The management paradox

When I started managing I had NO idea what I was doing. In fact, I said yes to the job before I even knew what the hell it was. Let me back up, in 2002 the program director before me was let go and five minutes after he was let go the general manager exploded into the studio where I was doing my afternoon show and asked "can you program this radio station, because if you can't we will have to find someone who can." 

Turns out that is the most polite to halfway to fire someone, ever.

As would be the case with the rest of my life, I said yes then tried to figure out exactly how I was going to do this. I had been doing the day-to-day stuff for awhile, so I wasn't worried about the "radio" part, it was the people part that terrified me. Most people want to be liked, managers more than most, and in most broadcast mediums that likability runs headlong into ego, some of which is needed and most of which is not. Ego and management tend to get along as well as Michigan and Michigan State fans do, which is to say on a good day - not very well.

So my first few years were brutal, stressful, not fun, yet highly educational. I made my fair share of mistakes and dealt with some issues I never want to encounter again, but I came out on the other side with a view of how I wanted to manage going forward. 

1. You don't always need to be right

This is where I struggled the most early on, I thought well, if an employee comes to me with a problem I can't be wrong because that would show weakness. Turns out that is absolute bullshit because nobody can be right all the time, even my wife and she has a killer batting average. So take that feedback and do something meaningful with it, especially if they had the better answer.  

2. Care about your team

No not as much as your family, but close. You will spend more time with them and likely deal with more struggle and conflict that empathy can be your greatest asset. Invest in getting to know the people around you and MEAN IT. Don't just ask how their weekend was while you are looking at your phone, be the manager that asks them about their kids playoff soccer game before they tell you about it. Be the type of manager who gets a phone call at 2am and answers it with as much happiness as you can muster up because you know they didn't want to call you just as much as you didn't want to get the call - but you took it anyway because you care about your team. 

3. Celebrate the wins.

I am still bad about this but I try, very hard. I have always been a person who ships and moves on so I spend very little time in my personal or professional life celebrating things for myself, there is something else to accomplish. This is a terrible way to live your life.

You have to take time out to celebrate the things your team is doing that are amazing otherwise they will quit doing them, I promise. Hitting goals, having amazing events, or innovating a product line are all things that need to be recognized and celebrated early and often. 

4. Get your team where THEY want to be

This is a lesson I learned and embraced while in radio, as a manager it was my job to get the talent to a bigger market or that job they were looking for regardless of what it did to the station at the time and it hurt us bad a couple of times.

The staff were in Grand Rapids to pick up some skills and head off to bigger markets taking their talent and your insight with them. That is the goal. Killer talent wants to continue to get better and sometimes that isn't at their current job. So as a great manager, I feel you have to put your ego aside and get your team to where they are going to be happiest and if that is with you great. But, if it isn't I still think that is your job to help them with gusto then bring in someone new and start the process over. 

5. Understand nothing is given, it is all earned

Your team doesn't need to respect you, sorry they don't. You have to earn that and when you do, don't waste it. Because, like time, respect is a commodity in short supply in business that very few people get to enjoy authentically.

6. Never ask something of them you wouldn't do yourself

Yes, there are perks to moving up the corporate ladder but the further you go up the ladder the farther you get away from the action on the ground. So one of the things I always try to do is not ask a member of the team to do anything I am not willing to do myself.

Your team wants their manager to be in the trenches with them not standing on the watchtower yelling down at them. If your team senses that you feel the task is "beneath you" how do you think it makes them feel that you are asking them to do it instead? 

7. Leadership isn't a title. 

It is an action word, leadership is what you do when your team isn't paying attention (or at least you think they aren't). Leaders do the next right thing every time without excuse and if they stumble they admit it, apologize, and start over. Your title of "manager "doesn't make you a leader, it might make you the guy that approves vacations or time cards, but that job description sounds more like a gig at the DMV than any job I would want to have. Leadership is not just leading by example, it is leading as if it is your singular purpose and sometimes leading means getting out of the way.

You need to know when those times are and then get out of the way and let your team do what you hired them to do. 

I have a friend who told me once "everyone wants to be a manager, until they are one." It might be the best description of the job, ever. Leading a team as a manager can be one of the hardest jobs you may ever have, or it can be the most rewarding.

It depends on the way you look at it.

Are you the type of person who wants to see real personal growth in your team and have a part in how that growth is fostered? You will thrive in a management role. But, if you are the type of person who takes that job for the bigger cubicle and better bagels, you and your team are likely in for a bumpy ride. 

Eric HultgrenComment