I often get to work with people who have recently been promoted into management positions for the first time and it’s some of the most rewarding work that I do. There is no handbook on leadership and many of us struggle tremendously at first. An organization grants us some authority and all of the sudden we are accountable for not just what we do but for what others on our team do as well. Here are 5 things that I wish I knew as a new manager and that I share with those beginning their management career.
Your new authority gives you an opportunity…. and nothing else.
Sometimes new bosses decide that because they are now in charge they get respect, loyalty, and the commitment of others. What they really get is a chance to earn those things. People will decide very quickly whether they will trust you and work hard for you or whether they will tell you what you want to hear and just do enough to get by. You get to determine that outcome by how you work your team. It’s not guaranteed, or even easy, but you have a shot at it now.
You don’t have to have all of the answers, just better questions.
Many new managers feel like they have to become the source for all ideas and solutions. When they get questions, they feel like their job is to have every answer. Nothing could be further from the truth. In most cases, their job is to build a more capable team that is effective at solving problems and addressing challenges. No team is very successful if they have to run to the boss to get all the answers. What is critical is that you ask the right questions to help your team anticipate challenges and opportunities, and think about them before they become a crisis.
Don’t start telling people stuff. It means nothing.
I hear a lot of managers say things like “I told them to be honest with me”, “I told them that I wanted their ideas” or “I told them that I would listen to anything they had to say”. People on your team do not care what you tell them. In many cases, because you are now in “management” their first instinct is to not believe what you say anyway. They care what you show them. If you want new ideas, candid feedback, or open conversations you have to create an environment where that is expected and rewarded. What you say now means less. It’s what you do now that means more and affects more people.
Don’t become a blind advocate or a tyrant?
Some managers feel like they should be a constant voice for their people up the food chain, communicating their wants and needs to those higher up. Others feel like they must squash any rebellion or dissent as an agent of corporate management. Only a few get it right by having leadership principles that dictate whether they need to have the tough conversation up the ladder or with their team members. People want a balanced and reasonable leader and to give them that you have to decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle a situation where the team is at odds with the leaders above you. There are times to go to bat for the team and times to help the team understand the direction more completely and move on. If you get locked into one pattern you become much less valuable to both the team and the business.
You don’t have to keep team members at a distance.
Lots of new managers trip up on this one. They believe that in order to effectively lead people they have to remain aloof and detached so they can make good decisions and not be perceived as being friends with anyone on the team. The truth is that if you are a good leader you will develop a relationship with every person on your team and each will be a little different. You have to learn what drives them, what they care about, what causes them to fully engage and you can’t do that at a distance. Yes it will hurt you if you are perceived to be friends with only one or two of your employees. That’s why you have to build relationships with all of them.
Leadership becomes much more about judgment and less about your individual performance. Your job now is to create a fully engaged, highly capable team that produces amazing results. You are now responsible for the mindset, the accountability, and the growth of these people. This isn’t really about you anymore. When you’re a new leader, that might be the one thing that matters most.
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