this month's, big question on learning circuits blog is about how to support new managers. while we haven't had a lot of responses thus far, the contributions have been great. rather than repeat what others have already said (because I agree with almost everything I've read so far), let me take a more personal approach.
whenever i get thinking about good management, i immediately think of the fortune i've had to have had more than my share of awesome managers. some times i've had great personal connection with my manager and other times personally we were like oil and water. i'm grateful to all of them, whether mentioned below or not, for their patience and willingness to teach me.
ed henson was my first boss out of college and he shared a practice with me i've continued over the past 24 years. ed had a "happy file." when ever he received something that praised his work or him, he stuffed it in his happy file. as he explained to me, as a leader you will have moments of doubt. are you any good? can you pull off another miracle and meet this deadline? in those moments, you pull out your happy file and sift through those accolades to remind yourself how good you are.
jim poe was my first district sales manager. jim knew how to close a sale as well as anyone, but what he taught me was to relax, keep moving, and have fun. no matter what else we needed to discuss in our weekly, or more frequent, phone calls i could always count on jim asking, "hey buddy. are you having fun?" learning new things, interacting with customers and colleagues, and helping customers solve problems have been activities of joy and play for me ever since i worked for jim.
not surprisingly, i learned to pick my fights from a tough little irishman named jack macgarrie. jack was my regional sales manager when i moved to boston. a sage piece of advice i'll never forget was "dave, we have 14% of the market and
we're the market leader. that means if you knocked on every customer's door you'd hear no 86% of the time. 1) get used to it, it happens. 2) your job is to pick the right doors." he also taught me to listen for what the customer really wants. ultimately, no matter what they are saying, they will buy what they want.
charlie heinle opened my mind to questioning the status quo. creating a product "just like" the market leader was of no interest to charlie. "setting the pace" was a mandate to go out, find the thought leaders, come to understand their vision of the future and build to it. he also taught me that a good manager sings the praises of his/her people (my happy file has lots of notes from charlie) and leaves it to others to note his/her successes.
what i learned from jose wehnes q. while at heinle could fill a book. which is probably a tribute to the biggest thing i learned from jose - teach. first and foremost, teach what you know, share your successes and failures, learn something new and then teach that. bring new ideas to the table. challenge people to think. to learn new ideas. and do it with a passion that burns from deep inside you.
kathi prancan knew how to make budget numbers dance. if you understand what finance needs and you know what is legal and ethical, you can make your budget work to meet your needs. she also taught me how to maintain a professional distance while remaining compassionate when dealing with employees in distress.
carol vallone showed me the power of overcoming the fear to ask anyone any question when they may have the answer you need. she also demonstrated how to wear the mantle of leadership lightly. her grace and style as ceo are an aspiration to me. she also told me "keep your eyes on the horizon. if you look down at your feet, the mess of details will paralyze you. but if you focus on your ultimate goal, your feet will keep moving until you get there."
carol's sidekick, barb ross has a volume on the bookshelf in my head right next to jose's. above all the details, barb believed in me. she knew i could do more that I could imagine doing myself. when she asked me to build the educational services department after we bought webct, i looked at her and said "why me? i don't have experience in training or consulting." her response was, "one - you're here." (she was always very pragmatic that way.) "but more importantly, two - i know you can do it." honestly, i thought she was nuts, but fortunately, i took her word for it and accepted her offer. the next two years proved to be the most astounding years of my life. in large part because i trusted her belief in me and i in turn hired people who I knew had potential beyond their current achievements.
one of the hardest things for a manager to learn is how to modulate their mode of communication to fit the needs of a situation. yvette hetrick showed me how this can be done without coming off looking like some multiplicitious camelion. letting each manager define their own style, as long as they are meeting their goals, and working with their style when working with them seemed natural to yvette. but i learned, as she struggled to allow me my style, that she worked very hard at this aspect of her craft.
after writing all of this, what i would tell a new manager today is that becoming a great manager takes time. you can read books, listen to podcasts and attend seminars as an aide to learning. Watch the other managers around you. what works? what doesn't? why? then try it out. what it comes down to is experience combined with honest self-reflection and patience. patience with those who work for you and patience with yourself.
and learn. in every moment. in every crisis. in every victory. learn.