Simon Birkenhead is a chief executive who has spent 25 years managing teams across both the very largest global organisations through to early stage technology start-ups. He is recognised by his employees as an inspiring manager who is able to help them deliver their best work. Between 2014 and 2019 he didn't have a single employee resign from any of the businesses he led.
Educated at Cambridge University and London Business School, Simon is a former global business leader at Google, where he led teams across four continents. He has also held business leadership positions at 3M, Telefónica and Gartner. Since becoming a CEO he has run a number of international businesses out of the UK and New Zealand. He is currently Chief Executive and Board Director for International Volunteer HQ, the world's largest e-commerce travel company specialising in overseas volunteering and internships. Managing People is his first book.
The Author's Story
Early in my career, I assumed all great managers had a natural talent. There seemed to be so few of them that I thought they must possess a magical ability to be brilliant at what they did, with unique personalities that made them perfectly suited for managing people effectively.
I really wanted to be one of those managers, but I didn’t enjoy managing others early in my career because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I made many mistakes because I didn’t know any better. I was given my first few teams to manage with no guidance whatsoever as to what the new job entailed. I defaulted to what I thought was the right approach, but this relied on the assertion of my authority and I was wholly ignorant of the negative impact some of my behaviours were having on my team. Thankfully, I was given hard but valuable feedback, which prompted me to set about learning how to become the best manager possible so that others would love working for me.
The more books, articles and research I read about how to get the best performance from others, the more I realized there was actually a set of disciplines I could follow that would help me achieve my goal. I learnt that, far from being an intrinsic talent awarded to only a select few, becoming a great people manager was possible simply by learning a set of rules and applying them consistently. I had to unlearn some bad habits and actively adopt new behaviours that would overcome the drawbacks of my natural, introverted personality. As time went on, this new approach generated better relationships with my teams and my new behaviours became so natural that I no longer had to think about them. My communications softened, my emotional intelligence deepened and my new-found openness and authenticity generated more trust and respect.
I discovered an amazing feedback cycle: managing others in a more positive, motivating and collaborative way meant that they enjoyed their jobs more. The quality of their work improved, which meant they became easier to supervise, so I enjoyed my job more in turn. Because I was happier and more confident at work, I became a better leader, my team’s performance improved, and the cycle continued.
I’m now a CEO and I credit my own career success directly to the investment I have made over the last twenty-five years in learning how to master the job of managing others. By going through this process myself I realized that anyone who is sufficiently motivated can become an inspiring manager simply by understanding and following the basic rules, frameworks and best practices I set out in this book. I wanted to share what I learnt with others so I can do my bit to help address the depressing state of people management in so many businesses today.