Advice for New Managers

The skills that made you a successful individual contributor are not the same as those that will make you a great leader. That’s okay, a few small reminders will help.

Curious new manager
Be a curious leader who is always willing to learn.

Congratulations, You’re a Manager! Now What?

Oftentimes, companies promote their best individual contributors to leadership positions. Advancing to a management position means you are good at what you do. Trouble is, the skillset that made you a successful individual contributor hasn’t necessarily prepared you to be a successful manager. You may be an expert on the jobs your team members need to perform, but inspiring them to do those jobs may not yet be in your wheelhouse.

That’s okay. Because there’s no better way to learn something than to do it!

Leadership Is All About People

When you think about the managers who have inspired you in your career, chances are they all have one thing in common — they treated you with respect and like you were a person. It is important to always keep in mind that you are managing people who bring their full lives and selves into the workplace. You don’t have to be everybody’s friend and, in fact, going too far in that direction can get you into trouble.

It is important to always keep in mind that you are managing people who bring their full lives and selves into the workplace.

But, as Greg Satell observes, “nobody wants to be a cog in somebody else’s machine.” Getting to know your team members (and letting them get to know you), both formally and informally, through one-on-ones, lunches or social gatherings, is important to establish trust, which is the foundation of good working relationships.

Leaders Are Learners

Great leaders remain students of the world around them, regularly feeding their curiosity. In his blog post, 5 Major Leadership Lessons For a New Manager, Chris Woodhouse suggests setting aside five hours a week to learn something new. Whether this is reading, listening to a TED talk, or attending a seminar, it is important to make time every week to learn new things related to your industry or leadership generally.

You may feel like five hours is a lot to carve out of your already busy weekly schedule, but get creative — listen to a podcast or audiobook on your commute or look for lunch-and-learn opportunities in your city. Nearly everyone commutes and hopefully everyone is eating lunch! Chances are, you can knock out five hours with less effort than you think and it will pay off in the end.

Leaders Can Take as Good as They Give

A good manager needs to know how to receive as well as give feedback. And feedback is not only top-down. In other words, managers need to hear feedback not only from their superiors, but also from the team members who report to them. Team members may not be used to giving feedback to superiors, but it is essential if you are to know whether you’re doing a good job. If that’s the case, you will have to create a culture of upward feedback.

Creating a culture of upward feedback means fostering an atmosphere of open, honest communication, asking teammembers for specific feedback, taking criticism well (by not getting defensive), and taking action on the feedback offered. That last point is a big one. As a manager, you know how it feels to have feedback you’ve given seemingly ignored by the recipient. Nothing will kill upward feedback faster than not having it incorporated in a meaningful way. For more on seeking upward feedback, see our post entitled How to Get Upward Feedback.

Objectives and Prioritization are Your Friends

Having clear objectives and prioritizing those objectives with and for your team is a must. Objectives should be short and long-term. Daily, weekly and quarterly objectives should be developed with the input of your team and clearly articulated. Successful completion of objectives should be black and white; either the team hits the mark or they don’t.

In addition, objectives should be prioritized. It has been said that if you have more than three priorities, you have none. Priorities can be individualized to each team member as well as for the team as a whole, but make sure they are clear and identifiable. And keep it focused. Too many priorities muddy the water.

Emotional Intelligence and Resilience

As mentioned earlier, you are managing people, not machines. People come with lots of emotions, good and bad. In order to lead well, you must not only be able to handle your own ups and downs, but those of the people you are managing. There will be successes to build upon and setbacks to learn from and your response to these events is as important as the events themselves.

In order to lead well, you must not only be able to handle your own ups and downs, but those of the people you are managing.

Emotional intelligence is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Cognizance, regulation and communication of emotions are all key to emotional intelligence. When one is mindful of one’s own emotional state, it makes it easier to be mindful of and responsive to the emotional states of others.

Staying grounded requires effort — it does not always come naturally, especially in times of stress. That’s why it is important to keep a few things in mind as you step into your new role as a manager: develop a routine that prepares you for the day, have a life outside of work and maintain a support network for yourself.

Morning Routine

Your team relies on you to be available every day, no matter where your head may be personally. So, whether it is meditation or working out or just a quiet cup of coffee with the newspaper, it is important to develop a morning routine that prepares you emotionally for the day ahead.

Balancing all of our obligations can be difficult, especially with busy family schedules, but your mind and body will thank you for the few moments you take in the morning to ground yourself and prepare for the day.

Have a Life

Don’t work too many hours and maintain a life outside of work. It is a go-go world and work can become all-consuming. But don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of overly identifying with your work self. If you burn out, you will be no good to yourself or your team. So, take yourself to a movie, have dinner with a friend, or take time to go to your kid’s soccer game. No one on their deathbed ever regretted having not spent enough time at the office.

Develop and Maintain a Support Network

This dovetails well with the admonishment to “have a life.” Create space for your own mental wellbeing. Exercise, therapy, personal and professional mentors, friendships, spiritual community: Any or all of these can be beneficial to creating and maintaining emotional resilience.

Your work life will be challenging and you’ll want to bring your A-game every day for your own satisfaction and to support your team. That means you need to have the proper supports in place for your own mental and spiritual health. Bottom line? Don’t ignore your own needs and desires in pursuit of professional success. Personal and professional success go hand-in-hand and balance is a requirement, not a luxury.

Takeaways

Remember, the skills that made you a successful individual contributor to a team are not the same as those that will make you a great leader. First and foremost, establish relationships of mutual trust and mutual support with your team.

Remember, feedback is not a top-down enterprise. Articulate clear objectives. Celebrate and build on success, but don’t be afraid of failure — missteps are merely opportunities to improve.

Be a curious leader who is always willing to learn. And, perhaps most importantly, maintain perspective and balance in your work life so that you can be available to your team because their successes are yours.

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