Billboards. High and imposing. Designed to make a lasting impression. Just like the impression a great manager can have on your professional career.
My mom and aunts made their careers working for Outdoor Services in New York, so you could say that billboards were something of a family business. Not for me, though. I earned my bachelor’s degree in education with an eye toward teaching high school, manning the phones at OSI to help pay my way through school.
As “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” soon after graduating, I found myself casting aside all my training (or so I thought) for a career in—you guessed it—billboards! I blame the likes of Susan Rezmovic-Cohen, Christina Radigan, and Matt Leible. As the beneficiary of their mentorship throughout my twenties, my “mismatched” skill set—my learned-on-the-job expertise in OOH and formal teaching background — suddenly achieved unique and indispensable application when I was called upon to manage the Los Angeles office.
After twenty years in the world of out-of-home—having sat on both sides of the desk—I can testify that being a great manager requires a broader proficiency than is commonly understood. While what follows is by no means a comprehensive guide to management, here are the four paramount fundamentals.
When we envision ourselves calling the shots, here’s a question we seldom if ever give a moment’s consideration: Do I even want to be a manager?
Think about that for a moment. Do you want to take on the responsibility of shouldering your team’s problems, failures, and challenges? Are you willing to take the time—often away from your own pressing deadlines—to teach critical thinking, a skill cultivated only through experience and patient mentorship?
Being a great manager brings obligation with it—it isn’t simply the next pay bump in your career; you owe it to both yourself and your company be honest about your intentions. If you don’t want to make the long-term investment of molding minds, and not merely training hands, then I would advise against going into management.
Know Your Teammates
Your team is a tremendous asset to you, so get to know them on a personal level. Where did they grow up? Where do they like to vacation? Grab lunch with them, spend time talking to your teammates. If I understand what makes my people tick, I can better mentor and guide them. Each time a problem arises, you need to know which management hat to put on: Is it time for tough love? Is it time to be supportive? What kind of guidance does this particular person need at this particular time? Having this intimate understanding will help you help them.
Let Them Know You
You’re in this role for a reason; you have acquired skills and experiences over the years that have shaped you and that, therefore, will shape them, so let your team get to know you. Talk about your failures, your growth, the bosses you’ve had (both the good and the not-so-good); let your team see you as a person so they’re comfortable speaking to you. Share some of your own “rookie mistakes,” like the time right out of school when you netted down already-net numbers on a client grid and spent the whole weekend in a sweaty panic. We’re often afraid of The Unknown: don’t be The Unknown to your team. If they’re afraid to talk to you or afraid of how you’ll react to a problem, they won’t go to you for help.
Engage in Meaningful Communication
Communicate to the larger group and meet one-on-one to discuss performance on a regular basis.
When you run a status meeting, throw yourself into the mix. Explain what you’re working on and the challenges you’re facing—your team needs to understand what you do and see you in the trenches with them; some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a manager stemmed from not understanding how important this is to the group’s health. Yes, you sit in the Big Chair, but if you’re not seen as a member of the team, working toward the same goal, then you’re potentially allowing resentment to foment.
I’ve never met anyone who loved performance evaluations. Even if the report is glowing, it’s still accompanied by a lot of stress, often because we’re unsure of what we’re going to hear. Take this burden off your team and do not allow these formal meetings to be the first time this information is communicated. At the beginning of a working relationship, clearly set expectations, explain a path to achieve and advise progress on an ongoing basis. At any time throughout the year, your team should be able to explain their goals and self-evaluate.
Managing people well is hard and it’s an ongoing learning experience, but you can build meaningful connections and set both yourself and your team up for success by implementing these basic strategies.
Managers—like billboards—operate from a high vantage. They convey a message. They can wield great influence. But they’re only as effective, their impact only as positive, as the care that’s been put into their strategic positioning. A manager has to know the audience she is addressing. She needs to communicate effectively. She needs to impart a clarity of purpose and sense of confidence to all those who look up to her. Over two decades into my career, I’m still evolving my own skill set—and, accordingly, my philosophical approach to management—but I believe the four areas I’ve outlined above are tried-and-true essentials.