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Leadership / Management

5 Things Rock-star Managers Wish They'd Known Earlier

"Wish I'd known sooner" includes the need to avoid micro-management and the need to start networking early.
5 Things Rock-star Managers Wish They'd Known Earlier
Image credit: Olaf Herschbach | EyeEm | Getty Images
- Contributor
Co-Founder of E2M
9 min read

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“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion,” Alexander the Great is reputed to have said. 

Simply put, the quality of its management determines any organization's success or failure. Even the most skilled team of workers can be compromised by a subpar manager. But a great manager, in contrast, will have a firm grasp of the company landscape and be slated to play an influential role in shaping the brand’s future.

However, becoming that rock-star manager rarely happens overnight. There will be growing pains and speed bumps along the way, and, as in every career, things those managers wish they'd known earlier. So, here are five of those nuggets of wisdom to keep top of mind should the management ranks open to you. They’re absolute necessities.

1. "Management" includes self-management.

Few problems plague management like micromanagement. As Maignan Wilkins, managing partner of Paravis Partners, said in the Harvard Business Review: “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust -- and it limits your team’s capacity to grow.”

Related: What Bad Managers, Good Managers and Great Managers Do

To fight the urge to micromanage, Wilkins recommended asking yourself “what excuses [you are] using to micromanage,” and shifting your attention to the reasons why you shouldn’t be committing this action. Micromanagement is a bad idea, she added,, primarily because it distracts you from time that would be better spent on your own work.

She also recommended that “[you] determine which low-hanging fruit you can pass on to a team member.” She’s not alone.

“Rebel billionaire” Richard Branson of Virgin said on his company's webiste that, “If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate," adding that, "When my friends and I started up Virgin, I knew that I was lacking vital knowledge on some subjects, and so I started learning this skill very early on in my career.”

Steve Jobs shared the same sentiment, noting, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”

Citing his own company's report about great places to work, writer Marcus Erb described five common moves that those "great places to work" employed to avoid the micromanagement trap:

  1. Hire people who proactively seek information, feedback and accountability.
  2. Make employees accountable to one other, especially across departments.
  3. Focus on setting expectations, rather than tasks.
  4. Give decision-making power to employees.
  5. Use profit-sharing incentives and similar rewards.

Every management style is unique, but the more you focus on keeping self-managing systems running, and the less you focus on managing individual people’s daily tasks, the more opportunities you will uncover.

Related: 6 Common Things Good Managers Do to Create Engaged Teams

2. Management isn't just ownership.

There’s a flip side to micromanagement. Management isn’t just ownership, and you will not stay profitable for long if you personally aren’t playing an active role. This might sound obvious, and finding a manager who under-works rather than over-works is a rare occurrence, so let me explain further.

Guy Kawasaki, a high-profile venture capitalist, and one of the original marketers of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, urged entrepreneurs to “jump to the next curve.” In other words, he was urging against trying to outcompete rivals fighting over the same supply and demand curve. If you paid attention during your college-era economics course, you know that competitive industries with low barriers to entry don't last long.

Now a venture capitalist himself, Kawasaki knows a thing or two about the difference between management and ownership, considering that he started management and now makes a career in ownership. According to an article on his website: "When you’re young, you should work 80 hours a week to create a product or service that changes the world. You should not sit in board meetings listening to an entrepreneur explaining why she missed her numbers.

"Management consulting is bad because it leads you to believe that implementation is easy and insights are hard, when the opposite is true in startups.”

In short, there are a lot of starry-eyed people who dream of being “management consultants,” venture capitalists and “idea men,” but in the real world, you need to get things done.

The message is, you shouldn’t be competing for ownership of market share, and you shouldn’t have pie-in-the-sky dreams of getting rich off ownership. You should be innovating, and you should be learning how businesses work.

3. Network before you "need" to.

Former NFL cornerback Drayton Florence, who is now the director of strategic partnerships at Tech From Vets, says he always knew he wanted to use his sports scholarship money to launch a career in management. When Forbes asked if he'd done any networking while he was in the NFL, he replied, “I did, but I don’t think I did enough. I always tell the younger guys now, find out what you want to do when you retire, and invite those CEOs into the locker room . . . put them up in a press box . . . build those relationships early."

Iraq veteran Jeff Shuford, who co-founded and is president of Tech From Vets, told New24Hours networking is not just a business skill but  a source of motivation. “I find that my purpose is embedded in the passion I have for helping people," Shuford said. "I sincerely believe my business is not in the marketplace to generate revenue; we are in the marketplace to help people succeed.”

Cynicism may tempt some people to interpret such a statement as insincere branding, but the more time you spend with top-tier managers and founders in informal situations, the more you’ll see how pervasive and sincere this attitude is.

Managers who dominate tend to network as a strategy in and of itself. You’ll see this time and time again.

4. Your job isn't to be liked.

If all of the above high-minded ideals about worker autonomy and networking for its own sake have led you to believe that good managers are always liked all of the time, that's the wrong impression. In fact, when Jack Welch was asked, in 1994, how he could justify a painful downsizing, he had this to say, “Strong managers who make tough decisions to cut jobs provide the only true job security in today’s world. Weak managers are the problem. Weak managers destroy jobs.”

This is the ugly truth we’d all like to pretend wasn’t true. Sometimes, if you want to jump curves, you need to cut jobs. Sometimes, if you want worker autonomy and accountability, you need to fire the people who don’t want those things. 

Sometimes, aspects of your business will never profitable, and you need to fight the sunk-cost fallacy and get out before your whole business goes under. Keeping morale high and avoiding a toxic company culture are of course absolutely crucial; but good managers also need to know when to make unpopular decisions.

5. Meetings really do matter.

The notion that meetings are a pointless waste of time may be popular, but in fact meetings really do matter. Or, at least, they should.

Meetings help ensure that everybody is on the same page,that tasks stay coordinated and that staffers have the opportunity to brainstorm solutions to problems. Neither of these goals is possible, or at least likely, without meetings. So, why do so many people feel that meetings are a waste of time?

For one thing, they’re usually too long, and management and employees are both often unprepared. Project manager Nicole Steinbok recommends a format called the 22-minute meeting. As she described her concept to blogger Scott Berkun:

  1. Twenty-two minutes keeps things focused and assures time for people to make it to other meetings. There’s no reason for meetings to be set in 30- or 60-minute blocks.
  2. Keep the agenda goal based. Set the goal of the meeting, make it clear, and focus on the topic.  Remember, you’ve only got 22 minutes.
  3. Make sure everybody gets required reading ahead of time. Steinbok recommends three days, although 24 hours should be enough. Keep the required reading short enough that people will actually read it, and don’t penalize those who did the reading, as often happens, by going over it again in the meeting.
  4. Start on time. 
  5. Stay standing to make the atmosphere of the meeting clear. This isn’t high school. This is for solving a problem and meeting minds.
  6. No laptops, no phones, no distractions.
  7. Stay focused. Anything off topic that’s important should be taken down as a note and addressed later.
  8. Send notes after the meeting. Twenty-two minutes means there’s time to do this before another meeting starts.

Related: The 10 Golden Rules of Effective Management

What do you wish you'd known earlier?

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