According to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report, 70% of people in management roles are not well equipped for their job. This is concerning given the incredible impact a manager can have on their employees.
As I grow in my career, I want to ensure I am taking the steps to not only be equipped to manage others, but also enable growth, productivity, and inclusion within my teams. In that spirit, I decided to interview leaders who have directly or indirectly had a positive impact on my career at Credera.
While there are many qualities that make a great manager, I will highlight five essential qualities that were mentioned in my interviews. Before diving into these qualities, here are the five leaders I met with to discuss their perspective on this topic:
Justin Bell – CEO & Partner
Justin is the CEO at Credera. He has worked in both consulting and industry and joined the Credera family as a manager in 2004. Justin loves to travel and finds a way to take eight to ten weeks out of the year to travel with his family
Scott Covington – Partner
Scott is a vice president and partner at Credera, overseeing multiple practices at the firm. He enjoys lawn mowing, fly fishing, flying airplanes, SCUBA diving, traveling, and spending time with his wife and three kids.
Seema is a principal in our Management Consulting Practice. She is passionate about developing and leading the Credera Women’s Network and loves to dance in her free time.
John Franks – Principal, Analytics & Business Intelligence
John is a principal in the Analytics and Business Intelligence Practice at Credera with interest and experience in machine learning and artificial intelligence. He loves spending time with his family, paddle boarding, and playing chess.
Cristina Niver – Senior Manager, Management Consulting
Cristina Niver is a senior manager and Dallas geography lead in the Management Consulting Practice. She began her consulting career over nine years ago and spent some time in the classroom teaching high school mathematics to an incredible group of students. She is passionate about supporting her team, teaching her young daughters to be courageous girls, and spending time with her husband listening to the latest Anjunabeats podcast.
FIVE LESSON LEARNED ABOUT BEING A GREAT MANAGER:
In each interview, the theme of delegation and using project resources effectively was central to our discussion.
“By the time you become a manager, you start to realize there is more work to do than you can possibly do individually,” said Scott Covington. “The shift from being able to control everything you work on to relying on and encouraging others was difficult for me. I thought I’d be bored by delegating work to my team, but it takes time to effectively manage others to make the team successful.” He continued by emphasizing that new managers must empower and teach their teams to enable them to take on new responsibilities and create autonomy.
When taking on new responsibilities where you may have little experience, it’s important to use available resources.
“Managers that seem most polished and comfortable seem to seek counsel and utilize the resources available to them,” said John Franks. A lot of the time, these resources will be your project and day-to-day leadership or your mentor, but Seema Desai reminded me that junior resources on your team can also be valuable resources.
Another consistent theme I heard throughout my interviews was how critical team leadership is to project and personal success.
“Anyone can manage, but not everyone can lead,” Cristina Niver said. “We’re trained and coached well at Credera on the tactics of managing a project. But leading a team, that’s different. You are accountable for people’s growth areas and for giving them opportunities to grow while relinquishing control. Learn to delegate so people can get their hands dirty and learn new things. Even team morale, you set the stage for that. You’re being looked up to and people are following your lead.”
When Cristina said this, I immediately looked up from my notebook and contemplated how impactful that statement was: “Anyone can manage, but not everyone can lead.”
Initially, I was intimidated by this claim. My imposter syndrome was showing—what if I was only able to do the day-to-day managerial tasks, but not inspire and lead others? After Cristina and I discussed this further and I let it sink in, I found it to be inspiring for managers to be better.
In further conversations, Scott helped me to understand this on a deeper level: “There’s not one correct way to lead.” He also gave me the advice to “enjoy the opportunity to know the different people on your team because the individualization skill is important to unlock that potential.”
Leaders at all levels should take time to mentor and guide their teams to personal, professional, and team success because it can be so much more than just completing contract tasks and milestones. Leaders should never underestimate the power and influence they can have on their project teams.
The transition to manager at Credera comes with many additional expectations and responsibilities, one of these being to maintain formal mentorship relationships with junior resources. Working towards this promotion, this part of the manager job description is especially daunting to me—how could my six years of experience be enough to formally impart “wisdom” to anyone?
“A lot of people struggle with realizing that they’re valuable enough to give advice and share their experiences with more junior resources,” said Seema. “Know that you’re being put in that position by leadership because we know you can do it. You’ve already shown us that you can, it’s just now in a formal capacity.”
