8 of My Most Memorable “Aha” Management Moments

by Paul Slezak
Leading People - 6 years ago

Type the phrase “management tips” into Google. Go on. How many hundred million results came up in your search?

Clearly there’s plenty of information for experienced managers, first-time managers, or even those ‘wannabe’ managers out there.

Oh but rest assured this isn’t just another blog post containing advice for managers. In the last few months I’ve shared some of my more bizarre hiring stories, as well as some ‘interesting’ firing stories.

So in this post I just wanted to share some of my ‘light bulb’ moments as a manager. Those moments when ‘the penny dropped’ so to speak. When I suddenly realised what I had really got myself into.

1. Awkward silence, anyone?

I loved working with my colleagues. Some of us had even become really close friends. But I was also dead keen on becoming a manager.

My promotion was confirmed and it was officially announced at the end of quarter company function where my peers shook my hand, hugged me and appeared really supportive and happy for me.

But then something happened. The weekend came around and there were no phone calls suggesting a dinner, movie, tennis or roller-blading (hello late 1990s!).

Monday morning was even worse.

When I arrived in the office I could hear everyone chatting in the breakout area but when I walked in, the room went deathly silent.

Welcome to management!

2. Who needs Big Brother!

Surely the original producers of Big Brother didn’t seriously think that throwing a group of complete strangers into a house and ‘watching what plays out’ was the first social experiment of it’s kind!

I’ve managed quite a few teams in my career and if they’d only popped a few cameras around my offices, now that would have made for some seriously top rating prime time TV viewing.

I would never have expected from a group of adult professionals the number of screaming sessions, temper tantrums, storm outs, b*tch fights, manipulative mind games, and backstabbing that I’ve witnessed in my time.

But just like in the Big Brother house, apply alcohol at the end of the month and everyone suddenly became best friends!

As long as I can host the ‘eviction episodes’ or ‘tribal councils’, I’ll put my hand up now to direct and produce “The Real Housewives of Recruitment” or “Survivor: The Corporate Jungle”.

The script is already written!

3. When the cat’s away …

I won’t bore you with the gory details, but a mosquito once landed me in hospital with a mysterious infection.

Yes I ended up being away from my high performing (or so I thought!) sales environment for several weeks.

A few of my team came to visit me which was nice, but I just assumed that everyone knew what they were expected to do and that even though I wasn’t physically in the office, they’d all just get on with it.

Never assume.

When I was eventually OK to return to work I was absolutely mortified.

I know I promised that this post wouldn’t include ‘management tips’. But I bet you this one has never been included in the manual …

Remember to apply insect repellent!

4. They don’t all have to like me …

But a bit of respect would be nice (just a little bit!)

It didn’t take me long to understand that resignations are just part and parcel of management life and you learn to live with it.

I’ve had several ‘difficult’ staff members resign and still conduct themselves totally professionally during their notice period.

But then there were a few unexpected surprises.

I remember on one particular occasion I’d had 1:1 meetings with all my team before heading off on a 2-week work trip. Everyone seemed fine.

The very next day when I turned my phone on after a 15-hour flight, I received a text message from one of the guys in the office. “I am giving you my 2-weeks notice effective today. I’ll be gone when you get back”.


And then there was the time when I received a fax (OK so I am showing my age here again!) from one of my team while she was away on holidays in Europe. It just said, “Hi Paul. I’ve decided not to come back. Good luck and thanks for everything!”


5. I’ve got the power!

As a recruiter I always loved the fact that I may have been responsible for helping someone land their dream job. The gratitude I received in return was incredibly uplifting.

As a manager I also loved bringing people into my team and seeing the excitement in their eyes when they walked in on their first day.

To be honest I never really appreciated how I also held the destiny of each of my team members in my hands until ‘the Simone episode’.

Simone was from Europe and had come to Australia on a working holiday visa. I had then sponsored her since I thought she’d be a great fit for my team.

Unfortunately in the first two months I realised I’d made a mistake. Simone just wasn’t performing and I knew I couldn’t keep her in the business.

Letting someone go is never easy. But when you are also personally responsible for their working rights in the country and you need to part ways, it also means that if they can’t find somebody else to take over their sponsorship they then have 28 days to leave the country.

She told me that she’d always dreamed of living in Australia. I had believed in her and I had given her an opportunity. Unfortunately when things didn’t work out she wasn’t able to find a new position within the authorized time period and so she had to return to Europe.

I had single handedly killed the dream.

Talk about a few sleepless nights.

6. It’s lonely at the top

Management life isn’t always easy.

There were times when I know the ‘duck on a pond’ analogy certainly rang true with me. On the surface I was nice and calm. But my goodness was I paddling like crazy under the water.

Of course I could never let anyone in my team know if I felt like I was changing the tyres on a moving bus … (think about it!). And at the same time I never wanted to let my boss think I wasn’t in complete control.

Remember: Managers have bosses too!

With nobody to vent to, share the frustrations with, or just cry out for help to, sometimes it got pretty damn lonely.

So I went and found myself an executive coach.

I called her ‘my professional shrink’ …

7. The Cone of Silence

Over the years I’ve probably heard it all.

Marriage problems – “I’m pregnant and I’m pretty sure my husband isn’t the father” …

Health issues – at least when I had to call the ambulance I knew exactly what to tell the paramedics;

Personal financial crises – one of my team once even asked me if I could lend her the money to pay for her child’s school fees since her husband had done a runner and she didn’t want to take the child out of private school …

Of course there were plenty of good things too – like knowing when one of the team was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him before his family even knew …

Being a confidant, counselor, and ‘trusted vault’ comes with the territory.

We’d sit down in a meeting room and the first words out of their mouth would be “Are we in the cone of silence?

8. I really can do this!

Perhaps I haven’t painted the most glamorous picture of management. And after these few stories you may choose not to believe me if I told you I wouldn’t have traded my years as a manager in for anything.

Sure it may well have been a roller coaster ride. But just like a kid at a theme park, after the ups and downs, the times when you want to hurl, the screams, and the heart-racing, adrenalin-filled excitement, you jut want to go back on the ride again!

When you stop and realise that you have built a team of 50 people pretty much from scratch; that you have built a multi-million dollar business; when you read the wording on the Christmas cards you receive from some of your team members; and when some of them still call you more than 10 years later to ask you for advice, you know you’ve done it … and you’ve done it well.

Got any ‘Aha’ management moments of your own? Feel free to share them with us!