The most valuable lessons I learned as a bigwig manager that also help me in my startup
It has been a real culture shock to go from public sector bureaucrat to startup CEO in many ways. But there are many skills I have found to be transferable and even more valuable in this situation than in my previous one.
I probably would have been the first to think that after managing a large, multi-million pound department that running a little startup would be easy, light touch, and require a fraction of the work. In some respects that is true. The governance related to an organisation funded by taxpayer money feels very different to being beholden to customers and the bottom line (and maybe one day, investors and a board!).
But I have already realised it is pure folly not to take some things seriously, or consider them to not need as much attention, just because of the difference in official accountability structures. I think that those of us who have been in a job for a while and begin to think we know everything and have seen it all also tend to fall into this trap.
It is easy, especially if performance or the bottom line is not suffering, to get complacent and think that the entity that you are managing can be left to just tick along- whether it is a small team, a startup, a large department or a whole corporation.
In my previous career, I learned a great deal the hard way about how to be a good manager and an effective leader.
But I learned even harder lessons about what not to do.
Each experience of getting the ten things below wrong led me to develop a more in-depth understanding of the fundamental issues that had the biggest impact on the success of my teams.
Let me share these with you so that you can avoid any of my previous mistakes!
1. Don’t ignore problems hoping they’ll go away.
2. Don’t think because an issue is small it doesn’t warrant any attention.
3. Don’t think you know what is causing a problem with staffing, or productivity, or effectiveness without actually looking into it and talking to people.
4. Don’t think that just because nothing appears to be awry that all is fine. It may be, but unless you are getting out in your teams (or into your operations) and talking to people and observing with your own eyes, you may miss an issue you could nip in the bud that will be twice as hard to deal with later.
5. Don’t ever think a place runs itself. Get to know what is “under the hood” that makes it run, and get some good systems and processes in place. And write them down!
6. Don’t ignore it when someone comes to you and tells you something is not right. Believe them until you have found out otherwise for yourself. Often people will not tell you directly in words- they will tell you through their actions. Learn to pick up the cues.
7. Don’t think that just because people have access to the internet that they have the information they need and that this will make them effective and efficient.
8. Don’t think that you don’t have any power over the workplace environment even if you work in a rented or corporate office.
9. Don’t think that because you can’t see culture, that it is not a vitally important element of your team’s success.
10. And finally, don’t try and fix anything alone!
These ten things can be read differently depending on the type of organisation you are in, and where you sit in the hierarchy. But I believe they remain true in a broad range of scenarios, perhaps with a little alteration.
It can often feel so much more comfortable, and certainly easier, to ignore small things and intangible things that are part of your sphere of responsibility. Anything that causes you even the littlest twinge of concern or discomfort is worth taking a good hard look at. Tackle it head on, as it may very well turn out to be nothing, or not as bad as it first seems, but certainly the earlier you address it the better off you’ll be.
Take it from someone who learned the hard way…
I have written a book on leading and managing teams based on my twenty years of experience using a simple four-part model that makes it possible for anyone to get a grip and do a good job. I will be sharing the first chapter to everyone who signs up on my list in the next few weeks. You can sign up here https://tinyletter.com/eshassere to receive the first chapter as well as news of the launch.
I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: https://medium.com/@eshassere If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the heart.