So, you want to be a manager?
Well, lucky for you, there are skills you can work on now that will help you get where you want to be and more importantly, stay there. We chatted with top career experts to find out what they think is most important to have in your wheelhouse before you actually start managing others.
1. Understanding the Big Picture: "Gone are the days when organizations simply promote their strongest performer on the team into management,” says Alyssa Krane, Certified HR Leader and Chief Talent Strategist at Powerhouse Talent. “Companies have paid the price for this legacy mindset. The strongest programmer, accountant, salesperson, etc. does not always translate into the strongest leader.” she notes. So who does get those coveted management slots? People who have a handle on what’s going on in the organization overall. "Strong leaders see the bigger picture, share the vision, and can explain how each person's role contributes to the business objectives and inspires positive action. If you are looking to move into a management position in the future, a great way to gain exposure to some transferable skills would be volunteering to be part of a project. Ask to lead a workstream. This will build muscle around critical thinking, influence, conflict resolution, capacity planning and more."
2. Emotional Intelligence: We hear a lot about “EI” and empathy in the business world, and that’s because they are both extremely important to getting employees to feel invested and do their best work. “You need to be able to read people, but more importantly, you need to be able to know your own strengths,” says Coach Colene, a Career and Life Coach. “It's vital that we develop the mature emotional intelligence skills required to better understand, empathize and negotiate with other people.” It’s true that understanding yourself better will in turn help you relate to others on a deeper level.
3. Leadership: You might be thinking “duh,” but while it sounds obvious, “it's amazing how many managers severely lack in leadership skills,” says Valerie Streif, Senior Advisor at The Mentat. This missing managerial skill “creates immense problems for teams working beneath them.” So how can you work on your leadership skills? Streif suggests “volunteering to take on extra work, leading by example, and standing up and addressing problems when things are not going smoothly. These are all important things a future manager has to be able to do. If your colleagues do not look up to you when you're working amongst them, they won't look up to you when you're in charge of them.”
[Related: 5 Ways Introverts Make Better Leaders]
4. Ability to Use Feedback Constructively: Taking feedback well is important for any employee, but being able to actually use that feedback is the mark of a great manager. “Humility and coachability are extremely important characteristics in future leaders, yet as much as companies talk about how to give good feedback very few talk about how to receive feedback,” notes Eric Johnson, Director of Graduate Career Services at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “The interesting thing is that many of us are our own best provider of feedback to ourselves, but don’t even realize it,” he says. Ideally, future managers should put themselves in “positions where they can practice self-reflection, and also to receive growth-oriented feedback such that they can improve their leadership for the future.”
5. Focus on Listening: If you want others to listen to you, you’ve got to become a good listener. “Learn to listen with intent by striving to be fully present in conversations,” suggests Micheline Germanos, Multicultural Leadership Coach and Consultant at Germanos Leadership and former General Manager for the Microsoft Marketing and Operations Group. “Listen with the intent of understanding, not just to interject with your opinion the minute the other person breathes.” Sound familiar? It can be tempting to express your own ideas ASAP, but “becoming a great listener is the stepping stone to multiple leadership traits,” she notes. To practice, she suggests asking yourself, “How often are you able to play back what you heard in conversations? Do you text while participating to a conversation?” Being completely attentive to your conversation partner matters, especially if you’re supposed to be managing them.
6. Learn to Handle Uncertainty: In today’s business climate, ambiguity is just something you need to be comfortable with. “Anybody who wants to lead in the future needs to put themselves in situations and contexts where they are dealing with incomplete information and where circumstances are shifting,” says Johnson. “The more experience one gets with that early in their career, the better equipped to lead they will be in the future.” If your company is dealing with layoffs, an IPO, a merger or any other lengthy process, you’re going to have to be okay with not know what’s going on 24/7.
7. Coaching: “You need to be a good coach to be a good manager,” says Robin Goldstein, founder of JobSparker. “Good coaches encourage those who are struggling, give tough love when needed, and push individuals to be better performers. More importantly, they help a team to work together effectively and cohesively.” If you’re wondering how to develop this skill, Goldstein has a few strategies worth trying. First, figure out who in your office are great coaches. “These are the individuals who really enjoy teaching others new skills. They are also the people your colleagues flock to when they are struggling. Once you identify these individuals, watch and listen to them over several weeks. Note what they specifically do that makes them an effective coach,” she says.
“Next, see if you can volunteer to lead a small project in your office or volunteer to be a leader for a project in your community. The more experience you can build as a coach, the better leader you will be. As you are taking on projects, evaluate what is going well and poorly. Ask one of the individuals you identified as great coaches what they think you can improve on as well.” Lastly, see if you can be a mentor to new employees to practice your coaching skills.