What is a manager’s top attribute?

It was a warm Italian night as I sat on a terrace with a friend, sipping a good glass of tasty white wine.

A friend’s friend joined us, we introduced ourselves and I learned he was a manager in tech, just like me.

After a few minutes of talking about our experiences, he shot me a sharp question:

What is the most important attribute of a successful manager?

I had never thought about it before, so I was surprised when I saw my uncertainty last less than 5 seconds.

My guts took control of my brain and spoke for me.

Self-Confidence – I said.

“Now I have to articulate the reasons behind my answer”, I thought. And I did it.
Following is the reasoning behind my quick answer.

Allow yourself to be the least knowledgeable person in the room

This is something that all managers honestly interested in their growth do not only accept: they long for it. Strong teams provide managers with a strong foundation for success.
The only drawback is that if you are surrounded by smart people, the imposter syndrome can become real as you feel inadequate.

In order to overcome this feeling, you need to recognize your own value.
It takes a certain amount of self-confidence.

Allow your team to get credit

It is no rocket science: the measure of a manager’s success is her team’s success.
If your team is successful, then you are.

Even if your team members reach their goals outside of the company.

Yeah, that’s right. Your goal as a manager is to help your team and their members become the best version of themselves, in order to help the company that is paying your salaries succeed.
Sometimes, though, individuals either grow too much for any role available within the company, or they need new challenges that the current company won’t offer, ever.

So, why should be envious of your team’s achievements, even outside of the work environment?

This does not mean you cannot advocate for yourself. You can, and you should. But that will come later, in the proper setting, after you have focused on giving your team credit.
Put aside your ego and let “we” come before “I”.
Silencing your ego requires self-confidence.

Allow your teams/team members to “fail”

But do not let them take the blame for their “failures”.

First off, let me clarify one thing: I don’t like the negative wording. I tend to seek opportunities when things are tough, rather than getting anxious at things I can’t control. Incidentally, and unfortunately, the last couple of years have taught us all how things can quickly change and how lives can be disrupted.

You won’t hear me tell my teams they “failed” at something. When failures happen, it’s too late.
Mistakes are made every day, but they can be corrected along the way; that is why managers are there. To help, correct, adjust, and fix, and in a timely manner.

Blaming someone for their failures when the game is over will not help anyone, and all the persons involved will feel bad about it.

There will be times when stakeholders will inquire about a missed deadline. Then you have two options:

  1. Blame it on one of your team members and save your face for another hour. This will give you the fake feeling of being safe, but ultimately you will not be, because your team will not feel protected by you. They will feel the frustration not only of not being able to deliver, but also to have been blamed for what was most likely a gap in the workflow. And they will not protect you when the time of your mistake will come.
  2. Follow the teamwork route and admit that your team (including yourself) faced some challenges and you are all working on improvements. This will reinforce the trust your team puts in you, and it will make it most likely for them to have your back when it is your turn to make a mistake.

The second option is, of course, by far the better one.
However, it requires a good amount of self-confidence, because you need to be able to tell stakeholders: “it is my team and I will get it sorted out. It is my responsibility”.
You need to be confident that you will fix the situation.

Allow yourself to “fail”

Everyone makes mistakes. It is one of the very rare truths we learn in life.

So if you try to appear like the infallible person in the room, you will not fool anyone else other than yourself.

When you make a mistake as a manager, it is even more important to acknowledge it and ask for help.
This will set a good team culture of constructive criticism, in opposition to a defensive, damaging culture, where individuals always try to find excuses to justify themselves. It quickly becomes a tank full of sharks.

To be able to admit our mistakes, though, requires lots of self-confidence, again. Because you need to recognize that, even if you made a mistake, you still have so many good things you did and are going to do.

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