I got this question today, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot. When we enter management for the first time, it can be overwhelming. Much in the way that entering parenthood is intimidating and sudden.
My biggest tip for managers, especially female managers, would be to always treat people with kindness and appreciate how some of the more traditionally “feminine” qualities can benefit your leadership, such as genuine empathy and enthusiasm. I have a notebook that says “throw kindness around like confetti” and I try to lead life by that motto. Of course, there are times when I need to be harder on my employees, but they always know it comes from a place of concern; honestly, they are a lot more receptive to difficult conversations when they feel appreciated on a regular basis by their manager.
Go a little bit “extra” and try to spend some time down in the trenches. Matt jokes that I am the DEFINITION of extra, as is our daughter. I could sit back and only manage, but working alongside my team feels like it has built so much earned respect and authority. I always try to work a little bit longer and harder as a manager than the amount that my team puts in. I really think that female work ethic and determination to muster through is an incredible thing, I give so much credit to how hard I had to work as a single mom; I learned so much about what it takes to push through. Sara Blakely (who I met recently at the Forbes 30 under 30 conference in Boston) talks about how as women in leadership, we’ve all been convinced that we need to repress so many things that are feminine in the name of being the boss, but some of those skills are so beneficial as a manager: not just demanding respect but in earning it with sweat equity and kindness to everyone around you.
Genuine interest in your employees and their careers. Approaching work as an opportunity to shape and mentor your people is so important and can’t be overstated. As a manager, your people are your work product. Helping them grow and develop their skills and careers has to be a central focus in your work life. They are a reflection of your leadership, and the ultimate litmus test of your success. I am a naturally very empathetic person (in many ways too much so, I’m a darn bleeding heart), so this piece of personnel management comes as second nature to me. However, I am always astonished when I see managers damaging their relationship and the spirits of their most valuable resource: their employees.
I’m a complete audiobook addict and listen to books as frequently as I can. In terms of books, I love The Lean Startup and try to implement it wherever possible. Good to Great is fantastic. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is, of course, one of my favorites. First, Break All the Rules has helped me look at exactly what I want out of a career and company to get to excellence and to think outside of the box when it comes to obstacles. Finally, Designing for Growth by Dr. Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie is a fantastic introduction to Design Thinking in management and innovation, one of my favorite new movements in the business world right now. I got to take Design Thinking with Dr. Liedtka at UVA Darden, and she’s an absolute genius. I use it daily.
Finally, every manager needs to be organized. I’m not a naturally organized person in my daily work, so I have to be extremely intentional and rigorous about it with myself. Studying project management, especially agile and kanban, helped a tremendous amount. These are all FREE tools. I use a Kanban board (through Airtable or Trello) both for my team and for my own daily tasks. I also keep one for my personal home life, shared with my husband. I don’t think I could function as a mom of three and a career woman without organization. I also use The Secret Weapon, a Getting Things Done GTD approach using Evernote, to manage the insane flow of emails and requests that come in nonstop. I would highly recommend any manager be intentional and systematic in how they approach email and one-off requests, otherwise you go crazy.