This column is by serial entrepreneur & startup strategist Mitchell Harper
I started my first company when I was 17. Between then and now (I’m 34), I’ve founded 5 additional companies and have managed hundreds of people.
A few of my companies were small and my previous company, BigCommerce, is quite large, with almost 500 people.
I’ve learned a lot about people along the way — both about myself and the people that I’ve been fortunate to hire.
The way you lead and manage people is literally the make-or-break skill that will determine if you build a good business or an astronomical one worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
It’s something you get better at with practice, but it’s also a skill (like anything) that can be learned and mastered if you’re determined enough.
If I could jump in a time machine and start again knowing what I know now, here’s what I’d tell my 17 year old self about managing people.
Your age doesn’t matter
When I was 23, I was managing people twice my age. I used to always think to myself “Why would a 45 year old listen to me?”. I would get nervous interviewing candidates and a little jittery as we would do our one-on-ones and planning meetings.
That wore off pretty quickly, though. As it turns out, age is only a barrier in your head. Being young is not a negative.
Sure, you’re learning as you go, but as long as you pick things up quickly and either read books from great leaders or find a mentor, you’ll be more than fine.
When I think about great young managers at fast-growing companies, I think of Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Evan Spiegel at Snapchat. Both started in their early 20s and not only lead thousands of people today, but also many people double or even triple their age.
Before starting their companies, they’d never managed people much older than they are. They picked it all up as they went along and the results speak for themselves.
You can’t fake it
Managing people doesn’t mean having a “work” persona and a “non-work” persona. I’m sure you know people who are completely different outside the office. You might see them at a function or dinner and think “Is that the same person?!”.
Management, or more accurately, leadership, is all about being your authentic self. That means not trying to be something you’re not. It means being comfortable with who you are and leaning on your strengths to manage effectively.
One of the best ways to build relationships with the people on your team is to actually mix work and non-work. And to do that, you need to be your authentic self.
During your meetings and 1:1s, you need to talk about work progress, any issues, etc, but you can (and should) also sprinkle in topics such as what you did on the weekend, questions about their kids, last night’s game or your favorite new restaurant.
When your team does a great job, get them out of the office and do something together as a group that has nothing to do work with. Go bowling. Have a dinner party. Go on a picnic and bring your partners and kids. Get to know who they really are and show them who you are, too.
Definitely take cues from great managers you know, but approach things in your own unique way. There are too many average managers in the world who just punch the clock and take a pay check.
Being your authentic self helps you rise above the mediocrity. Your team will notice and the word will get around. Pretty soon the best people in your industry will be asking to come and work for you.
You’ll screw up
Being a manager is hard. You have to think on your feet, make decisions that affect peoples lives and deal with all sorts of interesting and unique personalities.
Sometimes you have to trust your gut or make decisions with limited (or incorrect) information. It’s important to understand that not every decision you make will be correct.
When it turns out you’ve made a bad decision, you can either stick with it or admit you were wrong. Standing by a wrong decision is the quickest way to not only harm your team, but also to lose their trust in you a a leader.
There’s no shame in making a wrong decision if you made it with the best intentions and the best information you could find at the time. Just don’t beat yourself up over it and move quickly to get things back on track.
Most importantly, tell your team you were wrong and let them know why you’ve changed course. Humility and honesty are absolutely everything when it comes to being an exceptional manager.
It’s worth your time
I had to learn everything I mentioned above the hard way. I thought I couldn’t manage people who were older than me. I tried to be a “real” manager. And I stuck by too many bad decisions, just because I didn’t want people to think I’d made a mistake.
Luckily, that’s all behind me now. If you keep an open mind, find amazing mentors (either in books or in real life) and have a genuine interest in your team and helping them succeed, you’ll become a great manager.
Being a great manager unlocks huge career opportunities that you can’t even imagine, quite simply because most managers just aren’t that good. Whether you’re 17 or 70, learning to be a great manager is worth your time.
Who knows, you might even have what it takes to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Evan Spiegel. For great managers, the world is their oyster.
If you want to experience rapid growth in your business, build an enduring legacy and become the absolute best version of yourself, then you should check out my private mentoring group for founders. Click here to learn more.