Becoming a manager for the first time is a tough gig. There’s lots to learn, there are new skills to harness and there are relationships to build. There are also pitfalls to avoid and misconceptions to overcome, and with the best will in the world, despite the advice I’ve prepared for this article, most new managers ‘learn by doing’. The period of self-discovery combined with trial and error is often where a new manager starts to identify and carve out the type of leader they want to be, as well as learn more about the type of person that they are.
I became a manager young and very early on in my career, and it was very informal. I was never given any training or formally appointed as a manager but was asked to ‘oversee’ a couple of new members of the department I worked in at the time as it was suggested I’d be able to relate to them, and could ‘keep them on the straight and narrow’. I succeeded but it certainly wasn’t easy.
In this article, I outline five tips for fledgling managers that I’ve put together based on my experiences, of situations where I succeeded, and where I failed and learned an important lesson. I hope you find it useful.
1. You are still ‘you’.
Ask most people to describe a manager and you will likely hear words like ‘authoritative’, ‘strong’ and ‘confident’. Some of the best managers I’ve ever worked for have been unassuming, gentle and calm. Not to say these are opposite skills to those earlier mentioned but are different. There is no blueprint for what the ‘ideal’ manager is like due to the fact that effective managers can fit most moulds. What’s more important is that they know how to marry their style and approach with the environment in which they have to operate within and with the character of the people they have to work with.
So just remember who you are. Don’t try and be someone else and attempt to morph into the stereotypical mould of how managers have been traditionally described but recognise that you need to learn/use some different skills now that you might not have had to use before.
2. You are going to fail. A lot.
OK so just accept that you are going to mess up a bit. Happens to the best of us. What’s important is that these are measured failures that are turned into learning opportunities. There’s a lot of sage advice knocking around about making mistakes at work and the need to make the workplace a safe place for this to happen, but we must be careful not to glorify failure. It is often in the heads of leadership gurus and idealists that such environments exist without consequences. Reasonable mistakes are often fine as long as they aren’t negligent and are converted to future value. So be prepared to make mistakes, learn from them, turn them into value, and accept that they won’t define you. You’ll be better because of them.
3. Its ok to ask for help
There’s some stuff you are not going to know. You’ll know that, the people who work with you will know that and the people who offered you the job will know that too. So, don’t be afraid to ask for some help if you need it. That help doesn’t have to come from other leaders either, the people in the team that you are responsible for will be able to help you too. There’s this old-fashioned attitude I have come across in the past that managers mustn’t seek help from those whom they lead. This is BS and probably borne out of a concern over credibility and ‘knowledge is power’. Asking for help from those best placed to give it to you not only helps you get the assistance you need, it helps you build better working relationships and can make members of your team feel valued and empowered. It can be a powerful thing.
4. It’s your development. Own it!
I’ve seen new managers fail because they were waiting. Waiting for challenges to get easier without taking any action to make those challenges easier to deal with. Waiting for skills to be refined without finding ways to refine new leadership and management skills. And waiting for their organisation/leaders to come along with a training programme to help them be the manager they need to be. The truth is, whilst its great for new leaders to be offered mentors, have dedicated and tailored leadership development programmes and have the luxury to have this supported by another employee from within the organisation, say the HR department, for many new managers this is just simply not available to them. Ultimately, my advice for every employee in every business is that you are the most important benefactor of your skills and so owning your personal development should be more a priority to you than anyone else. So, don’t wait for others to support you, support yourself.
5. Have Fun!
And finally, have some fun. There’s a misconception (in my opinion, anyway) about management being strictly serious business where barriers must be formed and standards mean being extremely professional at all times. You are a human, you will work with humans and humans like to see and experience a bit of realness with their co-workers and managers. So, don’t be afraid to be the authentic person you are, don’t be afraid to be friendly without worrying about blurring lines, and don’t be afraid to have fun. Having fun is contagious.