So, when I was talking about my blog earlier this week, someone asked me to write a blog about new managers. This is an interesting topic because there are a number of ways that you can come into that role. Here are some things to think about when you step up into a leadership role.
- Changing relationships. When you move up from within a team, the relationships can get very awkward very quickly. Your lunchtime buddy may now be your direct report. This can be very difficult to navigate. As always, I am going to suggest communication as your best tool in working this out. Some folks will handle this well, others will test you, but the biggest challenge could be how you make the transition. It can feel like a huge betrayal going from one of “us” to one of “them.” It is critical that you give yourself a little breathing room to find your new voice. Hold good boundaries with your thoughts and feelings about the change. Observe with a new perspective (as the manager) and see if you can find a way to hold onto some of the goodwill that you had as one of the “us” while you transform into one of the “them.”
- Filling someone else’s shoes. Unless you have a new role created for you, you are filling someone else’s shoes. Whether you are better or worse at the job does not matter. You are almost certainly different. This difference will be pointed out to you repeatedly and you will have to decide how to handle it. I suggest that you remain as neutral as possible and establish your own objectives and guidelines for the work (once you have had a chance to figure out what they will be). Trying to compare yourself to the previous occupant of your role can backfire spectacularly even when you are attempting to be neutral (trust me, I know). To complicate matters even further, if you are coming from the outside into this role, you may not know what your predecessor was like. Learn your job and make your own decisions. Take advice and feedback from the people that you identify as objective and helpful. If you can, stay out of the big conflicts and dramatic changes until you have solidified your voice as the new manager.
- Your new team. When you come in from the outside, you will need to meet all of the people who will be on your new team. Be cautious about any snap judgments. Make sure to take the time to meet each of your new team members. Spend some time asking them about their roles on the team, what they like best about their jobs, and anything they would like to see changed. It is best if you can meet with each team member individually. It is a chance to get to know them on a personal level. Learn a fun fact about them and remember it. It will help you start developing those connections that will be essential to team development (cohesion, buy in, etc.). Another important thing to remember is that individuals can be very different one to one and in a group. Observe the group dynamic for as long as you can before you adjust how things are done (if these adjustments are needed, obviously). If you are lucky, the team will be excited to consider improvements in their work. If you are not, you may have a team that feels insulted and judged as inferior when you suggest doing something different. Learn your team, so you can time these discussion appropriately.
- Making a good first (and second and third) impression. Just as you are observing and learning your team members, they are observing and learning you. Okay, I almost just wrote judging you… you can tell where my mind is going. Right? Be aware that, as a leader, you will be one of the most watched people in the room. Especially as a new leader. From the moment you are announced as the new manager, you will be scrutinized a bit. I am not trying to scare you (okay, maybe a little), but it is important to remember that the formal interview for the position is not where the assessment of your capability ends. The team will ultimately decide how you are received in the company and how well your work gets done. This is not unique to managers, we are all impacted by our first impressions of people. Your best bet is to try to put your best foot forward from the first time you will be seen by your team. Some team members will warm up to you right away. They will seek out the individual meetings within the first few days that you start. They may even enthusiastically embrace you as a new player on the team. On the other hand, the team members that are slower to warm up will still be assessing you in the second and third team meetings. Pay attention to how you present yourself (as best as you can) until you have had a chance to connect with each team member individually.
- Early successes. For both your team members as well as your bosses, it is really important to have some early successes. As a new manager, you will be evaluated on the work of people you have barely met or just started managing. That’s a tough gig. Make sure that you identify one or two significant, but reachable, goals as soon as you can. This is fairly obvious, but an early win will help you develop credibility. This credibility helps your team to trust your judgment on bigger decisions down the road (which will help with buy in and forward momentum). This credibility may also help your superiors give you some breathing room to try things out (less scrutiny from above). Plus, who doesn’t like a win?
Moving into management can be challenging, but I have found it very rewarding throughout my career.
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