Making a manager: The people behind the success stories
As a new manager, I often wondered about my own managers’ mentors and inspiration.
From my current vantage point, I can attest that successful managers view every interaction as an opportunity to learn and define who they want to be as a boss. As Mozilla CMO, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff suggests, “Be open to learning from and adapting your management style through listening to everyone you work with (not just your direct managers or executives).”
I would add that it’s not just work interactions, but personal ones as well.
Elizabeth Robillard now heads up operations and partnerships at Lytics, but her first job out of college was at a New York research institute. “I had a very quiet manager for my first few months,” she recalls. “I didn’t get a lot of feedback and often wondered how I was doing and what I could do differently. A few months in, I was put on a project connected to a different manager. During our first meeting, she laid out her expectations, how she worked and what she expected. I learned how important communication and clear expectations are. I’m often very direct in my communication and management style as a result of that early experience.”
The Direct Reports
It is often direct reports who provide the clearest reflection a new manager’s success. Now an acclaimed bestselling author of Disrupt Yourself, Whitney Johnson says that her management turning point came when she lost a good employee. “Twenty years ago, I had just started in equity research. Anxious and scared, I worked all the time. Needlessly. One of my best employees left to do something else—mostly because I didn't manage well. I realized I didn't want to be that person.”
Didier Elzinga, CEO and founder of culture analytics company, Culture Amp, recalls his psychologist father asking him early on, "Do you get satisfaction from the success of others? If you don’t you won’t enjoy being a manager.” Today, Didier says that idea has not only helped in his development but also in helping others succeed.
It’s not just work and family that influence a manager’s style. Whether it’s getting involved in charity or a club, or simply burying yourself in management and self-improvement books, every interaction is an opportunity to learn and grow.
For my part, I wouldn’t be where I am without a mountain of books, a history of some truly great bosses and team members, parents who pushed me to push myself and time spent captaining/helping to start a championship-winning ultimate frisbee team (herding cats teaches you a lot about organizations and personalities).
While not all new managers are so blessed, HR leaders can help by assigning mentors, setting up regular one-on-ones between new managers and their bosses as well as their direct reports, and regularly asking for 360 feedback to give new managers a clear picture of where they can make adjustments to succeed.