While management books offer valuable insights and strategies, true leadership and management skills extend beyond the pages.
Ten years ago, when I was starting in a team lead position, I wanted to know everything about the subject as fast as possible, so I started reading all the books I could get my hands on.
After devouring 15 of them, I realized that many of the concepts are similar, and I was not getting any wiser. At that point, I reached out to my mentor to ask him for suggestions for good management books and advice on how to improve my leadership skills. His reply has stuck with me ever since:
“To get better at management you have to get better at understanding people”
His book recommendations were more from the realm of emotional intelligence, philosophy, and psychology. The art of effective leadership requires a nuanced understanding of human behavior, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.
Let’s go over five crucial lessons that you can’t learn solely from management books and that come from a mix of personal experience and mentorship.
Usually, management books often emphasize the importance of setting goals and achieving objectives, but they may not delve into the significance of trust and authenticity. As a leader, trust should be the foundation you build with your team from day 1.
Once you establish trust, everything else will be easier. Mistakes that you will make will be more easily overlooked, difficult conversations will be a lot less painful on both sides and so on.
Trust is usually mentioned in books, but it’s not given the correct importance. If you have to pick only one thing you could improve in your team, if you improve trust, all other things will follow.
The formula for building trust is simple, but it has to be done consistently:
- say you will do something
- do it
- show that you have done it.
Miss any of the steps, and it will not be efficient. Do all of them for a reasonable period of time, and people will see you as trustworthy. This works universally with everyone, your team, your boss, your spouse, your kids, heck, even with your pets.
Reading about how to handle things is not the same as experiencing them. In management, you get more experience by navigating various situations and not only by reading about them.
You may know that you need to let go of somebody that is continuously underperforming because it affects the entire team. However, having a difficult conversation and taking the needed steps is something that, regardless of how many books you read, will still be hard.
You may know what you need to do to create trust, but creating this in your team or organization is a totally different thing that requires constant awareness.
In the beginning, after reading 20+ management books, I thought I was ready to face any challenge, but I was wrong. You get experience by going through different situations, and how you navigate them tells a lot about your management style.
Why do you think that at any management interview, one question is asked every time: did you have a hire that didn’t work out, and how did you approach it?
People shy away from this subject like it is taboo. Everyone knows this happens at any workplace, but folks try to avoid it.
As a manager and leader, you have to understand politics and successfully navigate it for your and your team’s sake. You will need to learn to navigate politics successfully for your team to succeed. I will explain why:
In any organization, there is a finite set of resources, be it projects, funding, headcount, or all of the above.
As a manager, your top priority is to make your team successful and develop individuals. For this to happen, you need to attract challenging projects and opportunities for your team. Given that resources are finite, you will compete with other managers and teams that want the same thing.
How you approach this is entirely up to you and is a testament to your skillfulness and seniority. You could opt for making the pie bigger, creating new opportunities in the company for not just your team but for others, which will solidify your position as a great leader. On the other hand, you could just “fight” for the current resources and start making knee-jerk moves with your fellow managers that will surely hurt you and your team more than you will gain.
There is a saying: “as you make your bed, so you must lie on it”.
I don’t think I have ever read about this term in any management book, so I will try to explain. You all know about technical debt, the moment when you are cutting corners and patching things up, knowing that in the future, it will come down to bite you; you may not know how or when, but you know it will come.
The same thing happens in management. Ignore and don’t do things that you should do, and they will pile up, leading to undesired behaviors down the road.
What are the things that you should do that have the potential to incur management debt:
- Regular 1:1s
- Skip level 1:1s
- All hands where you present and talk about the company vision but also get questions and address topics of interest. The harder the questions you get, the better trust there is.
- Addressing unwanted behavior as fast as possible
- Praise publicly, address constructive feedback privately
- Performance management and growth plans
- Building trust
- Leading by example (talk the talk and walk the walk )
- And don’t forget to be authentic
Simon Sinek had a good parallel here. Doing the right things in management is like brushing your teeth every day. If you skip a day or two, your teeth will be fine, but if you constantly don’t do it, your teeth will decay and fall out.
There is a lot to talk about managing debt, how to manage it, and how to balance all the things you need to do. I will try to cover that in a future article.
There’s an old saying that goes like this: management is not a doing game but a thinking game. My personal view is that it is a careful blend of both. You have to think hard about what you will do and how you will use your finite time to influence your team or stakeholders, your projects, or your company. You have to think about the ROIs of your actions. Remember, trust is earned by saying you will do things, doing them, and showing that you have delivered your promise.
Some returns may not be that obvious; for example, helping a colleague struggling with a simple task may not be the best use of your time from an efficiency perspective, but this signals that you are there for your team, which has an infinite ROI.
Yes, you definitely should. There are plenty of good books that teach you the ABC, present various examples of situations and how to handle them, mistakes that junior managers make, and many more. When you read a decent amount of them, you will see that many concepts are similar. At that point, you can focus your learning on understanding human nature, psychology, philosophy, and so on.
But the most valuable learnings will be from the experiences you will go through and how you have handled them.
After 10 years in management, in my journey from a junior manager to Director, I have had my fair share of management experiences. I have handled some of them well; I have learned invaluable lessons from others. I can say I got my share of management scars that have helped me develop and get better.
While management books undoubtedly provide valuable knowledge and insights, leadership and management skills go beyond what can be learned from the printed page. You will have to create trust in your team and go through experiences that will test your limits and get you out of your comfort zone. You will have to navigate politics, create lasting partnerships and never lose sight of management debt.