by Fabian Sautier — 11 September 2016
Congratulations! Having professional responsibility for a person or a team is one of the most exciting challenges in a young professional’s career. It won’t be easy, but if you take it seriously, it will make you grow.
My first team consisted of eight people. Some were younger than me, some older and all had different cultural and educational backgrounds.
I was lucky, my employer sent me on a week-long training for you managers to prepare for my new role. It was great and I felt like I learned a lot and was ready to be a great manager.
And then back at work I realized no training can really prepare you for being a great leader. As a young manager, in many situations your personality and character will drive your managerial behavior, more than a concept your learned in management school. Simply because management is deeply human and emotional.
You must accept that most probably you will not be a great manager from Day 1. But you can become a great, aspirational leader if you are willing to learn.
After three years of managing a team, I am sharing my most useful learnings for first-time managers. I don’t master all of them to perfection yet, but I am deeply convinced they can help you develop your leadership skills:
Don’t copy from your former managers. Unless you have been managed and coached by some incredibly inspiring and talented bosses, try not to reproduce the same management patterns. It is easy to fall into that trap because we tend to reproduce the behavior that we have experienced ourselves. You should not copy former managers, because you will copy their flaws. Also, you are not them and you have a different personality. This means you should more trust your own values and convictions in order to develop your personal leadership style.
No need to have answers to all the questions. You do not need to have an answer to all the questions your team might throw at you. It is not because you are their superior that you are some type of wonder box that knows everything. Just like your team, you are learning new things everyday as well. So get used to saying “I don’t know”, because it is not a sign of failure, but proof of maturity.
No need to always know better. As a manager it is not your role to ‘be right’ or know things better all the time. Your team are the experts on their subjects, so why would you better than them (unless they are new to the job or very bad at their job)? Your job is not to know better, but to know more. So trust your team when they come up with some idea, analysis etc. Instead of challenging what they did, help them elevate their work by bringing additional points of views, arguments, ideas to the table.
Don’t make them become you. As a first-time manager you might see yourself as the role model for your team. You might think that because you have been appointed their superior they should follow in your footsteps and your way of doing things in order to be successful and become managers themselves on day. Well, no.
You are you and they are they. They might think differently, solve problems differently, communicate differently. And they might still get the job done perfectly. So there is no reason to tell them ‘how things are done here’, because it infantilizes them and makes you appear more like a school teacher than an inspiring manager. Let them succeed their way.
Listen. In your quest for training your team and giving advice you might be tempted to teach a lot and forget one essential thing: listen. Sometimes managers think it’s to be fast and efficient and tell how things are done. This is the perfect way to frustrate your team.
Instead, let them speak out, let them explain why and how they came up with their work. Ask open questions that will help them develop and improve further. Don’t speak for the sake of speaking, sometimes your team does just a great job and there is nothing else to say than ‘well done’.
Provide perspective, not solutions. I tend to believe that what sets apart a good manager from a great manager is the capacity to provide perspective. Help your team ‘dezoom’ from their task, see the big picture instead of debating details. Have a fresh take at their and provide just the help they need to help themselves.
It is about giving them the tools and means to succeed, not succeed for them. Your team’s biggest motivation will come from greater levels of autonomy, so be there but don’t be over-present. If you empower them to do things they thought they were not able to do before, they will gain confidence and you will become an inspiration to them.
Feedback permanently. It sounds simple, but is forgotten all the time. Think about it in a selfish way: the more often and constructively you give feedback the faster your team will progress, which will eventually make your job as their boss easier.
There is no excuse to not giving regular, motivating feedback. If you have time to check your email 50 times a day, then you have 10 minutes to give a constructive feedback to someone in your team. If you really tend to forget because you are in a permanent rush, ask your team to pro-actively ask for feedback – it is their right.
Adapt. Guess what: it is not up to your team to adapt to you, but up to you to adapt to your team. You are the more senior person so you need to able to adjust your behavior and management style to each of your team members, not the other way round.
Your team members are unique, they each have different motivation levers and can react differently to the same situation. Therefore, you need to adjust individually the level of authority, guidance and input you provide. Also, different situations require different management. In a case of extreme urgency, you might want to use more of a top-down approach in order to avoid inefficiencies versus you might leave more autonomy for projects with longer deadlines.
Making these eight behaviours become instant habits is impossible. Don’t set the bar too high for yourself. Try one or two things for a week and see how it works. Ask your team for feedback. It’s all about testing and learning. Then adjust and move on. Good luck!
What are your early management experiences? Do you have any tips to share? We would love to hear your perspective, just leave us a comment below.
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