A few days ago I received this email inquiry from Anita, a Fortune China reader:
“Recently I was promoted from a sales staff to sales director. Could you kindly give me some suggestions on how to become an excellent sales manager? Your reply will be highly appreciated. Anita.”
At the time, I was riding in a car from the airport back to my home, and had about 30 minutes of free time, so I responded directly using my iPad. But now I want to shape my response into a proper article to share with all my readers because I felt this was such a great question. Although she was asking about ‘sales manager,’ in fact, 95% of being an excellent manager is the same regardless of what function you are in. I am certain that this reader knows more about sales than I do, so I am responding to the phrase “excellent manager.”
Thanks for your inquiry. It's a great question. Congratulations, you have just shifted from the role of Technician to the role of Orchestrator. You used to be important because of what you personally did with your own hands. Now, you have an opportunity to be important because of what you can achieve through Orchestrating the work and the careers of others.
If you want to become an excellent manager, here are some guiding principles that have stood the test of time:
Develop People, Focusing on Strengths not Weaknesses. The number one role of a manager is not “supervising” but developing and growing people. Find out what people are good at and help them become even better. Ask them what capabilities they want to grow and then find ways for them to learn and practice. Challenge your people to stretch and be the best they can be, remaining always ready to help them. Don’t waste time trying to make everyone achieve at the same level for every single competency. Figure out where each person’s special talent lies and fan the flames of their natural abilities and aspirations. You will build a team of champions.
Be a Coach for Others, Every Day. Since your primary focus now is on developing others, make time every day to coach your people. Give them positive feedback for their good work and give them sensitive feedback and suggestions on how to improve when they need it. Find something positive to acknowledge every day. Whatever behavior you acknowledge, you will get even more of that in the future. Focus on building trust in ever encounter so you are always making deposits, never withdrawals, in the relationship bank account. And, as you demonstrate your commitment to coaching your team you are signaling “this is the way to be a manager around here.”
Be the Type of Manager You Always Wanted. Now is your chance to serve your team, instead of being a "Lord" over them. I’m sure you wanted a manager who cared, who listened, who helped you, gave you coaching and acknowledged your good work on a regular basis. Go ahead and be that type of manager now. Resist the temptation to ‘micro-manage’ people; instead give them appropriate challenges and then help them succeed. Set goals for their success, coach them along the way, and when they succeed, give them the credit. If your people are thriving and growing, you are being successful, you don’t need to take the credit. Be the manager they have always wanted.
Be Skeptical but LEARN to Listen. Don’t believe everything you see or hear. At the same time, don’t assume everything you hear is suspect. Learn to listen deeply and carefully to each and every person with whom you communicate. Be curious about their model of the world. Notice, but don’t condemn, erroneous thinking and attitudes you encounter. Remember that, in some way, every behavior has a positive intention. When people realize that you are really listening to them, they will lose interest in manipulations and will become interested in making a difference because they respect and trust you.
Jump Into the Hole and Help. When people fall into a hole, as they always will, don't just stand at the top shouting at them to get out of the hole. Instead, jump down in the hole with them, roll up your sleeves, and show them how to get out. This does not mean you are going to ‘save them’ from their problems; of course they learn best by doing things themselves. But when you see that someone is really stuck, don’t merely respond with platitudes, slogans, or good ideas. That is a form of abandonment and is irresponsible. When it really matters, show people that you are ready to get your hands dirty if that’s what it takes for them to learn what they need to learn. Learn to discern when you should coach and when you should jump into the hole and help.
Share Your Passion and Vision with Stories; Invite Them to Own the Plan. As a manager, you are building a high-performing team. If you have a clear picture in your mind about what it will look like when that team is performing with excellence, that is your Vision. Help them understand your Vision with compelling stories that bring your vision to life so it will be crystal clear. Then, invite your team to come up with THEIR plan showing how to achieve the vision and, as much as possible, allow them to work their plan. Yes, coach them, but don't put your hand in a machine that's running!
To repeat: Use stories to clarify the future you desire. Then invite them to create a path to that future using their ideas and creativity. If you manage like this, you will be a manager that everyone wants to work for. You will also never have a problem of “getting the team to take ownership” because they will be highly engaged in putting their own ideas into action.
Never Stop Investing in Yourself. Hire a coach to help keep you focused on success amidst the chaos and turbulence of work. Read the latest articles and books on trends in your industry, feed your mind with the best ideas from the minds of others. Then share these ideas with your team and listen to their response. When they realize that you are devoted to never-ending-learning, they will copy you. Your investment in yourself sends the message that you are committed to excellence, to growing yourself, and to growing others.
NEVER Take Anything Personally. This is the mindset that truly separates the grownups from the children. When you hear advice, suggestions or complaints as criticism or as a personal attack on your authority, you are making a huge mistake. When you take things personally, you make it impossible for people to share the most important information you need to be successful. When there are problems, you will be the last to know. People will take satisfaction when you trip on your own hubris and fall on your face. So when you hear feedback from others, listen to it cleanly and respectfully; consider it calmly and ask yourself if there is some truth in it. The fact is: information is just information. It is NOT about you. By learning not to take anything personally you are publicly modeling for others the way you want them to respond to each other’s feedback. And you are showing them how to be a grownup. Would you respect an ego-driven manager, who, like a small child, thinks that everything is about them?
If you can be this type of leader, your team will walk through fire for you. It will no longer be about 'transactions' (tasks) but is now about relationships and the possibilities of working together as a team.
Remember: success as a manager is, to a great extent, about who you are being every day, the model you are demonstrating for others and how much trust and rapport you can build in every interaction. If you will adopt these guiding principles, and practice them, you are surely on your way to Becoming an Excellent Manager.