One of the most important and underrated skills you can have in any work environment, whether it’s at corporate or a startup, is emotional intelligence. Working with your colleagues on a challenging project will test you and the team in many ways beyond the typical technical and logistical challenges that typically surface. I’ve noticed that what sets a successful manager apart can be as simple as understanding and working with, and not against, the unique and sometimes conflicting quirks that combine into the flow that drives your team forward.
I’ve seen too many frustrated managers attempting to brute force their approach with people that don’t respond to the same emotional cues, and it leaves team members just as frustrated and exhausted while doing nothing to help the project along any more efficiently. In my experience, project management is just as much about managing people’s emotions as it is managing deadlines, risks, and scope, and doing so is as simple as keeping yourself open to understanding the human side of your team.
Even in the smallest teams, you may be working with people of wildly different backgrounds, experiences, expectations, upbringings, educations, etc. And although there are general social constructs narrowing the set of “expected” behaviors that dictate your regular interactions, you will still be challenged by those who simply are not on the same page as you in terms of expectations, processes, or attitude. It is even more important for a successful leader to understand those most different from themselves, and identify optimal ways of interacting, encouraging, or criticizing in ways that will move the project forward and maintain good, balanced relationships. And sometimes that means letting go of your ego to acknowledge someone that did something good, even if it was different than how you would have wanted it done. Good management is often more about listening and guiding, than it is about telling and enforcing.
One piece of practical advice I can give each manager right now, is to schedule one on one time with each key member of your team, and be honest and open about what’s going right, what may be going wrong, and how you can be more engaged in the right ways. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the first step towards growth.