Be A Mentor: Tales From a First Time Manager

I was a bossy kid.  On the playground, with my brother, cousins, friends—you name the group, I was the bossy one.  No, not in a “Do this now or I’m going to hit you” way, but more in a “I’m an unapologetic control freak, just listen to me and things will go well” way.

I knew I knew best.

In high school, the control freak became obsessed with being liked, as I believe is the case with many high schoolers.  But as the bossy one in the group, I was focused on making sure things were done, done on-time, and done to the highest quality.  This served me well into and through my undergrad years, where I began to take more leadership roles  in on-campus organizations and part-time jobs.

Through all these experiences, whether it be overseeing a group of 6 students on a consulting project, or being the sales-lead at a retail store, I was able to learn more about myself as a manager.  I learned that being a manager, for me, doesn’t mean walking around with a clipboard and making notes or checking off boxes. It isn’t about micromanaging and checking over the work of your team members, but rather being a leader and teacher for them. These practices, however, had been my mindset throughout the first 20 years of my life.

I came into the Flagship and was the low man on the totem pole.  I was hustling, doing what I had to do to make sure we had leads and could turn those leads into clients.   We had sustained our growth well enough to allow me to move into a more managerial role.  Now, I don’t manage a team of 20 or 30, but I do manage the production side of our business.  I oversee the lending operations as it pertains to generating, evaluating, and onboarding new clients, as well as the consulting and relationship management of our current portfolio of small business owners.

My team is a staff of three, including myself, and that’s the perfect number of loan officers for our organization.  It was odd handing over the reins.  It was even more odd teaching the new guys how to do this job, and do it well.  It was odd giving them the technical skills, while also trying to convey to them what our relationships with our clients mean to both the client and to us.  I love my clients, truly.  I love to hear about their businesses, their lives, their struggles, and I am overjoyed when I can hear about their successes, so it was scary bringing on new people to care for new clients.

So what did I do?  I got nervous and tried too hard.  I reverted back to being the control freak.  I became a task master and began to mold their responsibilities around what I needed done right now, rather than what the organization as a whole needed to serve its mission.  And then I got some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

On a Friday afternoon, I called the new guys into my office for a round of “Hot Seat.”  The gist of this game is one person is on the ‘hot seat’ and the other folks in the room can ask any questions they want (within the realm of Human Resources) over the course of three or four minutes. It’s an interesting way to get to know your team members better.

One of the questions I asked when Dave (not his real name) was on the hot seat, was “What can I do to be a better manager?” And without hesitation, Dave said “Be more of a mentor.”  I love the candor in that answer.  I was somewhat taken aback, but quickly realized that what Dave had said was perfect.       I wrote it down.

I had spent so much time worrying about getting tasks done, and checking off those boxes, that I had forgotten to educate, lead, and build a solid relationship with my team.  My ego hadn’t grown, but neither had my mindset.  I was still focused on just completing the to-do list, rather than trying to build the program and the team at the same time.  These guys had joined the team to serve a mission as well, not just punch in and punch out.  They serve the same mission I do.

As a first-time (real world) manager, you may sometimes get swept up in the to-do list, and feel like you have to micromanage your team members, which can lead to headaches and stress for not only you, but your team as well.  Most folks don’t need to be micromanaged, and don’t operate well under those conditions.  My advice, for what it’s worth, is to empower your team members, and engage them as members of the team, rather than simply cogs who are in their seats to get boxes checked.

Be a mentor.  Not a task master.

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