16 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Managing People (1/2)

Build & Manage a Top-Performing Sales Team — Post #10


Yep, it’s one of those again: “X Things I…” But, I believe that this one is really useful because my biggest learning of 2020 (gosh, how time flies) was:

“Life ist to short to only learn from your own mistakes.”

So, read carefully and make sure to avoid these 16 things I did wrong, and instantly become a better sales manager.

Many different direction to choose for sales success
Photo by marianne bos on Unsplash

#1 Your Way Is Not Always the Best Way.

I know this one is obvious. But it’s more about the details of it than the general statement. What do I mean?

  1. People are different, so they most likely need different approaches to be successful.
  2. Something that worked five years ago when you were a sales rep, doesn’t need to work today.
  3. People need personal freedom. If you try to get everything done your way, you’ll lose your people as they’ll feel more like robots than individual contributors.

So, rather than focusing on how to do things, focus on what drives results. And this will oftentimes be different among your subordinates.

A point of realization has been reached.
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

#2 — People Only Change If They Arrive at Realizations Themselves.

Yes, sometimes, you need to explain things. Sometimes, your employees need to listen and just take in what you have to tell them. But, most of the time, this is NOT the case.

As a manager, your primary objective is to get the most out of people. You need to manage individual contributors in an effective way. And, managing people is about people. Who could’ve told, right?

And, yes, life is too short for your employees to only learn from their own mistakes, but

  1. People need to understand why specific learning is important,
  2. People need to arrive at important conclusions themselves,
  3. People need to go through contextual experiences to understand,
  4. People won’t learn from words only, and
  5. People need to apply learning in an action context to really learn.

Or, let’s put it differently. Have you ever had this thought?

“Ohhhhhh, now I know what she meant!”

I have this all the time and I love it. When you first hear something, it might make sense. But you then need to work with that learning, make mistakes, earn experience, and at some point, this magical thing happens where you think to yourself that you now understand.

The science behind this is pretty simple:

  • People don’t think in complex patterns and, primarily, people don’t think logically.
  • People think in easy ways and in emotional stories.

This is why it’s so hard for you to remember that the capital of Estonia is Tallinn if you’ve never been there. But once you visit Estonia, you see the Airport signs, you speak to a local and you hear them say “Tallinn,” then you’ll never forget.

So, rather than explaining things to your employees,

  1. Give them context about the thing that is so important,
  2. Let them ask questions to help them get a general perspective on it,
  3. Give them tasks that’ll guarantee them to make small mistakes (big ones will discourage them),
  4. Let them earn their experience, and
  5. Be patient.

And, at some point, your employee will think, “Ohhhhh, now I know what my manager meant.” Great, you helped them to experience real learning and truly change!

A sales manager listening to their sales rep.
Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

#3 — Sometimes You Just Need to Listen.

Most of us became managers because we can stand up for ourselves and others. Because we find solutions where others get stuck with problems. Because we aren’t afraid to speak up.

However, when you are a manager, listening becomes way more important than speaking.

Sometimes your employees just need

  1. To get something off their chest with a trusted superior,
  2. To think through something with a little bit of guidance and a few good questions,
  3. To form their thoughts loudly.

If an employee of yours comes to you with the urge to speak about something, notice it, acknowledge it, and grant the request. You don’t always need to jump to the solutions. Sometimes this might even be harmful.

Listening is important because

  1. It makes your employees feel understood,
  2. It calms them,
  3. It helps them come to their own conclusions (that’ll stick, see #2)
  4. It helps you to understand what’s really going on.

So, the next time someone asks for a conversation with you, make sure you understand if it’s a conversation that requires you to come up with a solution or simple a conversation where you just need to listen.

An idea has been formed.
Photo by Enric Moreu on Unsplash

#4 — Your Employees Think You Know More Than You Do.

This one always amuses me because I myself often forget about it.

Usually, your employees have way less overall experience in your field than you have. (Otherwise, they should be managing you, right?)

But, because you oftentimes just spit out life-changing answers over lunch to questions that have been keeping them up at night for weeks, they sometimes think that you’re a genius.

They don’t see the you that’s struggling with something because the things that you’re struggling with are oftentimes so next level to them at they either don’t even think about it or they understand that it’s a big problem that needs serious consideration.

I don’t yet know what to do with this knowledge but I’m sharing it because maybe someone reading this will be able to help me think through this. I’m happy about every comment!

Photo by NEW DATA SERVICES on Unsplash

#5 — Done Is Better Than Perfect.

Unless you’re in the super-luxury industry or do something related to healthcare, chances are that things don’t need to be perfect.

Hopefully, you have understood this but oftentimes your employees, especially the new ones, have not.

