Being a new manager can be both exciting and daunting at the same time. You want to get off to a good start but you don’t know what you don’t know. Naturally, you bring pre-conceptions with you. Yet, the reality can be a whole different ballgame. What do you need to look out for as a new manager so you don’t get off on the wrong foot and lose confidence?
Some people find themselves accidental managers. Without seeking the opportunity, they are given people management responsibilities on top of their technical or functional roles. Others seek management roles out of choice, often as a way of advancing. As a coach working with new managers early in their careers, the following issues tend to come up.
There is something about putting a uniform on that changes how people behave. For example, I used to work with police officers in a research department who wore suits while posted to my team. However, as soon as they put on their uniform, they would take on a different air of authority and power. Job titles can have a similar effect on people. Add the title of Manager and some people adopt an ‘I’m in charge so you have to do as I say’ approach in the mistaken belief it will command respect. Over-controlling comes from insecurity.
Instead, the role of today’s manager is to be an enabler. So your direct reports or team can do their jobs effectively. You gain respect from the trust you build and the motivating conditions you create, not from your job title.
Stuck in the team
It’s not uncommon to be promoted from a team to manage your former peers. Suddenly, they see you differently or you might see them differently. Other team members may have missed out on that promotion and be unhappy. Inevitably, your relationship is going to change with the team. The danger is never really leaving because you don’t want to upset people. It’s tough being tough with your former teammates. Especially about performance issues.
The trick is to maintain and work with the trust and rapport you already have with former teammates. It doesn’t mean losing a friendship. At the same time, set the tone for what is now different about your relationship with them. What do you expect of them? What can they expect from you? Let them know what’s important to you and the principles you stand for as a manager. Then show it in practice. Start how you mean to go on and you will soon gain that respect from the team.
As a new manager, it’s tempting to think that everything is OK in the absence of feedback. If there’s a problem, they’ll come to me or they must be happy. Never assume anything. People hold back for all sorts of reasons including fear, lack of awareness and confidence.
Your role is to engage with direct reports in an ongoing dialogue that tests assumptions. Ask how things are going in a regular 1-1. What is working well and not so well? What is getting in the way of achieving their objectives? How will they resolve that problem or improve the way they work? What support do they need from you? Remember, the pastoral side of a manager’s job is just as important as the business side.
One of the ways we learn about managing is through our experience of being managed. And that can be good, bad, and indifferent. You can pick up unhelpful ways from poor managers if that’s all you have known. Or, you may feel inadequate in comparison with your brilliant manager.
Learning from others can help you avoid poor habits and gain ideas for good ones. However, your aim should be to stamp your own personality on the way you manage and lead. No two managers are alike, just as no two direct reports or team members are alike. So your management style depends on you, the other person, and the situation. Self-awareness, empathy, adaptability, and flexibility are your friends.
Limiting your learning
Work is the learning and learning is the work. Harold Jarche
If you think you can learn how to be a manager solely out of a book, on YouTube or in a classroom, think again. On-the-job experience is the main way to learn. That means building on successes, making mistakes, testing, reflecting, and trying again with hindsight and insight. Coaching and mentoring help that process.
The need to know
An insecurity new managers often feel is their need to know (or be seen to know) as much as the people they manage. Especially when they bring technical or functional expertise with them. It can feel uncomfortable when your direct reports know more than you about a specific topic or technical expertise in how to do something. The temptation is to do what you like doing, interfere or do your team member’s job for them. The effects are to disempower and demotivate.
Develop your expertise in managing. Get your hands dirty by exception when the workload requires it. Aim for enough depth and breadth of your team’s subject area. Let your team breathe.
Unclear about boundaries
Managing is not always a black and white activity. Yes, you can look up policies, processes, and procedures in the staff handbook. But managing is also about making judgements in grey areas where there isn’t a rulebook. Again, experience is a great teacher. However, there will be times as a new manager when it’s appropriate to escalate things higher or to involve your manager.
Agree on the responsibilities and accountabilities of your managerial role with your manager. Discuss the limits of your authority – what you can and can’t do. Identify the thresholds for raising issues, for example, in relation to quality, capacity, and performance.
Which of these pitfalls do you struggle with?
If you are a new manager or have responsibility for developing new managers, get in touch with me to discuss your 1-1 coaching or group development needs.