STEPPING UP TO MANAGEMENT
Nine success strategies
for new managers
By Kimberly Paterson, CEC
Congratulations on your promotion to management. You are about to make a significant career transition. And if you are like many new managers, what’s important to know is that the skills that got you to this point are likely very different from the ones you’ll need to succeed in your new role.
Many new managers fail to reach their potential because they lack awareness of the capabilities they need to succeed in their new position. This is because people are often promoted for the wrong reasons, such as a reward for contributions to date, seniority, or technical skill in the area they’ll be managing. While these are important factors, they have little to do with the ability to manage.
[T]he failure rate for new managers is somewhere between 40% and 60%. … [T]he greatest number fail
because they haven’t been taught the skills they need to succeed.
Knowing how to “do the work” and knowing how to “get others to do the work” are two very different challenges. Managing people takes a unique skill set. Unfortunately, not every organization offers the training and support to help professionals make a successful transition. While you will learn through experience and observing other managers, here are nine strategies to jump start your success as a new manager:
- Recognize that being seen as a leader is an earned position. Leaders are defined by the people being asked to follow them. While you may have a title and people may be outwardly compliant to your requests, that doesn’t mean you’re viewed as a leader. Leader presence comes from earned authority—a right you gain through your actions—not from power and position.
Ultimately, people make their own choices about whom they believe in and to whom they will be loyal. Competence in the job and confidence in your ability play a critical role. But credibility is the true currency. Those you manage must believe that you are a person they can depend on and that you are getting the job done.
- Convey leader presence. As a new leader, everything you say and the actions you take will be scrutinized. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re no longer “one of the group.” Engaging in conversations about co-workers, complaining about company policies, or having too many after-work drinks with colleagues can jeopardize your credibility. If you’ve been promoted in your organization and are now managing former peers, separating yourself from the group without hurting people’s feelings can be tricky. Seek advice from people who have managed this transition. Also, find a good role model in your organization and pay attention to their behavior. What does an effective manager look like at your level in the hierarchy? How does she relate to her direct reports and peers? How does she establish authority without squelching others’ engagement and initiative?
- Model the behavior you expect in others. Your job as a manager depends on getting others to believe in you and to want to follow your lead. The only real tool you have to accomplish this is who you are as a person and how you are perceived by others. Managing others begins with managing yourself. If you want people to be accountable, you must first be accountable. If you want people to prioritize better, you must model that behavior. If you want people to be committed, they must see your commitment.
- Rally your team. A Gallup poll of one million-plus workers concluded that the top reason people quit their jobs is a bad manager. Keeping your team engaged and empowered is the single most important responsibility. Being an effective manager means taking the time to recognize and capitalize on what makes each person unique—their strengths, how they learn, and what motivates and inspires them to do their best work.
Strong leaders know how best to use their people and delegate effectively. They are good communicators who listen, set expectations, give clear direction, provide constructive feedback, and convey the meaning and purpose of the work. Respected managers are generous with their knowledge and enjoy teaching and developing others. They are comfortable setting goals, tracking performance, and addressing performance issues.
- Be in sync with your manager. Take responsibility for your relationship with your manager. Many new managers make the mistake of expecting their boss to reach out to them and offer the time and support they need. It’s best to assume that it’s on your shoulders to build a solid working relationship. Clarify your manager’s expectations upfront. For example, how do they like to communicate, what are their priorities for you, which decisions do you have the authority to make, and what information should you be sharing? Get a regular meeting on your manager’s calendar. When you meet, don’t just run down a checklist of what you’ve been doing. Use this as an opportunity to share team successes, challenges you may be facing, support you might need, and most important, to ensure that your priorities align with your manager’s.
Don’t expect your manager to change their style for you. Your manager may have a very different style. For example, you may require context and details before making a decision, but your boss may just want the bottom line. Or you may thrive on connecting with people personally but your manager likes to get down to business. It’s your job to adapt.
- Build trust. There is no quality or characteristic more crucial to building a positive team dynamic than trust. Build trust by owning up to your weaknesses and mistakes. Team members are generally well aware of the leader’s missteps. When the leader acts as if they don’t exist, they send the signal that it’s unwise to be open about shortcomings.
Avoid facilitating end-runs. Leaders feed mistrust among the team when they have “offline” one-on-one conversations about team issues or individual team members. Leaders who want their teams to flourish need to resist the temptation to be the filter or fixer and instead force these issues back to the group or individual for resolution. Be candid about problems.
Team members need to know that they can trust the leader to surface the real issues that may be holding the group back. All too often, team meetings consist of status updates and top-down communication. Little time, if any, is left for tackling the challenges that people need to talk about but prefer to avoid.
- Build strong peer relationships. In modern organizations, few departments, functional areas, or project teams work in a vacuum. Success hinges on interdependencies.
A common mistake first-time managers make is focusing solely on their manager and direct reports. As a result, they don’t take the time to understand how their area of responsibility integrates into the organization and how their work impacts others. It’s essential to take the time to understand your counterparts’ needs and build strong working relationships.
- Get good at managing your emotions. When the pressure is on, all eyes are on the leader. During times like these, employees learn what you really believe, as opposed to what you say. Stay cool and calm and don’t lose your temper under pressure. Accept responsibility for mistakes rather than look for someone to blame. Support your employees and never turn on them. When appropriate, show emotion and anger but never be out of control. Manage your emotions and behavior so you don’t create unproductive anxiety in others.
- Create a personal development plan. Look at the core functions of your new role in comparison to your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you may be skilled in the technical part of the job and in a strong position to broaden your team’s knowledge but may lack experience in preparing budgets and department plans. Also, consider which job functions hold the greatest appeal to you and which interest you the least. This will identify which aspects of the job you’ll naturally spend time on and which you may be likely to avoid. For example, you may love teaching and coaching your team but dread formal quarterly performance feedback. Use the insights you gain to determine where you need additional skills and what steps you will take to ensure you don’t fall behind on the tasks you’ll put off or neglect.
Harvard Business School research indicates that the failure rate for new managers is between 40% and 60%. Some people simply aren’t cut for the job, but the greatest number fail because they lack an understanding of the additional skills they need to acquire to succeed.
If you’re new to managing, find out what organizational resources are available to support your development. Increasingly, organizations offer “First 90-days” coaching programs for new managers. If in-house training isn’t available, seek out workshops for new managers. Many organizations will provide financial support for professional development.
Consider finding a mentor. They can act as a sounding board and help guide you on how to be effective.
Read. More business books and articles have been published on management than any other business topic. There is no shortage of good resources. One book that’s especially good for first-time managers is The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo.
Take responsibility for educating yourself. Once armed with knowledge and the right skills, you can and will succeed.
Kimberly Paterson, Certified Executive Coach and Master Energy Leadership Coach, is president of CIM (www.cim-co.com). CIM works with organizations and individuals to maximize performance through positive lasting behavioral change. Her clients are property and casualty insurance companies, agencies and brokers. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Follow Kimberly on www.linkedin.com/in/kimberly-paterson and twitter.com/CIMChangeMinds.