Crescens George - Chartered FCIPD
Putting First Time Manager’s Role into Perspective
We have all been in that position, when we stood in great admiration of our colleagues or friends to see them progress in their careers to become managers. Perhaps you too have been waiting for a similar opportunity for some time and finally you have one. You are a manager and you are very excited about your achievement!
In this initial burst of excitement, I am certain you are thinking of the salary increase, other perks and benefits that come with the promotion, the status and if you are really lucky in this day and age, even your own office. However on a more reflective thought, I am certain if not all; some of you are feeling a little anxious and nervous about the new job.
- How will I get started in this new job?
- Will I be able to deliver?
- I don’t know how to manage difficult people?
- Will my new team members like me?
- What if I am not good at it?
If you have these thoughts spun-out in your head and feeling a little anxious, don’t worry! That’s a good sign. At least you are reflecting on your emotions and gearing up for the reality you’re about to face. You will soon recognize how different the job of a manger is to what you imagined. You will realise how different; success as a manager is compared to success as a front line worker. The perspective is now set!
The journey to a successful managerial career, alongside all the fun, will be filled with plenty of emotional turbulences & steep learning curves. Throughout this journey, when faced with tough people challenges, remember. "Good managers are rare". So always strive to draw a good balance of what the business demands and what your team demands. Keep personal ego out of the equation!
Don’t be surprised when you discover that the skills and techniques required being a good performer as an individual is very different from those required to be a high performing and successful manager. As an individual your success and performance largely depends primarily on your individual expertise and the quality of your actions.
However the day you bear the title ‘Manager’ the word "Performance" & "Success" is not just about you. It’s ALL about your team and others now depend on you!
You are now responsible for setting and implementing a plan, in providing guidance and leadership. The influence you have on how your team feels at work is considerably high. Your influence on your staff’s success and happiness is far greater than most other people in their lives. So it doesn’t matter if you were the best seller, the best customer service champion or the best designer. The set of skills and attitude you need for this role are totally different. The psychology and the job responsibilities of managing others are complex and should be taken seriously.
It is equally important for you to know that there is no clear formula for success. Learning to lead is a process of trial and error and primarily comes from on-the-job training experiences. You will make mistakes and you will be made accountable for them, you will also learn some of your best moves have turned out to backfire; some of your positives / success go unnoticed. Your learning will occur incrementally and yes, of course painfully. You will eventually learn to come out of your current mind-set and will gain a new professional identity.
You will make a common assumption that most new managers make, that you will get more authority, freedom and autonomy as a manager and that you will make things happen. What happens instead is that you will realise that you are bound by interdependencies; you will get enmeshed in a web of relationships.
In your journey to becoming a good manager, to produce the expected results, you might now decide to take an autocratic approach by exercising power over people by asking them to do things, but this will backfire! You will learn that when people are told to do things they don’t necessarily respond. So you may now deploy another tactic, by way of enforcing compliance and you might succeed a little with this approach. However in the long run this will prove no good, as you will not be able to elicit commitment from the team. Without commitment you will not be able to drive team initiatives and without initiatives you will not be able to drive enhanced performance. So now you will come to terms with the reality that you can only exercise your managerial authority if you have established some credibility, for this you will have to demonstrate competence and character.
Create Credibility & Character by building relationships.
Now you start to loosen the strings on authority and all focus is on building relationships, which is a great start. However in this one dimensional approach you will fail to recognize the importance of bringing together and shaping a cohesive team. If this responsibility of bring the team together and nurturing their development is not managed effectively, there could be potential future issues that can affect the entire dynamics of the team and eventually performance too.
So don’t forget to build your team’s capabilities whilst building your own.
The Pressure is on……..
So time is passing by and now you are given more responsibilities and tighter deadlines by your manager. You are still trying to get to grips with your new job and understanding your team and its dynamics. Your manager puts a lot of pressure on you to produce results. You will spend extra hours at work and may choose the "Do it yourself" approach. Well, it’s no surprise if you didn’t think of delegating, because maybe you think it will be easier for you to do it yourself rather than take time in explaining it to someone else and they in turn potentially getting it wrong. Or it could be that you don’t have much confidence in your team yet. Or you have the "I want to get things done my way" attitude, or perhaps you feel you haven’t yet managed to gain that kind of commitment from the team to delegate work, as you fear resentment from them.
You are now finding some of the tasks a bit difficult to handle, you lack experience and or knowledge in it. Will you ask for the help of your manager or try to somehow struggle and complete it yourself? Most first time managers see the relationship with their managers more of servitude rather than partnership. They will not seek the help of their managers even when they run into difficulties because they see the boss as a threat rather than an ally in their development.
First Time Leaders must view their managers as a highly critical source of support. To establish a good working partnership with your manager, try to understand your manager’s strengths, weakness and working styles. Try to set clear expectations with them right at the start and revisit the expectations every quarter or half yearly. One most important aspect in your development and your relationship between you and your manager is to avoid being compliant and agreeing with the boss all the time. Good mangers would welcome constructive challenges and criticism from their fellow team members.
Confidence or Collapse?
It’s now a few months since you started managing your team; the pressure of targets and other aspects of overall performance are building up. Are you looking confident or showing signs of collapsing? Looking confident even when the pressure is mounting is a very important characteristic you need to develop to be an effective leader. During the first few months as a manager, if you show signs of collapsing, you are less likely to inspire and motivate your team. Many managers are unaware that when they don’t display confidence the performance of the team drops. Confidence is important when maintaining a positive energy, optimism and enthusiasm to work towards difficult goals. Once you start becoming low on confidence, a losing streak sets in often leading into a vicious cycle.
It is also possible that by now you would have developed a tendency to instinctively respond to various rescue activities. For example attend to a customer and cater to their needs, or run to help a member of staff who is in need. Because of your technical know-how experience from your previous role, you will find it easier, exciting and rewarding to get involved in such emergencies. If you are getting involved in such, "not really emergencies" you are failing to think strategically for the team and address structural issues. Stay clear of such activities despite the problems, instead help, develop and support your team to be able to resolves issues.
You will also observe that as part of this transition your effort and focus is more on tasks and activities rather than the goals and objectives. This is because tasks and activities are a lot clearer and can be accomplished quickly, whereas goals will take time. As a first time manager you should have your goals written down clearly and distinguish goals from supporting activities. Goal setting will help you with your strategic plans for your team.
Beyond my sphere of influence
Whilst you battle all the challenges thrown at you as a first time manager, you will realise that the people who make your life difficult are no more your team or your manager, but people who don’t fall under your immediate sphere of influence. As an example, managers in other divisions, suppliers, other departments etc... Here you will realize that the demand of this job goes not only above and beyond managing your team but also managing the context within which your team operates.
You will now slowly begin to recognise the need for building relationships with other people is even more critical as they impact the performance of your team. You are now faced with a mountain of new challenges. But don’t panic, all the fundamental skills that you have developed by managing your team are exactly what you require in managing relationships outside of your immediate influence. All you need is a good display of positive attitude, and networking is a matter of discipline to be a successful manager in this day and age.
In conclusion; front line managers hold the key to an effective organisation. You and your team add more value than anyone else in an organisation. Your development is crucial to your success and to that of the organisation.
The transition from an individual worker to a new team manager poses formidable challenges; however overcoming these challenges is easy if you have a structured development program and some good mentoring.
Self-reflection and identifying a good mentor to handhold you through the early stages of your development is integral to your transformation into a great leader.