Going from just executing my own tasks to leading others requires a whole different perspective — and I’m still learning.
How does one become a good manager? Or a good leader?
In university, they teach many theories and concepts on how to be both those things. I see the benefits of learning and knowing them, but I think that’s not all we need in the real world.
Personally, I’ve learned so much from keeping an open mind and being willing to try anything, as well as being blessed enough to have learned from some of the industry’s best. This has given me a well-rounded perspective and helped me slowly grow from simply following and executing directions to managing and teaching my team members.
It’s been a very interesting and fulfilling journey as I take my first steps towards becoming a better leader. Here’s what I’ve learned.
First, learn and adapt
Before you can lead, first you must learn. In a startup, everyone has to do everything. No matter how good we might be in a specific skillset, we all need to understand how the organisation works as a whole and have the basics required to finish a project down pat. Why? Because that helps us understand why things need to be done a certain way, how things should be communicated and where we fit into a project.
Being adaptable and having the right attitude will help a person go far here. We need to be observant, be open to learning, and be able to handle any challenges that are thrown at us. This will help us learn and develop many important skills over time that will serve us well in the long run. I believe in the importance of well-rounded staff, especially when it comes to working in a startup.
Manage through understanding
Being a leader isn’t about doing everything yourself, but empowering others to do their best work and achieve business goals. Teamwork is important.
Even if everyone can do everything, not everyone is best for the job, especially when it comes to crunch time. In PR, we need to be agile and understand how to best solve the problem within as little time as possible. This requires getting the right person for the job, and it’s a leader’s job to identify that person.
As a more experienced member of the team, I was familiar with most of the clients that we had. I also knew what my teammates were good at and enjoyed working on. I recognised their abilities and their pace of work. Matching my teammates’ capabilities and interests with the right clients thus came very naturally to me.
I believe this yielded better results all around as the servicing team was genuinely interested and excited about the work they were doing for the client, which translated into better work, better service — and happier clients.
Don’t make these mistakes
No one becomes a great leader overnight. Throughout this journey, I’ve also made many mistakes and learned many hard lessons. I’m sharing them here with other new managers so that you can avoid making these mistakes too.
- Don’t make yourself the standard. I learned to understand and accept that each person has their own ways and pace of working. As long as they deliver as requested, I have to respect that and not spend too much time worrying over how fast or how well they work in comparison to myself.
- Don’t doubt your teammates. It’s tempting to micromanage (as above) but it doesn’t feel good working under a micromanager. Be clear about the deadline. Trust them, guide them, and leave them room to breathe, learn and finish the task. Make sure they let you know when it’s done, then you take it from there. Give them your trust until they prove they deserve otherwise.
- Know how to delegate. Don’t try to do everything yourself. As mentioned above, know who is best at what and know their pace, then delegate tasks to them with that in mind. Effective delegation frees up your time to work on and look at the bigger picture.
- Communicate clearly and effectively. Be an active listener, share your thoughts proactively and encourage others to do the same. I find it really helps the workflow when everyone communicates openly. We stay on the same page, avoid misunderstandings and make better progress.
- Be someone who inspires them. Show them what you got. Practice what you preach. You know what you’re doing, so be confident. But also lead them with kindness, patience and an open heart. Don’t be shy with praise when they do something good, but be fair with criticism if warranted (this reminds me of classical conditioning. It actually works!). Invest your time in connecting with them and set work boundaries. Authority is earned through respect, not demanded by fear.
- Acknowledge your own mistakes and fix them. Don’t be afraid to apologise. We’re all human and make mistakes. People appreciate when you acknowledge them. However, you don’t need to be over-apologetic. Focus on keeping communication open, find a solution to the situation as soon as you can and move forward.
- Take your emotions out of work. While this can apply to all employees, managers’ decisions have a bigger impact on others. It’s important that they don’t let emotions cloud their judgment and see problems for what they are. I’m friends with many of my colleagues, so I need to establish a boundary for myself so that I don’t take things that happen at work personally. I haven’t read about people having different personalities for the roles they play every day, but I’m sure it exists somewhere.
- Always be prepared. As a manager, you can’t afford to not be well-prepared. Make a plan that will help your team run smoothly, even if you have to wake early or sleep late. You need to be capable of allocating the right work and set a realistic timeline for your team, as well as managing clients and other moving parts in the project — including any crisis that crops up.
- Find the right balance between your team and the client’s needs. I’ve often tried too hard to impress the client and not been considerate enough of my team. This is very unfair to them as they are working hard and giving their best. However, I’m lucky to have a team that communicates when I push things too far. So, always be mindful of both sides. You are contract-bound to serve the client, but your team has been and will be in it all with you. Be nice and be wise.
- Have fun with your team. The right team doesn’t just fall from the sky; it is made. Be the best version of yourself at work. Enjoy your work and your colleagues’ presence as much as you can. Create fun, happy memories. Build connections. These will make people want to stay longer in your team.
You don’t need a fancy degree from a big-name university to be a great manager. You don’t have to graduate on the honour roll to understand your clients’ needs and how each member of your team can work to achieve business goals. All it takes is a little adaptability, empathy, and understanding.
My journey towards leadership continues, and I’m enjoying it every step of the way — mistakes and all.