So, make sure that people on your team know that it’s way more important to get things done than wasting time over perfection.

A sales manager realizing they made a mistake
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

#6 — Your Employees Need to Make Mistakes, Tons of Them.

Related to both #2 and #4, people can only learn through experience and they’ll never achieve perfection. This means that mistakes are crucial.

So, this leads to two very important thoughts:

  1. Don’t ever get frustrated with people making mistakes if they prove to learn from their mistakes and don’t make the same mistake again. How you as a manager behave around mistakes will inevitably impact how others behave around them.
  2. Allow and encourage your employees to make mistakes. Make it a common understanding that mistakes are okay and even required if you want to deliver great work.

In all of this, ensure that mistakes stay within the team. Ensure that the mistakes are made in a safe space and don’t affect others at your company or outside of your company. In fact, if your team makes more internal mistakes and they feel open about sharing them, they’ll make fewer external mistakes, because you’ll be able to get them fixed before your solutions leave your team.

A clear no!
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

#7 — You Shouldn’t Be Your Employee’s Parent or Friend.

As understanding as you are with your employee’s mistakes, you cannot accept everything. Just to remind you: I said don’t get frustrated with mistakes if the people making them are committed to not making them again.

A friend oftentimes accepts us the way we are. A good parent even loves us the way we are. They might give us some tough love but many parents would forgive their children everything.

You cannot forgive your employees for everything, and you cannot be understanding of everything.

Again, it’s your responsibility to manage people to be as effective and efficient as they can be. This includes motivating them and helping them to derive personal satisfaction from their job.

But, they also need to put in the work and there will be uncomfortable situations. And, sometimes there will be necessary consequences if people don’t do what they need to do.

So, be a mentor, be a coach, be a manager. Respect your employees, support them, encourage them. But, don’t forget that it’s a professional relationship and you being too nice might have detrimental effects on your company.

Someone understanding they need to be honest and own their mistakes
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

#8 — Brutal Honesty Is the Only Way.

I know that some people, mostly U.S. Americans from the coasts, will disagree, but you don’t need an all-friendly environment at work.

You need an environment of respect that fosters growth, both for your employees and for the company.

But, you don’t need to wrap everything into “that was an amazing job.” Especially, if it wasn’t.

I recently talked to a friend from my days at Harvard. He used to be an intelligence officer at the U.S. Army and he explained the concept of “good guys” to me.

He told me, “In the military, there’s a lot of good guys. Actually, there are so many of them. But, there are almost no bad guys you work with. At least I haven’t met one, yet.” There is so much respect for the U.S. Military that I don’t wanna go into. I understand both sides. These people serve their countries, oftentimes with their lives at risk. So, I don’t wanna judge if they’re doing the right or wrong thing.

The point I wanna make is that the term “good guy” is oftentimes being used in a context like this:

Yeah, he hasn’t been very effective lately, but he’s a good guy.

He’s been going through a lot, but deep down, he’s a good guy.

We don’t get along that well, but he’s a good guy.

I think you see where this is going. A good guy is someone who’s actually the opposite. They don’t get their work done, you can’t trust them, there’s something wrong. But, nobody wants to be the one speaking poorly of them.

And, in my experience with managing people, there comes no good from telling people they’re “good guys.”

I don’t want any good guys on my team. I want great guys. I want people who I can trust, people who are committed to learning, people who are honest, people who get their work done.

But, if you’re understanding of everything and if you downplay things that are obviously bad and — worse — you help people to find excuses for their poor behavior, you’re neither helping your employee, nor your company, nor yourself.

I don’t say “good guys” are doomed to be “good guys.” I believe that it’s a failure of managers if good guys exist. If you have good guys on your team, you as a manager, are obligated to address this and help them to get on the path to becoming a great guy.

And, some people you won’t be able to help, but then they should be on your team, they should be working somewhere where they can become great guys.

So, what does this have to do with honesty? You need to foster a culture of honest feedback to ensure that everyone on your team, incl. yourself, can live up to their fullest potential.

So, you need to create a team culture that

  1. Encourages employees and yourself to speak the truth, and
  2. Ensures that everybody has the best intentions in speaking the truth!
Wishing you a great weekend
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash


Okay, it’s the weekend. Let’s leave it at 8 for today and let’s take a look at the next 8 in the next post!

About the Author.

Teddy Lange is a co-founder at Resonaid and is responsible for business development and customer experience. Before joining Resonaid, he’s been a Sales Rep and Junior Sales Manager, and co-founded various companies. He has just finished his graduate degree in Public Policy with a focus on communication at Harvard University. Feel free to reach out to him at teddy@resonaid.co.



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