The need to identify, inspire and coach the next generation of managers is one of the most pressing concerns for any business. Vast resources are invested into it, yet little can prepare new managers for the experiences that await them.
Anyone who has gone through the process of stepping up to management will be aware that it involves a unique set of challenges and some difficult transitions. It’s a demanding time for any professional and it can feel like a lonely process, but it can be enormously rewarding and exciting.
Here are my ten best pieces of advice for anyone about to begin managing people for the first time.
1. Be open-minded
If you’re changing employers to take that next step up, remember you’re not in your old firm anymore. You need to ditch any culture-specific habits and assumptions and go into your role with an open mind about the environment and the people, and be mindful of what you don’t know. Your new team can teach you plenty.
2. Develop your self-knowledge
Any coaching or self-directed study that helps you to recognise your strengths, weaknesses and trigger points can be a fantastic aid. It will help you to deal with conflict, avoid potentially hostile or damaging situations and get the best out of those around you.
3. Remember: the success of your team is your success
This is a truth best understood through experience. The feeling of not being a “doer” 100% of the time is one of the biggest causes of culture shock for people making their first foray into management.
It requires an attitude shift and can be a very challenging experience for some. You’re used to being at the “delivery” level of your trade, whether that’s sales or customer service, marketing, accounting and so on. But when you start to manage people, you’re responsible for ensuring the team does that successfully.
It feels strange at first. It may feel like you’re taking a back seat. But actually, you’re driving the team.
4. You’ll have to work hard!
Of course, the last point doesn’t mean the work stops: in fact, if often becomes harder (hence the higher salary). Junior and middle management roles are challenging, because you often have to cover a lot of bases, and the secret to success is to throw yourself into the role. Managers still have to deliver, just in a different way.
5. Stay proactive
Once you’ve accepted that your team’s success is your success, you may be tempted to focus purely on them. That’s great in some ways, but you need to concentrate on your growth, too. It would be a shame to wake up one morning with the realisation that you haven’t learned anything for years. Remember to stay restless, to keep learning and stay as hungry as you were in a more junior role.
6. You’re on the other side of the table now
This is one of the hardest lessons to learn! If you’re managing people who used to be colleagues, like it or not, things will need to change. Managing people can involve taking disciplinary action against them. It could mean making them redundant or firing them. You need to foster strong relationships with your people, but you need to keep them at arm’s length too. The trick is to get the balance right. This starts with setting some expectations and making sure your team understands that you support them, but you also work in the company’s best interest.
7. You’re a company ambassador, too
As a manager you now have some responsibility for your team’s enjoyment of their jobs, and a duty to set an example. If you openly criticise colleagues, fellow managers or the company itself, your behaviour could have a serious impact on the morale of those who look to you for inspiration. Your frustrations need to be communicated upwards, not downwards.
When you put on the manager’s hat (so to speak) people will treat you as one. So remember that what you say as a manager might have more impact than it did before. It’s never a good idea to over-share or get involved in office tittle-tattle at the best of times – even less so when you’re a manager.
8. You need a support network
So where do you go when you need to share? You’re only human and you’ve got to take your feelings somewhere. A support network outside of work, or a trusted team of like-minded managers within it, can be a huge help. You’ll need people who can understand the challenges you face.
9. Remember the power of praise
On the whole, people are more inspired by good management than by money. Many people would rather feel truly appreciated than earn a few extra pounds. So simply recognising your team’s efforts and achievements and praising them for it can bring dividends in terms of morale and effort.
10. Experience is a great teacher
The most instructive lessons about management can only ever come from doing the job, so embrace the opportunity to learn all you can, take time to reflect on the lessons and think about how you might do something differently next time.
Even so, I hope you come away from this blog with an idea about how you’ll approach your first (or next) management role.
Our next blog will be on a similar theme and will deal with mistakes commonly made by new managers.