10 things I learned in a year of studying management skills

January 22, 2020 01:30

I spent a lot of last year working on my “management skills.”

(This is where snarky members of my staff might say, “Really? Too bad you didn’t learn anything.”)

There is a lot of management advice out there. I went to training conferences, read books and articles, listened to podcasts and worked with coaches and mentors. If I wrote down everything that great managers are supposed to do, it would be yet another book about management.

All the management material asserts that if you simply follow all the advice you will be awesome, your company successful and both your bosses and direct reports will respect you and want to be your friend.  (Except that some research says good managers should not become friends with the people at work.)

But there was advice that kept popping up again and again, a sort of “Management Top 10” that either stuck in my brain through repetition or because the advice resonated with me personally in my job as news director.

These top 10 are essentially my resolutions for this year. Some will be easy because I do them already. Others will take some effort.

Claiming none of these as original ideas, here’s my list.

The best managers:
  1. Do the least amount of talking in meetings, because they are listening to and evaluating others ideas.
  1. Hire people who can do their jobs better than the manager, and then let them, but have the skills to back them up when necessary.
  1. Meet regularly for one-on-ones with each direct report to discuss goals and progress.
This is the tough one for me. On any given day, the “emergency” fires lit from above and below, combined with breaking news, project deadlines and scheduled meetings easily fill all waking hours. Face-to-face meetings with individual staffers are more likely to be about scheduling, ethics, story ideas and deadlines, discipline, project updates and everything else, and not about their future or their goals. But most of the management material I came across said this is crucial to good management.     
  1. Coach members of their team to achieve their goals, and train individuals to be able to replace the manager.
  1. Focus effort on a small number of important strategic goals, and don't get distracted by every idea of "what else we should be doing."
  1. Are as transparent as law and ethics allow in their decision making.
As managers, we can’t always share everything we know with our staff. Sometimes you make decisions based on knowledge you have about one staff member that may be nobody else’s business, or that you legally can’t share. Other times upper management may be asking you to keep something quiet for legal or strategic reasons, but it affects the decisions you make.
If you are as transparent as you can be with your decisions, though, staff will be more likely to trust you when you cannot be entirely forthcoming. Also, trusting your staff with information often leads to better decision making when you get their input as well.
7. Praise successes twice as much as addressing mistakes.
8. Are cheerleaders for the team and bring a positive attitude to work each day.
Really? Every day? I find this is easy to start but can be difficult to maintain as the day progresses. But people really do take emotional cues from leadership in the room. Yes, people will make you angry, yes they will disappoint you, and even intentionally or unintentionally hurt your feelings. When you publicly dwell on that or react to it, though the repercussions affect the whole team.
9. Delegate everything that someone else on the team knows how to do. (Just don’t delegate it all to one person.)
10. Treat people fairly, but do not make it their job to make life fair.

Managing isn’t easy. Managing a newsroom is a particular challenge. And working on “management skills” is career-long process, but much of the good advice out there boils down to continual improvement on these ten goals.