When I started my current job managing a team of editors, I panicked. I had no idea what a manager did. Seven years on, I’ve learned a few things. Some days I feel like I’m still stumbling along, but I’d like to share some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
When I took the Myers-Briggs, I scored as far over on the introvert side of the scale as possible. I used to think that in order to manage people I had to be someone I wasn’t — more outgoing, more schmoozy. On the contrary, it was possible to manage as an introvert. People thrived if I basically left them alone. Perhaps the introverted style is uniquely suited to managing editors and others who do “deep work,” but other styles work fine too. I learned to not try to be someone I’m not.
If I’m going to break an editor’s concentration, I have to have a clear objective. I don’t meet just for the sake of having a meeting. I also try to stick to a half hour. Some experts recommend even shorter meetings.
Before I confront an editor whose work is suffering, I try to ask myself if I had a role in the problem. Maybe my expectations and guidelines aren’t crystal clear. I then own up to my role in the problem and use it as an opportunity to improve my performance.
I want to hear legitimate concerns, but drama for drama’s sake should be quashed before it spreads and leads to sloppiness and missed deadlines. With only a month under my belt as a manager, I had two editors with festering complaints. So I held a meeting that was little more than a venting session. I thought this would release tension. It did the opposite, exacerbating the negativity. A better approach would have been to address root causes while clarifying that missing deadlines and poor work quality wouldn’t be tolerated.
Having hired many editors, I now specifically look for “soft” skills more than I did at first. For me, flexibility, being nice, and a willingness to learn are key. Frankly, lots of people know Chicago or APA style, but you can’t train someone to be a decent colleague to work with.
Managing (or killing) expectations
My primary responsibility is to facilitate my editors’ ability to do their jobs. A significant part of this is serving as a buffer for other people’s unreasonable expectations or anxieties that may not have anything to do with editing. I listen to them and maybe even affirm their concerns. But I try to avoid distracting my editors with the noise.
Full disclosure: I have (unintentionally) broken each of these rules. I’ll probably break them again. Sometimes circumstances demand a different approach. Nevertheless, I stand by them. Give them a try and let me know what the results are. If you have a different approach, let me know that too.
If you aren’t a manager but work with one, keep in mind that most managers, even the bad ones but probably not the truly sociopathic ones, want to do a good job. They might not know how. Consider how you can help them become the manager you need them to be.
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