You’ve just gotten that promotion and now you’re in charge of a small team. Congratulations! And welcome to middle management. All the hard work and the knowledge you’ve developed about everything your firm does these past few years has been noticed. But, now you have a small team of people under you. You’re responsible for them. Don’t take this task lightly.
How does one get into middle management? You have to master the many aspects of your initial job. This could be anywhere from building models to painting decks to auditing the many line items of a company. Whatever it is you do, you have to be a rock star, you will probably have “seen it all”, and most importantly, your current bosses trust in your abilities and allow you to work (more or less) independently. Once all of those ducks are in a row, you’ll be granted more responsibility, in particular, the responsibility for the work of people under you.
You’ll be given, as I like to call them, minions. How you view your responsibility towards your new minions, and how you proceed with having them do your bidding (see why I call them minions?), can be the difference between being a good manager or a crappy one. We all have stories of crappy managers, but there’s a paucity of discussion on what makes a good one. Hopefully those of you about to enter into your first real management position will get some benefit from what I’ve learned over the years.
1. Don’t try to do all the work yourself.
You’re a rock star, and your minions, in comparison, will all be bumbling idiots who will turn in substandard work that, at best, represents “one step forward, two steps back”. Resist the urge to crank it out on your own. I recognize that this is one of the hardest things for new managers to do, especially early on. Letting your minions do the work, reviewing it, finding the myriad screw ups, then attempting to train away incompetency only to find yourself up all night scrubbing the report/model/deck/whatever anyways, is substantially less efficient then cranking it out on your own. You have to resist, you have to do it the hard way, because that’s the point of being a manager. You’re responsible for getting your minions up to speed and able to work independently at your level. Don’t worry, there are ways to make this process easier.
2. Know what tasks your minions are familiar with and what they can do relatively well.Sure, they’re minions, who are more liability than asset, but they’re not completely useless (probably). They all have their own talents and it’s up to you to figure out what they bring to the table. Some may be more adept with Excel or PowerPoint, while others moreso with accounting and analysis. Whatever tasks are important to your particular industry/company, see if one of your minions has any talent for it. Once you’ve figured out who can do what, lean on their strengths when assigning tasks. This will reduce the amount of work you have to do on the back end, and it will build confidence in your minions.
3. Foster teamwork among your minions. Initially, you lean on the strengths of your minions, but this can’t continue indefinitely. You don’t want to be the manager of a team of one-trick ponies. Eventually, your minions will have to master everything – not just the particular talents they arrived with – for you to be considered a successful manager. Luckily, they can do some of this work for you if you can effectively develop a sense of teamwork among them; whereby they’ll teach each other what they know. There are many ways to accomplish this, for example, take your minions out for drinks after a successfully completed project, then ditch them early on with an extra pitcher or two. One thing you don’t want to see is your minions, all day every day, glued to their computer screens and never interacting.
4. Know which minions are killing it, and which ones are struggling. This will come as no surprise, but as time goes on, you’ll find that some of your minions are straight crushing it, while others are struggling and bumbling along. While you probably have the power to recommend someone for termination, avoid this like the plague. If you have to fire someone because they can’t hack it, you will be the one who has failed. You were the one entrusted by your superiors to get these minions ready and able to crank out high quality work. Find a way to get the stragglers up to speed. One approach here is to attach your weakest minions to a minion who is crushing it and exceeding expectations. You’re effectively making your best minions, mini-managers, and they’ll benefit from the additional responsibility just like the strugglers benefit from their expertise. One big caveat: if a minion is struggling because they no longer want the job, if the position isn’t what they thought it would be and they want to do something else, help them move on. You do not, under any circumstances, want them to stay. Call your friends at other firms, write them recommendation letters, do whatever it takes to get them somewhere they’ll be successful.
5. Always credit your minions’ successes and always protect your minions when screw ups occur. Remember, your bosses already know you’re a rock star; that’s why you’re a manager. If you run around taking credit for the work your minions do, you’re not doing your new job, you’re doing your old job. When you tell your bosses about all the ways your minions are crushing it, what you’re really telling them is how you’re a kick-ass manager. The same concept flows in the opposite direction. When a minion screws up, that is your responsibility. You’re the one who didn’t catch their mistake and the final work product is ultimately your responsibility. Take the blame. It’s your fault anyways. It’s you who needs to figure out how to avoid these mistakes in the future.
6. Fight for your team. The ultimate goal for a manager is to not have to manage, to build a team that is capable of generating high-quality work with minimal supervision. Once this is accomplished, you, the manager, will be able to take a bigger role in the decisions and processes of your bosses. Here you’ll get a close up view on what is going on at the higher level. Periodically, some of the decisions being made will adversely affect your team, including but not limited to, layoffs, pay freezes/cuts, furloughs, and other budget cuts. While this is no easy task, but when you’re in situations like these, you have to strap on your big boy balls, and fight for your minions. This means you’ll be fighting against your bosses, or other managers like you, which will be a very uncomfortable position. But remember, you trained them, and because of your training they’re crushing it. If they need to layoff people, don’t let it be any of your guys. Even if it’s something good, like bonuses and pay raises. Fight to get your team a bigger slice of the pie. If you’ve done your job, they’ll deserve it. Remember, your minions are your work product, fight and defend them as you would fight and defend anything you’ve worked hard to perfect.
7. Transitioning from middle to upper management. Now that your team is working independently and generating high quality work, all while you’re being invited to meetings with superiors, you’re now at the point where you are a successful manager and everyone knows it. Sadly, being a rock star manager doesn’t grant you the golden ticket to upper management. Moving up from here takes more finesse. Play politics and get people to owe you favors. If you’ve done it right, you will have a team of minions who can help. Leverage the army of minions you’ve created. If you’ve been fighting for them, giving them their due credit, and protecting them when shit hits the fan, you’ll find that they’re loyal workers who have your back, just as you’ve had theirs. Also, don’t forget, your rock star minions want you to move up, too, because once you move up, a management position will open up for them. Remember, this transition is a difficult one, and will be different for everyone depending on what industry you’re in, the culture of your office, and annoying, simply the availability of upper management positions. This step isn’t something that’s easily generalized, and you’ll have to figure it out yourself when the time comes.
(Source: Wall Street Oasis)