Becoming a new manager – exciting and scary times
The transition to becoming a new manager can feel exhilarating, just as it can simultaneously feel scary. New managers are inevitably driven to want to prove themselves worthy of the trust placed in them through their promotion. This drive often leads a new manager to hide their mistakes, insecurities, or a fear of being uncovered as “a fraud”. A second common Achilles’ heel in the transition is that new managers continue to see themselves as experts in their field. This can often lead to a blind spot: trying to solve every issue oneself. The result: new managers overlook the importance of other people as an essential ingredient in their own success.
So, what skills should we focus on to succeed in management?
Of the many, five stand out as key
Several articles could be written covering the set of skills needed for strong leadership, however, five stand out as essential in making the transition from an individual contributor to a new manager. They are:
- Establish trust
- Build relationships
Let’s start by connecting two of them, listening and learning. There is a good reason most new CEOs take 90-100 days to tour the company before embarking on changes. The exercise’s purpose is to listen to employees and take the time to learn about what works well and what doesn’t. By taking the time to do this, we demonstrate openness to listening, learning, and collaborating with teams to change what needs changing and retain what works well. This exercise helps us remember that managing is a continuous journey that evolves over time. The journey, however, always starts with the relationship.
The first element to focus on, in building relationships, is communication. Establishing an environment where open communication is valued is both an easy and enduring way to develop strong workplace relationships (and trust). What is open communication? It is an environment where all opinions, ideas, grievances, suggestions, questions, and views are welcome. Essential to this open communication is consistency. Once the door is open, it must remain so otherwise distrust and apathy can quickly take hold.
A second step in building business relationships, just like personal relationships, is to keep an open mind. By understanding ourselves, we know our strengths and our limitations. So, if we know that we have a tendency to jump to conclusions, then we can manage our initial thoughts by reminding ourselves to listen with an open mind.
Trust is a third essential element in relationships. It means following through on commitments made to the team. Failing to do so is the quickest way to erode trust because we fail to show ourselves as an individual that walks the proverbial talk. Of course, life happens and sometimes we cannot meet a deadline for all the goodwill in the world. When it does, we simply need to manage the situation properly through proactive communication. And of course, not make a habit of it!
In the context of transitioning to management, collaboration is about dropping preconceived notions about using power to dictate our needs (aka demands) to the team. We must rapidly move into a collaborative mindset. Why is this so important? Team members want to have some control and influence over their work. Long gone are the days of being told what to do and how to do it, commonly known as a command and control managerial style. This translates into understanding that leadership is not one’s title, salary, or job level but rather our ability to influence and inspire. To do so, we need clarity about our own values, motivators, and impact. From this space, we can work with our team to define success, agree it’s safe to ask for help, establish metrics to track progress, and define a sustainable work-life balance.
Final thoughts on becoming a new manager
Transitioning to management is about letting go of our individual contributor mindset and shifting to one that places the team above ourselves. In other words, by focusing on the team’s success we will by extension succeed, however, if we focus on our own personal success, we will inevitably let the team down and fail in the most crucial of leadership skills – relationships. By remembering that a team consists of individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, all of which collectively offer unique perspectives, skills, and expertise, we get the most out of people. The result: innovation, confidence, and team members that feel valued.
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Cartoon credit: Scott Adams – Dilbert