Why managers matter.

Even in a self-managed organization.

Since I joined the working world in a legal, tax-paying sense at 14, I’ve been steadily working to climb the corporate ladder. At first my goal was to become a shift manager of the coffee shop I worked for, later it would be for titles such as: Senior Graphic Designer, Art Director, Senior Art Director, Creative Director, Founder, Professor and most recently Visual Design Manager. It’s been a whirlwind collecting titles and racking up new responsibilities. I’ve worked for large companies, small businesses, colleges, universities, and as an owner of my own firm. During all of my tenure in Orange and Green organizations, I have come to pick up a few important skills of a what a successful manager looks (and acts)like. I wanted to share with all my fellow new managers at Zappos a few of those skills, as we become self-managed under the premise of Teal & Holacracy.

Self-management doesn’t mean the rules and ideology of management disappear, it just develops at a granular level where your power is used to keep your ambition in check. But before we go too far, congratulations! Welcome to the world of a manager; TPS reports (kidding), expense reports, time-off sheets and so many meetings. Oh, the meetings for the meeting, and a meeting afterward to discuss the meeting. It’s true, those bad habits exist, and perhaps you’ve seen them already, but they’re fleeting moments on your journey in becoming a great manager.

I know you’re probably thinking that it’s foolish to be coached as a manager since you’re only watching over your own roles, accountabilities, tasks and projects, but I’ll be direct: it’s more important than ever to be a great manager. Great managers all have a few things in common: we don’t manage people or projects, we manage goals and dreams. Yes, we track your sick days and urge you take vacation, or catch you up to speed when an emergency arrives, and sign your paycheck. But, I promise you, we’re more than that, and now you should be too. Although you’re taking those mundane tasks (thanks!), you’re also the go-to expert on where you want to go and how’ll you get there. You’re about to become your greatest champion and best ally.

So, I’ve gleaned a few skills the hard way on how to be a great manager:

Listen often and speak infrequently
Great managers don’t command meetings and take up the air space of meetings or when conferring with peers. A great manager knows the greatest tool they have is the ear on either side of their head, and will keenly adjust them to listen to the opinions, ideas and feedback from peers. They’ll ask clarifying questions and not push their own agendas or opinions when doing so. You’ll learn to guide conversations and move projects, not by asserting your own ideas but developing a sense of integrating good ideas for challenging situations from your peers. You’ll craft this skill in large meetings and apply it tactfully during one-on-ones.

Build bridges and create connections
A great manager meets a lot of people while they’re out listening, or waiting in a line for a cup of coffee. Hopefully you’ll shake a lot of hands and foster interesting conversations during those moments between work. But more importantly your primary goal is to build strong relationships and think about how you can connect people in a meaningful way. How can you further your peers agendas and ideas through creating new connections?

Check your title (ego) at the door
Remember, everyone is important and has expertise. No matter how seemingly small or larger than life, you’ll gain more ground by finding what your peers strengths are and how to build from them as the base of your foundation.

Invest in others and spend some time on yourself too
Remember when I said great managers don’t manage people or projects? Yup, it’s true, our goal isn’t to stand over your shoulder as a micro-manager, but to become your champion, knight in shinning armor and champion your initiatives, goals and dreams as-if they were our own. We’ll stand up for you when the decisions get tough, and you should do the same for others too. Take a stand for what’s right and don’t back down when the going gets tough, as it will. And remember, it’s your job as a manager to not only nurture your own initiatives, goals, dreams and passions but those of your peers around you. The best managers know they’re only as strong as their team of peers and will endlessly pursue building them up and furthering their peers knowledge as it directly applies to their personal growth. But don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way. Steal those minutes between meetings for self-reflection, or leave a little early for some much needed rest. It matters.

For the love of you, turn off your email after 5pm and on the weekends.
I know it’s tempting to send off a few last emails after the closing bell, or perhaps you think you’ll get ahead by firing off a few great ideas on a Sunday afternoon, or maybe late Saturday night. If you don’t think you have this problem, just ask yourself how many times you check your notifications when you’re not badged into your office? Did you just peak at a work ticket or an email after dinner? Maybe before bed? I’ll tell you form experience, you won’t gain the respect of others from working during down time, but you’ll surely burn yourself out. So, please, for the sake of you and your peers, turn it off after hours.

Do or Do Not
And, finally, borrowing from Yoda, a piece of advice that hopefully you’ll take with you far on your new journey. Be careful when saying Yes. And be mindful when you’re saying No. In other words, your time is extremely valuable and you’ll need to take great care in protecting it. But you’ll also find if you take a project on, only DO, there is no try, and there is no outcome acceptable less than 100%. Sink yourself into it, relish the details and expand the big idea. There’s no longer room to prioritize a less flattering project with little importance, as you’ll soon find out, as a manager once you’ve said yes, everything lives at one priority: high. No project is more or less important than the next, respect all deadlines as equals and push yourself to exceed your promises.

I could probably tell you a few more things, but what would be the joy in ruining your path of exploration? Don’t settle to be a good manager, make strides daily to be a great manager. Even if it’s only for you. Your habits, expectations, and ambition will drive your newly designated power and guide you far as you dive headfirst into your new career as a (self) manager. One last piece of parting advice, don’t forget to do your mundane tasks, they have a habit of sneaking up on you.

Best of luck and remember, a great manager doesn’t put themselves first.

Authors Note: I’ve spent the majority of my career becoming an executive, carefully navigating the corporate ladder. In seven days I’ll be a manager of one, along with 1,500 or so other colleagues.

If you’re interested in reading up on Evolutionary-Teal organizations or the finer points of self-management, I highly suggest dedicating a weekend to exploring the concepts presented in Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.

These are my personal thoughts and do not represent any views of the company or its leadership.