Seema helped me realize that I am already helping and informally mentoring junior resources on my project without realizing it. In reflecting on this conversation, I think it is the combination of the formal, written-down nature of the mentee-mentor relationship and uncertainty of where and how to start with a mentee that makes mentorship intimidating.
The advice Seema gave me on starting out a new mentor-mentee relationship focused on making time for mentoring and figuring out what works well. She mentioned that “not every mentor-mentee relationship is going to be the same, and nor should it be.”
Scott also pointed out that it’s not just the mentor’s responsibility to make the relationship valuable.
“A great mentor makes sure the mentee knows that the mentor is interested in growing the mentee, but the mentee has to put in a lot of the effort,” Scott said. “They have to vocalize where they want to grow professionally. The great mentor gets the mentee talking about and focusing on those things. They’re also thinking about what things will be key to future growth and understand the desired career progression for the mentee and help them develop these skills along the way.”
Work-life balance. Work-life integration. Work-life harmony. These buzz phrases have become increasingly prevalent in our work cultures. Learning to “harmonize” my personal and work life is something I’ve personally struggled with throughout my career. Because technically our work is never done, it can be so easy to take work home with you and neglect the other important components of your life. When I asked our leaders for advice on this topic, the overarching theme was that achieving a healthy balance was difficult for everyone.
“Draw the boundaries you need to draw, but you need to be flexible outside of those boundaries,” said Justin. “An example of a hard boundary is if you have a new child at home and you are unable to travel during this season of life. But you’re also able to draw softer boundaries… When I’m in Dallas, I make it a priority to be home for dinner with my family before I get back online after my kids are asleep. It’s a personal thing.”
These boundaries are going to be different for each person and for each phase of life. I was reminded that it is our responsibility to re-evaluate continually and communicate our boundaries to our team to be able to maintain them. Once you communicate your boundaries to your team, it’s also important that you uphold them.
Remember that you cannot do everything. Cristina acknowledged that knowing when to say ‘no’ is a sign of strength and self-awareness, not a sign of weakness.
“A sign of being a true leader is acknowledging that you can’t do 20 things well,” Cristina said. “But you can do five things exceptionally and make an impact.”
Specifically, while transitioning from the team member to team leader roles, I’ve found that I struggle with quantifying my outputs: I sometimes feel less productive since my value is now focused less on creating deliverables.
“The type of work you’re doing is subtly changing and it doesn’t feel like it used to feel when you knocked out a presentation or a piece of development work,” John said. “Now you’re in meetings and discussions that take a lot of time, and you won’t feel like you have a lot to show for it… but you’re setting the stage for your team to successfully accomplish the delivery tasks you used to do.”
He told me that for this reason it’s very easy for him to talk himself into knocking out some more work at home after a long day of meetings because he didn’t feel like he got enough done, and he has to stop himself from doing so.
“It also becomes your responsibility to make sure your team is maintaining their own work-life integration and is taking time for themselves outside of work,” John added. “I constantly check in with my team to make sure they’re not feeling overwhelmed and overworked to the point where it impacts their happiness or health.”
One of the most powerful ways to ensure your team is maintaining a healthy balance between all the aspects of their life is to lead by example and to maintain a healthy balance in your own life.
Throughout a lot of my interviews, leaders commented on being confident in different ways, whether through mentorship, leading meetings and teams, or your general demeanor.
“The downside to the level of humility in Credera’s culture is that it can sometimes lead to a lack of self-confidence,” said Justin. “You have to realize that you got promoted [to manager] for a reason. If you can get yourself to feel and act like you belong at the table, whether that’s the manager table or the executive table, then others will follow suit. If you have a lot of doubt in yourself, then others will see that too.”
I jokingly asked him if he wanted us to “fake it until we make it.” He countered that we don’t have to fake it—the skills are there, we just aren’t confident in them yet.
GO MANAGE YOUR TEAMS
No matter what company you work for, growing in these five areas will prepare you to manage your teams effectively and confidently. If you’re interested in learning more about Credera, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. A special thank you to Justin Bell, Scott Covington, Seema Desai, John Franks, and Cristina Niver for taking the time to sit down with me to share their experiences and advice.