(July 25, 2014) – In his latest LinkedIn Influencer post, Renault-Nissan Alliance CEO Carlos Ghosn explains how young managers can succeed even without extensive experience, giving six lessons to follow based on his own career path. Read his post directly on LinkedIn here.
As Baby Boomers retire and the global economy reawakens, companies will increasingly face the challenge of finding enough experienced replacements and recruits for departing managers and new executive positions.
It's a challenge that also presents an opportunity for young managers looking for a big step up in their careers.
At the Renault-Nissan Alliance, we systematically select our highest performing team members to participate in comprehensive leadership development programs. Participants are considered the "best of the best" – ambitious professionals who have made significant, positive contributions. They are the clear standouts among a workforce of more than 450,000 employees globally.
Some participants are under 30. We often give them extremely challenging assignments that take them well outside their comfort zones. They may have to manage hundreds or even thousands of workers, most of whom are older than they are.
My own "baptism by fire" began in 1981, a period of robust growth for the French tire company Michelin. Only three years out of university, I had finished the company's rigorous training program and had been heading a production team at Michelin's factory in Cholet, France, for barely a year. I didn't have a tremendous amount of real-world experience, but I was eager for a bigger challenge.
One day, the head of Michelin's French manufacturing division called me into his office and said, "I'm making you a factory boss." I was 27 years old, by far the youngest member of my new management team. I headed to Puy-en-Velay, France, as general manager of a plant with 700 employees.
Managing the plant taught me how to be a leader, and the experience became a pillar of my career.
Here are the most valuable lessons I learned:
Establish trust: Your first task is to establish bonds and trust with your team. Get out of your office and "walk the floor" to get to know all the core members of your team. At Puy-en-Velay, I spent time with each member of management and asked them to identify the main problems they were struggling to solve and the main opportunities they saw. I spent time on the plant floor talking and listening to workers and getting to know them.
Break down barriers: I was born and raised in Brazil, spent my adolescence in Lebanon, and went to university in France. I've always been a big believer in the power of diversity. As you walk the floor, identify people with the ability to get the job done, regardless of their background or education. Usually the best ideas come from the factory floor. Solicit advice from a broad array of backgrounds. If you do this, your plan will apply to a wider number of people – and you are more likely to succeed.
Be confident, yet humble: It's easy to feel overwhelmed, particularly if you are working in a foreign country in a new culture. But your superiors trust you, so trust in yourself. Don't let self-doubt cloud your thinking. At the same time, never be cocky. Show employees your willingness to learn what you don't know: Ask lots of questions. Learn all you can about what they do and why. Solicit and listen to feedback – particularly negative feedback. Turn to mentors (previous bosses, colleagues, professors, relatives) when you are stuck on a problem. A "mentor" might be someone you barely know or someone you haven't talked to in years; you may be pleasantly surprised by the number of people willing to help if you simply ask.
Be demanding of yourself: Others are more willing to follow your direction if you show your willingness to work hard, to dive into a problem, to be open to new ideas. Show you care. Show that your own success is tied to the success of the entire team. Successful management is about creating a model for others. You will not accomplish anything if you do not inspire and motivate your team. Demand more of yourself than of your workers.
Listen and communicate: Young managers often think they should talk a lot; in fact, they need to listen. Communication is a two-way street. Particularly in your first few weeks and months, take plenty of time to listen. Then develop a comprehensive plan. The plan should be difficult – but not impossible. The plan should establish one or two key priorities, with specific, quantifiable targets. Communicate these priorities and targets relentlessly and in multiple formats (face to face, in formal presentations, in casual meetings, in company videos).
Deliver! Your ability to exceed expectations is the most important element of all. Even if you perfect all of the above elements, you will still fail if you don't deliver results. In the end, this is what management is all about: accomplishing your specific mission. Discipline yourself to focus on performance and avoid distractions.
At the French plant, workers quickly got over my youth when they saw I was there to work hard and improve performance.
By quickly establishing trust, motivating my team, demanding more of myself than of anyone else – and ultimately delivering on my goals – I learned important career lessons. Likewise, today's young professionals can transform their new challenges into the experiences of a lifetime.
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