Do you remember a time before you got your first management role? Do recall what you thought of your manager when you were a team member? Have you ever thought, “I could run this team better than they can” or something like it?
If you have never had this thought about any manager or team leader during any part of your life or professional activities, then I would like to learn more about your super powers.
But for the rest of us mere mortals, this idea of “I can do it better than you” is so palpable in our personal and professional relationships. And when you get the call to become a manager, you quickly find yourself ready to prove it.
As a new manager you feel ready. You’re already a superstar at work. After all that must be why they chose you. Right? (A bunch of you are now wondering or panicking about why they chose you? Don't panic. That's a different conversation.) While there are many positive and practical reasons why managers get picked, most managers are unprepared for the role. Some months in the role, managers often realize that it’s not as easy as it looks. All of your wills are tested when you become a manager and it often feels like a sink or swim situation.
Does it have to be sink or swim? Not necessarily.
The truth is that becoming a manager requires us to shift. New norms and behaviors are expected of us as managers. As we shift roles, to managing multiple projects and people, we are expected to lead, inspire and ensure that work is completed across our teams. Some of us have an instinct for some of the desirable behaviors and others can learn more about how to cultivate them. All of us could do a better job of identifying and transforming our strengths and weaknesses.
Looking back, I picked up a few secrets to success:
Invest in yourself. Whether your company pays or you pay, you should invest in your personal development as a team leader. Training will give you a space to learn about your strengths and how to maximize them. These trainings are also often safe spaces to work on your areas of improvement and learn from others how to have courageous conversations. First identify the question you want to answer and then choose a training based on the value add and your personality traits that works best for you. In my most recent conversations with friends in the corporate sector, I hear a lot about going to the leadership training sanctioned by the company. Going to your company’s preferred leadership training will give you access to the code language that your company speaks. However, I would also balance with investment in a training that provides different perspectives on leadership as it will make you a more dynamic value add to your place of work and your team. When you attend these trainings, leave with an accountability buddy. Someone you can talk to about the leadership experience you are having overtime and who can give you sound, honest advice as a peer.
Implement change slowly. As I have often mentioned, we are living in highly transformational times which is forcing companies, governments, non-profits to rethink their business case and the norms, behaviors and systems that accompany them. When you come back from leadership trainings or reading an amazing book on leadership, your instinct might be to figure out how to implement it immediately. I often want to see the change immediately. But the truth is that change is slow and intentional because it has to do with the each team member’s needs and understanding of the change. A change that happens intentionally at the beginning will foster a culture of mutual respect, creativity, accountability and success among peers.
You are a coach. People who feel good about their work are being led by managers who understand that shifting behavior or the culture of a team is not an overnight act and is more about individual transformation first. It takes time and patience and investment in your team members. As managers we coach others through their own change process. When you coach another professional on your team, it’s not about you. Managing staff is about them and their needs. So whatever coaching techniques work for you, might not work for them. Think about diversifying your skillset in order to bring a wide range of techniques to help people see the transformation that is possible to make them successful at work. But remember it’s their professional journey.
Learn to see the warning signs. Sometimes an individual is not ready to change. What you might perceive as a small change others might perceive as a radical change. While we want to be intentional and patient with the change process, we also need to balance that with the time, commitments and resources. Our ultimate commitment is to advance our share of the company mission. When a team member no longer wants to be coached or is no longer the right fit, you have to consider other options one of which may be firing or restructuring. It should never be your goal to fire someone. However, at some point it may become necessary. Managers are rarely prepared to shift individual team performance and have clear and transparent conversations with team members about the needs. Most managers suffer with unproductive employees for long periods of time before making a change because they don’t know what the signs are or how to deal with performance issues early on to prevent the last option which is firing. There are many steps on the way to firing. Planning for these steps is key.
Remember to do your own work. Managers don’t just manage anymore. They also accomplish projects themselves or play a specific role on their team’s projects. How can we manage with a purpose? Managing without a vision to accomplish something can be boring and uninspiring. It’s easy to get caught up putting out fires, responding to emails and trying to convince your boss to do things differently. But the truth is those are small wins for others. Remember to make time to do the substantive planning and achieve your own goals. This requires that you let go of some of the "small stuff" to get the big stuff done. These goals are what inspire and move a team and department managers to see you as more than a manager – they will see you as a leader.
At the end of the day we should always ask ourselves as managers: What kinds of new behaviors do I need to cultivate in order to make this job meaningful for me?
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