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5 Tips for Learning to Manage

I’ve blogged about management before, and still don’t have any answers. What I do have, is a range of ways of improving.

  1. Mentoring — Learn from others.

    You don’t need to have a formal mentor relationship; you don’t even need someone’s permission to learn from them. What you need is to identify one or more people who have managed you well, or who you respect the way they manage others.

    Spent time with these people!

    Odds are, someone who is good at managing people, is happy to receive help. Offer to help out. Show interest in their problems and, most importantly, how they deal with them. Offer suggestions. You will learn in spite of yourself, just don’t expect to be right most of the time.

    If you aren’t in a position to offer suggestions, at least think of decisions you would make in a similar situation, and why. You may not always agree with the resultant decision, and it is worth investigating why you differ. Mentors are human too, and you can learn from their mistakes as well as your own.

  2. History — You are not the first.

    People have gone before you, some were good, some were bad, many wrote books. Find them.

    Your mentors may be able to recommend people to start with. Read blogs of people you respect, and find out who they recommend.

    If in doubt, start with Peter Drucker.

    Another good approach is to check the references and notes sections of management or business books you are reading. If there is a key point that resonates with you, often there is another book or article waiting in the wings to expand your knowledge.

  3. Current practices — Things change.

    Management continues to evolve in terms of what works. New theories come and go. Changing dynamics of the work force introduces new challenges. Keep up to date on current thinking.

    Books are a good source of knowledge for this. Try and find books recommended by others.

    One that I’ve found useful recently is Evidence Based Management. The key thing from this book is a way of filtering out other business related knowledge.

    Business magazines may assist with current trends. This is not a path I’ve followed. Although, I do read the Economist - a magazine that does a good job of tracking the business world as well as world events.

    Blogs provide lots of opinion on a range of current topics. Subscribe to ones that interest you, and also subscribe to ones that challenge you.

  4. Experience — Learn by doing.

    Whether your are in an official position of management or simply working in a team, try out what you’ve learnt. You will make mistakes, it is part of the process. The aim is to learn from your previous experiences, be they successful or not.

    Volunteer for tasks outside your normal scope of work that will allow you to develop. This provides a good way of gaining a range of experience in more than just your domain. The experiences will help you in your own domain.

  5. Diversity — management is all about people. All the theory and best practices in the world won’t help if you can’t work with people.

    Spend time having interests outside of work, you will become more approachable. More importantly, spend time finding out what other people’s interests are.

    A clichéd book perhaps, but Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People is the definitive book on interacting with others.

  6. Podcasts — A free lunch.

    With the advent of podcasting, people are giving away knowledge. You can listen to interviews with founders of successful companies, lectures from the best universities and a constant stream of news.

    The following podcasts I’ve found useful and inspiring, ordered roughly in terms of utility:

    • Stanford - lecture series on entrepreneurship, that covers leadership and management.

    • Venture Voice - interview series that covers how business owners manage their companies and the people who work for them.

    • Harvard - bi-weekly broadcast that covers topical areas in business, including reviews of recently released books.

    • 12 Byzantine Rulers - history of how the leaders of the Byzantine empire dealt with the management of the entire empire. Provides a good historical perspective.

    • Knowledge@Wharton - another business news podcast from the business school at Wharton.

For a closing truism — the more you learn, the more you’ll know, thus the more effective you’ll become. Stay open to learning new things, however you learn them.

If you have an experience to share, or an avenue of knowledge that has worked for you, please leave a comment.