What "soft skills" are required to succeed in a new management job?
Listening and observing
My advice to new general managers: Listening and observation skills are critical. Humility and humanity are important. I still believe a direction is important, kind of like a compass reading. But to think anyone knows exactly how a plan will exactly be implemented is arrogant. You should trust and ask your customers/employees [what you want to know] but they'll only tell you if you're empathetic, caring, and trustworthy.
Key skills during transition
In my experience, key skills of great
assistance during the transition period were: a) business analytical skills
because they are the basis for moving to strategy development and b) people
assessment and rapport-building skills because you need to learn as much from
your people as possible.
One of a GM's primary responsibilities is to build a successful team. That may entail some time-solving, task-oriented problems, but the majority of problems are people related.
Know, believe, and do these simple words: expectations, accountability, and feedback (and the concepts behind them). These words have been extremely useful in their simplicity and effectiveness. Ask yourself, "Does each individual know exactly what is expected of him/her?" I believe a critical differentiator at this point is not to mistake "tasking" with mission statements. What I mean here is to ensure that each person understands the mission of the company, the team, and the individual. This provides the person the flexibility and freedom to enable them to pursue the best solution to a business problem. Handing a person a list of tasks restricts freedom and, in my opinion, sends a different message to him or her regarding your confidence and faith in the individual.
Being honest and open
I have found that treating people as adults with honesty and openness gets the best results. Confrontation is essential to this process to make sure that issues are identified and resolved quickly. Confrontation often scares people, but if you are fair they can handle the fear. An unwillingness to accept unsatisfactory performance and anything less than adult behavior is essential to setting standards. This can lead to making tough decisions, but you need to do it or you lose credibility.
Feedback is provided continually and unemotionally. I subscribe to the theory that you reinforce positive activity and results and you extinguish negative and unproductive results. How? By stating very clearly what you expect from an individual. Do this in terms of missions versus tasking. In my opinion, tasking drains a person of initiative, creativity, and drive.
Providing them a mission allows for ownership of the solution by the person, positions them for growth, and enables them to feel gratified over accomplishment of the mission. When accomplished, the mission should be positively reinforced by expressing your satisfaction and associating your satisfaction with the accomplishment.
Let that person share with you the decision process she/he went through to accomplish the results. On the flip side, if an expectation is not met you explain just as clearly, with little or no emotion, why you are not satisfied with that person's results. This presumes you have clearly established the expectations and accountability in advance. An impartial and unemotional critique is almost always welcomed, even if it follows an unfavorable result. You remain respected by taking the time to present your observations and suggestions.
Let others shine
The quickest way to lose the support of key line managers is to take credit for their ideas and successes; one of the best ways to gain their trust is to let them shine in the spotlight. The reverse goes for failures. Work with line managers privately to overcome their deficiencies, but don't finger them publicly for mistakes. It takes self-confidence and balance to operate this way, but it is often the defining characteristic of successful GMs.
Giving credit for success
One of the best pieces of advice I
ever received about managing people (especially at the general management level)
was to "give away the credit for successes and take the blame for failures."
Two pieces of advice I got which I'll never forget: It is the mark of a manager or leader with great self-confidence to publicly admit to ignorance on an issue and to objectively admit to not being the best person to decide an issue. I always remember this. The inverse of this is that any person who always claims to being able to make the best decision is probably a very insecure person and lacking in candor about their own weaknesses and shortfalls.
Empathy is not an easy thing for me. I tend to be direct and results-focused. Early in my career, I assumed everyone would take for granted that I cared about them as individuals. After all, I did care. I also assumed that everyone wanted to be told about things the way I wanted to be told or the way I liked to tell about them. I've found that stopping to determine a person's situation and perspective is very worthwhile in building an effective team and motivating others. And you don't have to abdicate to do so!
Managing creative people
I believe a successful GM has to
develop the ability to understand how a "creative" type thinks. Through my
educational and corporate training, I feel I approach issues and problems in a
fairly methodical way: define the issue, use your resources at hand to determine
a path toward a solution, and move down that path as harmlessly as possible.
My creative partners however, don't analyze things this way. The first hurdle is
getting them to recognize there is a problem -- "Houston we have a problem!"
Therein lies a challenge. Not being a creative type (you never would have
guessed), doesn't always allow me the ability to understand "their" problems. I
spend quite a bit of time just conversing with them seeking mutual
understanding. That way, I can then attempt to put the B-school/corporate
framework to work. But this all requires patience. Where I feel an issue is
easily resolvable, they may be days or weeks away from reaching that same
Our business has to continue to move forward during this time period, however.
So while investing time conversing and learning that a "creative" type may view
an opportunity as a problem or issue, I have to be pushing the whole business
forward. The whole scenario is not an easy one.
The successful GM must be flexible; he or she has to be able to listen to
radically different points of view which often conflict with his or her own
views. But you can't shut those other views out. You have to be able to work
with those individuals and hope you can reach that happy medium.