How many times have you heard the same old stories about people managers who lose respect from their teams simply because they can’t lead by example? They ask their teams to meet deadlines but miss every one of them. They tout company values like respectful communication but will shoot their mouths off at every minor conflict. As more and more millennials join the workforce - demand transparency and openness in more than just seat plans, expect respect by virtue of one’s designation or years of experience - people management is only going to get harder.
People management is a tough job. Earning the respect of those who report to you is the toughest part. For people to be effective managers, it’s important that they learn the art of managing themselves first. Leading by example is the surest way to earn respect, and it is often easier, less complicated and far more long-lasting than the networks one forms on the basis of personal agendas and cliques.
But what does managing oneself mean, exactly? It’s a bunch of things – self-regulation, discipline, accountability, and commitment. Simply put, it is the art and science of being a grown-up.
Delegation is great but when it comes at the cost of a team overworking itself, while you enjoy your long smoke breaks and longer gossip fests, it’s just wrong. It signals that your only priority is your own bandwidth, while everyone else slogs away. It is hard to respect someone as an individual, let alone someone who is tasked with the responsibility of managing your performance. Not only is this approach unfair, it is also a tad inhuman if you think about it. Dig deep, share the load, and share credit. That’s what teamwork is about!
Once you have your own to-do list sorted with actual work on it, it is time to take a look at the deadlines. If you are the kind of manager who sits on things for weeks and then expects magically fast turnaround from your team, it is going to be hard for you to earn respect. Do your bit. Meet your deadlines. It’s really that simple. Told a client you will respond to them by EOD? Do it. Your team needs your approval to move forward with a project? Send it. And when you can’t, the least you can do is manage expectations before small delays become large issues.
Let’s get one thing out of the way – nobody knows everything there is to know. The reason we spend 40 odd years in a career and don’t start off at the top is because there are lessons to be learned along the way. There are technical skills to pick up, people management nuances to learn, a deep understanding of business to inculcate. Being a people manager doesn’t mean your time to learn new skills or to perform is done and dusted. In fact, teams catch these slip-ups from their people managers way more easily, so you have to be on your toes at all times.
It's not just limited to being a stellar performer. Rather it is important that people managers are committed to their own continuous learning and upskilling, just as much as they are keen on upskilling their teams. The ability to stay relevant in our times – when technologies and work culture are all in a state of flux – is that much harder and that much more crucial. Your team is going to respect you more if you have the foresight to understand this and not consider yourself an invincible know-it-all.
Speaking of invincible, sound people managers also know when to ask for help. With their eyes constantly on the end goal, they can't afford to let their ego come in the way of meeting deadlines and delivering high-quality work. Asking for help, without being a constant freeloader, makes managers seem far more human and relatable to their teams.
As a people manager, you will be expected to fight more battles each day. You are no longer responsible only for your workload, your timings, and your discipline. You will be expected to take on the mantle and speak on behalf of your team too.
If you are the kind of person who froths at the mouth at every conflict, I wouldn’t be surprised if your tantrums are rarely taken seriously. Also, your team will question your ability to be a spokesperson, who can succinctly voice their issues and concerns. Without objectivity in your arguments, you will be losing most battles even before they start.
Learning to pick your battles and fighting tooth and nail yet staying objective to the cause are crucial skills for a people manager. This is where a high emotional quotient comes into play. Don’t let minor setbacks come in the way of being and dealing with issues maturely. Your role as a people manager is the right time to switch from being a lone warrior to an astute diplomat. You will be required to find the middle ground in times of conflict, without raising the colloquial hell. In fact, you will be expected to resolve bottlenecks that occur due to diverse agendas and work styles within your team and/ or organisation. The sooner you realise what your new role really means in terms of organisational behaviour and problem solving, the faster you will be able to pick up these skills.
Internalize this – people management is a whole different animal compared to everything one does at work before that. It presents situations that will require you to unlearn and re-learn a fair bit. Learning to manage yourself is a good starting point.