Every successful entrepreneur had to learn how to be a great manager along the line. These are the attributes that will earn you the chance to become management material.
Unfortunately, a lot of people who might have turned out well never get the chance to find out or show their stuff. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, I know. C’est la vie. There’s just no way around it.
Even big-time entrepreneurs like Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg had to learn how to be effective managers. If not, the companies they founded, the Googles and Facebooks of the world, never would have gone anywhere. I don’t care how cool their innovations were.
Here are the skills and attributes that executives and business leaders look for in up-and-comers. If you’ve got some of them or can fake it well enough to convince the powers that be to give you a chance, you might be management material.
Seeing the big picture. When I meet someone who understands markets, how companies operate, how business gets done–who gets it–I think that guy’s got potential. If, on the other hand, all you know and are interested in is your own little domain, that’s all you’re likely to see in your career.
Hunger to achieve. If you live to accomplish things, to make things happen so you can look back and say I did that or I was part of that, managers and recruiters will see it. They look for that sort of thing in up-and-comers. It helps, of course, to have the capability to deliver, but it’s a great starting point.
Courage. Very few of us actually possess any meaningful amount of self-confidence when we’re young for the simple reason that we haven’t had enough experience, enough successes and failures, to develop confidence yet. But if you have the guts to at least act like you do, that’s enough to get folks to believe in you and give you a shot.
Functional competence. Whatever it is you’re going to be running, if people don’t think you’ve got the expertise to do it effectively, forget it. These days, managers are expected to be the best at what they manage. The best engineers are usually tapped to run teams. The brightest finance minds become controllers. That’s how it works.
Prioritization and tradeoffs. The real world isn’t like what they teach you in school. Nothing is ever black and white or cut and dried. That’s why so much of management competence is your ability to effectively prioritize and make tradeoffs. Make versus buy decisions. Zero based budgeting. Knowing what’s critical and what to bump. Every management interview will have questions along those lines. Now you know why.
A motivator of people. Some folks just have this ability to get people moving in unison to accomplish a goal. They can explain things in ways that people understand, that resonate with them, that get them excited. You’d jump through hoops of fire for them. Well, maybe not that, but you get the point. They have executive presence. We say they’re born leaders, but in reality, they’re just skills we develop along the way.
Decision-making. If you ask 10 people what decision-making is all about, you’ll get 10 different answers. Mostly you’ll get vague notions about decisiveness and leadership. Decision-making isn’t just about being decisive. You have to make the right decisions. That comes down to probing, listening, reasoning, and knowing when to trust your gut. Doing that well is the most important aspect of management, hands down.
Adaptability. We live and work in a fast-paced world. Managers have to be flexible, capable of adapting on the fly to changing conditions. If you can’t adapt, you’ll never last. You won’t be able to face the obstacles that competitive markets throw at you and, not just persevere, but come out on top. And you won’t be effective working with a diverse group of peers and executives, either.
Initiative. I became a supervisor in my teens, a manager in my twenties, and a senior executive of a midsized public company in my thirties. How did that happen? Mostly, it was initiative. I literally went out looking for the toughest and highest visibility tasks, stuck my neck out, and went for it. Senior executives love that sort of thing.
Top-down management style. Command and control style management isn’t popular these days. Whatever. Call it what you want, getting things done is all about setting the right goals, determining how best to achieve them, and getting everyone executing like their lives depend on it. I call that top-down management. When you’re young, we want to see you move heaven and earth and make things happen. There’ll be plenty of time to smooth out your rough edges later.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, executive coach, and former senior executive of the technology industry. He’s managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. @SteveTobak