To be an effective leader, perhaps the most important ability is being able to hire well. As I’ve said before, when directing a theatre production, 90% of your success is achieved by casting the right actors. You have one chance to get that right – because you can’t really fire actors (especially if you are not paying them), so you better make your picks count. You can hire great actors and do nothing and still have a reasonably good result, or you can hire poor actors, try hard to direct them, and still end up with a mess. It’s exactly the same with management.
The challenge with hiring though is the quality of your employees trickles down from the top. As a manager, you are tasked with bringing in A players. Your success depends on it. But if you aren’t the best at recruiting or hiring others, and your firm is not, say, “Apple” or “Google,” you have to figure out how to recruit great people. Getting heaps of applications isn’t the hard part — getting the right people to apply, move them through the hiring funnel, and closing them is. Every manager must be great at marketing and sales, especially those who are at companies whose name does not yet do all the sales before the candidate walks in the door.
I know if I’m going to be successful in my current position I need to hire fast, but not too fast that I bring in the wrong people. In order to attract high-quality candidates, I know I’m already handicapped. This is the case of many newer managers, especially in innovative industries that naturally attract candidates who were genetically modified for a high IQ since residing in utero, who also are only interested in working for Ivy League-esque graduates. Just as a talented actor won’t audition for a play directed by an unproven director in a local theatre which has yet to make a solid name for itself, talented professionals are weary of working for companies and managers that don’t have a long list of gold stars on their C.V. Not only do you have to sell your company, you have to self yourself as a great manager. It’s a lot easier to sell a company you believe in — harder to sell yourself when you don’t even look like a great manager on paper.
The only way I’ve managed to scoop up one great talent, at least part-time, is due, strangely enough, to him knowing everything that goes in my mind, as he is pretty much the only person I know IRL who has access to this blog. It’s my one success story, but I need to hire more talent like him, and that’s proving very hard. At the end of the day, I have to hire fast, but also get the right people in the door. I admit I’m not doing a good job at it. I’m also in that hard place where I’m a young manager, so I’d be better off hiring talent older and more experienced than myself, but then I don’t know how I’ll actually remain the manager. At some point I have to ask if the person I should be hiring for is someone to manage me.
This opportunity is so remarkably huge that I don’t want to screw it up, but I just don’t know if I have it in me to do this. With the opportunity comes the weight of needing to move oceans fast in order to succeed, and my success = helping many others be successful as well. If I fail, I am not only failing myself, I am failing my team. I feel infinitely stressed and terrified. I love so many of the pieces, the industry, the people, the intellectual side of telling the right story, and much more. But I also see myself crumbling yet again. I am trying to be strong. I am watching the opportunity disappear before my eyes as I fail to effectively lead.
Then, when I do have resources, managing them just doesn’t come naturally to me. Growing up not playing team sports, I never learned how to be a team player. In the arts you are pretty much in it for yourself. But when it comes to business you are not important. You must be a machine, making your part more efficient and productive. You must be clear on objectives, and once you’ve hired the right talent, make sure they have what they need to be successful. You also need to know if said talent isn’t delivering, and if it’s your fault or theirs, and if it’s theirs can you provide guidance to help correct this, or not, and are you even capable of providing the right guidance?
Maybe leaders – mostly men – are better at faking it until they make it, especially when it comes to management. I feel as a woman I already have less natural respect statistically. As a young female leader it’s worse. Then I show weakness just once or twice and I’m done for. I wonder often if it’s already too late.
What does the ideal manager look like? Is she flawlessly dressed, hair with an “at home” professional-looking blowout, body toned from daily pre-sunrise workouts at the gym, protein shakes, and weekend 8-mile hikes to ensure her body is in tip-top shape? Does she spend thousands of dollars a month on clothes and accessories to look fashionable without trying too hard, each item in her wardrobe tailored to fit her toned physique? Is she so organized that every day she creates a list of “to dos” and knows exactly what her team is working on at all times, so she effectively communicates this up the line of command and motivates the best work in her direct reports, while always being one step ahead of any potential fire drills? Is she a duck smoothly gliding across the executive pond while kicking furiously underneath, moments away from drowning?
I feel constantly I’m not strong enough for this. I don’t know when I should push vs pull, to chase vs accept, to strive for perfecting the important details vs just let them go. I think maybe one day I could be a decent leader but maybe I’m just not ready yet. It’s only I don’t want to blow this opportunity. I really want to fake it until I make it, to at the very least ensure we hit our numbers to provide time to fix what’s broke and to grow into the leader I would like to be. I may be on the verge of a mental breakdown, or professional breakthrough. It’s too soon to tell. But as I comfort the chaos in carbohydrates, I fear I’m quickly aging and falling apart, trying to hold myself together so no one would guess just how broken I am.