. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I wasn’t just commiserating with some pals, I was creating an environment of discourse. It wasn’t until getting through my first year to a year-and-a-half of management to understand how these conversations were not productive and in fact harmed my team, my company, and my own growth.

This isn’t to say you can’t be friendly, open, and honest with you team. You absolutely can and I encourage those in this position to do so. What I’m saying is you need to understand that, consciously or subconsciously, you represent the direction of the company, and how you interact with your team is a reflection of that.

2. Delegation Vs. Pawning Off Work

We’ve all had a manager in our lives that just loves making people do the most mundane tasks imaginable so that they don’t have to. When working at a small company, there are so many tasks that fall outside your “job description” that it’s easy to fall into the trap of passing off the projects that you don’t want to do. I was the number one offender of only working on the projects that interested me and handing the less interesting work off to others by calling it “delegating.”

It wasn’t until I had a discussion with a business consultant that I admitted to myself that I was just pawning off my work. I made a commitment to make sure that any work that I delegated was done so with a purpose. In meeting with my team to establish their professional goals, I gained a better understanding of where they wanted to be and how they wanted to grow. This knowledge then allowed me to better assign the projects that I needed to get off of my plate and align them with a specific team member’s goals. In many cases, I found myself giving up projects that I would have loved to keep.

3.You Can’t Be The Smartest Person In The Room If You Want To Succeed

Often times in a small business, top performers are promoted to management positions. On the surface this seems like a great idea. “[Employee X] is a fantastic team member. If they could manage a team of [Employee X]s, then we’d be unstoppable!” However, just as often, this is not true in practice. What I’ve seen is one of two scenarios. Scenario 1: [Employee X] is a great producer, but lacks the skills necessary to manage people. Scenario 2: [Employee X] is a great producer, thus they continue to assign themselves to the challenging projects, overstretching their time and preventing their team from growing.

I’ve seen others within our organization run into this, and I myself fell into one of those scenarios (some may argue both).

The point here is to make sure that not only are you surrounding yourself with talented team members, but that you are allowing them access to projects that are going to push them to their limits and beyond.

While this list is by no means a silver bullet to successful management, these are things that I wish I fully understood prior to taking my position. I hope you find them helpful and I encourage you to share any lessons you’ve learned in the comments!