I started my first business when I was 25, so I’ve often managed people who were older and/or had more experience in a particular subject area. This presents some unique challenges for the young CEO. More experienced employees should always reflect your values and manage their teams your way, provided that you give them consistent guidance.
Two executives in particular tested me as a CEO. Both were more experienced than I but not especially good at managing people. One went overboard on building relationships, while the other focused too much on work requirements. Here’s a description of each, how I handled them (or didn’t), and some steps to improve your own people management skills as a leader.
The 'relator' executive was the consummate people person, focused exclusively on his employees’ professional and emotional needs. He knew the names of their kids, their career goals and everything happening in their lives that might influence their work. He “related” to his team very well (maybe too well) but he didn't “require” from them at all.
The problem was that he was totally disconnected from the employees’ actual work. He believed that if everyone was happy, the work would take care of itself. Often, this was true. Employees liked working for him. But over time his area developed performance issues. He couldn’t help anyone who needed coaching on his or her job. He didn’t track the details of projects and therefore didn’t know when issues were surfacing. He didn't require his people to deliver.
The 'requirer' executive, unlike the executive who was everyone's best friend, had no relationship with his people. He believed his only role was to communicate a grand strategy, set requirements, monitor the performance of the team and deal solely with business issues. He provided no coaching, no mentoring and no value to the employees. Without a trusting personal connection, most employees ignored him.
As a result, he had little influence and could not get the best from his staff. He was a valuable member of the executive team from a strategic perspective, but his emotional detachment prevented him from spotting any developing problems on his team. It was almost like having no one in the position at all.
As the CEO I gave these executives my guidance on their performance. I also offered outside help to address their particular issues. However, neither felt a need to change their style. Because both had always been successful, each believed his methods were the right methods.
I learned several things from this that continue to serve me well:
1. Push on management issues that impact employees and the business.
I should have been more aggressive in dealing with these executives sooner. Making tough, emotional decisions under pressure comes with the territory.
2. Be clear about what you expect.
Only the CEO can set the tone for the organization’s culture and what will and will not be tolerated among the leadership team and employees.
3. Consistently survey employees.
A simple quiz from the book “The 2R Manager” by Peter Friedes gathers anonymous input from employees about their manager along the axis of relating and requiring. (The idea is not to overdo either one as my two executives did). This supports my guidance to managers with real feedback from their employees.
I also use the Gallup Q12, a list of 12 questions that have been thoroughly researched to measure employee engagement. This anonymous instrument helps me understand how employees are feeling about their jobs, managers and the company overall.
4. Own the recruiting process.
Do not abdicate responsibility for this to HR. I personally interview every candidate I can for every position. While this is not practical for every CEO, it pays dividends. The better I get at interviewing, the more I can recognize who the best candidates are, which also helps departments that don’t interview often.
5. Offer professional development opportunities.
CEOs should also personally train and mentor managers as much as possible. I instituted a mandatory class for all managers that I helped teach, which covered everything from assessing employee strengths to developing goals to conducting performance reviews.
It’s becoming more common to manage people with more experience than you. Barring hiring the right people in the first place, be prepared to give guidance and help. For those who won’t accept it, make personnel changes quickly.