I read my fair share of management books during my days as a CTO. Back then, my team was growing faster than I anticipated, and if I wanted to lead 20 engineers successfully, I had to upgrade my approach. But the standard principles of product management weren’t going to cut it. I needed a more personal approach to rally my team. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but I needed to performance hack my management style.
In the process, I learned that you shouldn’t wait for a promotion to start brushing up on managerial skills. Whether you’re a new hire or at the top of the company, working in an office of two or 2,000, it pays to have a handle on best practices. Here are the best pieces of management advice I’ve discovered along the way.
It’s About Talents, Not a Job Description
When I create a job listing, I focus on what makes the job interesting and important instead of a detailed list of qualifications. My top priorities are talent and common sense. If you first hire someone for their skills and then find the ideal place for them, both you and the employee are going to be a whole lot happier and your office will be a fun place to work. Even if you’re not in a management position, it’s important to be clear about the unique skillset you bring to the table and work that into your contributions.
Here’s my other hiring tactic: when I select someone with CTO potential, I start them in an engineering role. Seeing how work happens through all levels of the company gives an eventual-manager time to better understand peers—a skill every good leader needs. It’s much easier to delegate when you have this level of perspective. Around here, the first one to three months for a new employee are nothing but tech, free of distractions brought on by management.
Think for Yourself and Improve Faster
I once had a well-regarded product manager with a technical sales background. I was excited about his experience and ability to help promote the product—until he started asking the dreaded question:
What do you want me to do?
I’m so allergic to this phrase, when I hear it more than twice from an employee, I know they’re not ready to delegate and lead. My title might say I’m the boss around here, but I hire people to be big thinkers. I can’t stress how important it is to bring fresh ideas to the table and not be afraid to question authority. We limit ourselves by not sharing our ideas when we think someone else’s holds more weight. My employees are too talented to go around constantly saying “yes” to everything. How are we going to get better that way?
Know How to Stay Motivated
How do you light a fire in your team? Pull them into a room, debrief them on what the competition is up to and talk about what it’s going to take to win. In a single day, everyone had razor-sharp focus, ready to do whatever it took to get ahead. Within a month, we had new software out. Around here, it’s not just a job, it’s personal.
Being a manager has also shown me the power of keeping things in perspective. Shareholder value won’t get anyone excited about powering forward. At the end of the day, we’re putting out a product that makes the customer happy. It’s easy to get caught up in the details, but never forget what you’ve set out to do.
Know How Much Work is Too Much
You’re not going to get fired for admitting you have too many tasks to handle. At least not here. As far as I’m concerned, busy is good, but employees who are too busy can be a manager’s worst nightmare. When I realize my teams and managers are swamped, I try my hardest to take things off their plate and help them focus. Employees are only encouraged to come to a meeting and take a new task if it’s something they can handle and no one is faulted for knowing their limits—which is a hard (but valuable) lesson to accept, especially when you’re just starting out.
Becoming a better manager has involved a lot of trial and error, but the results are exciting. Last year, my team in Austria had two people leave and one return—beyond our two-dozen new hires each year. This year, no one has left and one just interviewed who wants to return. I’d be selling our team short if I didn’t associate part of that with our technology and product, but I like to think the culture and management style we have in place keeps our office full of energy and dedication.
Do you have a signature management style? What do you think it takes to be an effective leader?