Horrible bosses isn't just the inspiration for a mediocre movie series; it's a reality for thousands of unhappy hard workers. Even if your days of working for someone whose management (and, ahem, people) skills were lacking are long behind you, you likely still remember how it feels to be on the receiving end of a dismal boss. Which is why, when you get a crack at the corner office yourself, you'd do well to remember that what makes a great boss isn't always obvious. We asked three managers for some of the workplace wisdom they've gleaned from their years of leadership. (And they should know: Their companies consistently land on the best-places-to-work lists.)
Google's Hiroshi Lockheimer
Job: Senior VP of Android, Chrome OS and Google Play
Location: Mountain View, CA
How long have you worked in a management position? About 17 years! Soon there will be interns on my team who were born around the time I started managing, which is pretty crazy to think about.
What's your current team like? I'm fortunate to work with a team that builds products used all around the world by over 1.4 billion people. In comparison, we have a relatively small team distributed globally.
A normal day? I drop my kids off at school and arrive at the office around 9 a.m. I usually have meetings all day, but I try to carve out time to stay caught up on email and have ad-hoc hallway conversations. Or just have a moment to think. I'm usually home by 7 p.m.
Any daily habits that help you lead a team? I try to listen, really listen. My job as a manager isn't to be the best; it's to hire the best and figure out how to empower them to create their best work. I find that listening helps with that.
When you interview someone for your team, how do you know you're hiring the right person? It's hard. I've hired people who I thought were clearly destined to be a shining star, only to have things not work out, and the reverse happens, too. The best you can do is do your homework: Ask direct questions during the interview process, check references, and most importantly trust your and your interview panel's instincts. And then when you've hired someone, really invest in making them successful.
"I try to listen, really listen. My job as a manager isn't to be the best; it's to hire the best and figure out how to empower them to create their best work."
Feedback: How much do you give? No matter how much feedback I give, I'm still told I don't give enough. This is not only a comment on what I need to improve upon, but also a sign that people love to receive feedback. I recommend being generous with feedback-both positive and constructive. You may feel it's too much, but chances are your team will really appreciate it.
How do you get your team to trust you? Act with integrity. Be honest, direct, and humble. There's no magic to this, it's just like any other relationship.
What are the biggest challenges of leading, and how do you handle them? It's so easy to get caught up in the here and now of projects you oversee that you can find yourself in a "fog of war," with a loss of situational awareness. It's important to remind yourself to take a step back from time to time. If you focus too closely on the details, you'll never see the bigger picture clearly.
Any past experiences that helped shape your management style? Given I'm a college dropout-didn't even last a semester-I think my style is built on the assumption that everyone around me is smarter, more educated, and qualified, so as a result I try to get out of the team's way. My job is to support the team so that they can do what they do best.
What's one thing every first-time manager should know? When I first started managing, my manager at the time told me that at any given point, about 20 percent of your team will be dealing with some sort of issue-at work or in their personal life. That's been remarkably accurate in my experience. So it's important to have some empathy and know that roughly 20 percent of your team may be less productive than their true potential.
Nemo Design's Mark Lewman
Job: Partner and Creative Director
Location: Portland, OR
How long have you worked in a management position? Twenty-five years.
What's your current team like? Everyone is collaborative and less structure is needed in a small company like ours [Nemo has 43 employees]. There's about 100 projects in play each week, and creativity-which naturally wants to be chaotic-needs a balance of strategic and orderly production.
A normal day? Get in before everybody else. Make the coffee. Get organized and focus on [answering], "What does the [company] need holistically, and what future are we driving toward together?"
Any past experiences that helped shape your management style? I was a newspaper delivery boy. Simple job with zero supervision, but you had to do it well or the complaints came flooding in. I like less supervision and more trust.
As the boss, what are your biggest challenges? Clear communication. People process information and get charged up in different ways. I try to hold meetings in a room where we can write on the walls and pin up inspiration, use the monitor, and watch clips. Maybe take a field trip. I use a mix of verbal and visual communication. At the same time this is happening, make sure there's a written document with all the organized data they will need to have a great outcome.
"I was a newspaper delivery boy. Simple job with zero supervision, but you had to do it well or the complaints came flooding in. I like less supervision and more trust."
We get 1,000 applications a year, and usually we only hire three or four people. Choosing the right candidates is always an ongoing challenge-defining the job, finding them, making sure they are a great cultural fit and meet the job requirements.
How do you know you're hiring the right person? [A] resume is history; I look for someone's trajectory. What are they working on outside the job, where do their ambitions take them?
Can you be friends with your team? Yeah, I think so. Our work is based on smart, creative, exciting ideas. I think that comes from liking the people you're spending time with as you try impossible and weird things together. How could you not be friends?
How do you keep your staff satisfied with their jobs? A mix of money, grown-up benefits (like great insurance, PTO, profit sharing, dogs at work), the steady pressure of solving hard problems, and fun (we have a company-owned MasterCraft surf boat which our employees and clients can use to unwind).
Ever regret anything you've done in a managerial role? Not firing problem people sooner. Decisiveness is important, and you need to keep that tool sharp even if you don't use it often.
Airbnb's Carlton McMillan
Job: Financial Controller
Location: San Francisco, CA
How long have you worked in a management position? I've been working in management for six years now.
What's your current team like? I lead a team of about a dozen in finance and accounting that partners cross-functionally with the engineering, product, payments, and legal teams to support the business.
A normal day? I arrive between 8 and 9 a.m., depending on my workout schedule or morning errands, and start my day by checking emails while I have breakfast at the office. I typically have between eight to 12 meetings per day. I also carve out a couple of hours daily to catch up on emails, industry updates, and the news. I usually head home after 6 p.m. for dinner with my wife, but often do one last sweep through my email to wrap up and prep for the next day.
Any daily habits that help you lead? Don't understate the importance of connecting with team members on a personal level. To the extent they're open to share, know the important milestones of their lives, the general well being of their family, and the outside-of-work commitments that they hold dear. This helps them perform at their best and goes a long way in [seeing you as] someone they can be comfortable with.
What's your strategy for dealing with setbacks? In an environment like Airbnb where the business landscape is constantly evolving, setbacks are inevitable. As simple as it sounds, remaining positive can go a long way. Instill confidence in your team. Reinforce the fact that each person [is there] because they have the tools and knowledge to help us succeed, regardless of missteps.
"Don't understate the importance of connecting with team members on a personal level."
How do you inspire the team? Attitude is infectious.
How do you keep your staff satisfied with their jobs? Diversity in experience and exposure is extremely important to job satisfaction. Any position has mundane elements. So what can I do to curate opportunities for people to learn and create, while ensuring that they are growing professionally? Placing them in situations that stretch the limits of their experience and education has always seemed to provide the greatest reward.
Any past experiences that helped shape your management style? My previous job in public accounting required wearing a consultative hat, where you constantly opine but rarely have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact. That role that didn't allow me to explore beyond my job description, and it made me understand the importance of having a manager who cares about your growth potential and finds meaningful opportunities that highlight your strengths and passions.
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