The interviewer asked “What is your management style?”

Years ago, when I was ambitious and naive, I applied for my first management position.

Actually, it was a CRM specialist position, with a path into management. Most of the skills we learn in the trenches as marketers are transferable, so although I didn’t have experience with their specific software, I managed to charm my way through the interview.

Things were going well, they seemed impressed with my knowledge and experienced. And then, it happened.

The interviewer asked “What is your management style?”

It all went downhill from there.

At the time, I’d had experience running small teams, and had managed contractors on dozens of projects. I’d even hired a few of my own people for a short time.

But I’d never had a management role before.

I fumbled my way through a half baked response. “I’ve managed contractors… I’m good with people… Transferable skills in marketing… I’m a fast learner…”

It wasn’t pretty.

I had no idea how to answer that question. Did they mean management philosophy? Like a named management methodology? Did they want me to talk about communication? Discipline? Culture?

If they’d asked, “what’s your leadership style?”, that would have been a completely different conversation.

I might have charmed my way straight to an offer.

But they didn’t.

And I didn’t.

But the story doesn’t end there. 

I’ve been in a management role for almost a year now, and the interview for this role was completely different.

In one part of the interview, the team I’m now managing had the opportunity to ask their own interview questions. So here I was sitting in front of 8 young hungry professional marketers, and one of them asked “What quality are you looking for in a team?”

After a brief pause to collect my thoughts, I answered “A team that has each other’s backs. You can train someone in technical skills they need to do a job, but when you’re working with people who have your back, and you have theirs, you can achieve great things together.”

I don’t remember much of the other questions, but my boss points to that answer as the one that sealed the deal!

The two things I learned from these experiences

Whether you’re reading this because your ambitious and naive like I was, or you enjoy watching me squirm in uncomfortable situations, or you just want to check in on me (hi Mum!), there are a couple of things you can take away from my experiences.

  1. Management vs Leadership

Although in the corporate world, these two terms are used interchangeably (hint hint, if you’re in an interview, don’t let it stump you like it did me), there is a difference between the management and leadership.

  1. Environment is key

In the first interview, they were looking for someone with “management experience”. Looking back, it was clear they weren’t the kind of workplace that invested in the growth and development of their people. In the second interview, they were looking for a leader, and they were willing to train someone in the technical managerial skills needed to do the day to day tasks.

You see, I’ve worked on my leadership skills for years,  so I know what kind of a leader I am, even though I’d never been in a management role before.

So if you’re looking to get into management one day, or if you’re a manager now, keep investing in your leadership skills.

What leadership isn’t

Leadership isn’t a role.
It’s not a position you’re promoted into.
It isn’t what you do when you walk into an office.

It’s the way you think.
It’s how you choose to live life.
It’s your attitude.

So what is my management style?

Story time is over folks. Hereth starts my manifesto.

I’m 100% a coach. I want to inspire my team to be the best they can be, and have each other’s backs. I’m about building a culture of collaboration, with strong emotional intelligence, specifically empathy, so the team can support each other to do great things, and share knowledge.

I want a culture of personal accountability within my people. That means if we have to talk about tardiness or if I have a “performance review”, it’s already too late. They need to be the ones that own their growth, and take accountability for their own actions.

My management style is to know what makes each one of my people tick, and what motivates them individually. To not wing it with someone who is a deep thinker and needs time to process information before a meeting. And to not overwhelm a kinaesthetic extrovert with a highly detailed email when a quick coffee chat will suffice. (Still working on this one yo!)

My management style is to model the behaviour and values I want to see in my team. To own up to my mistakes, apologise when necessary, check in how they’re doing, hold them accountable to their KPIs and agreements, call them out on their BS, and celebrate their wins.

All these qualities I found in my management style aren’t new. It’s a result of years of working on my leadership skills.

So my challenge to you:

How are you investing in your leadership skills right now?