The accidental manager. Those three words describe how I landed my first management position. I was hired to do marketing for two medical clinics. Within just a few years, we had grown to 14 locations in multiple states. I had been really good at my job, and as the first one hired, I was named the manager of our growing marketing team.
Looking back now, I was the worst manager on the planet. The fact that anyone worked under my “leadership” (or lack thereof) still amazes me. I had no clue what I was doing as a supervisor, and I spent hours upon hours frustrated that I couldn’t make others do things exactly how I wanted them done.
I still remember the day my supervisor called me into her office. She was bringing me in to let me know she was taking over as the manager of my department. I would still be in charge of all things “branding”, but my supervisor was going to lead the marketing team.
I felt defeated. I thought I had been doing a great job. The problem was no one enjoyed working for me. They felt micromanaged. They felt stifled, and they knew I meant well, but my leadership skills sucked.
Obviously I’ve left out a lot of details. But almost five years and a new career later, I’ve learned a lot about leading people. I’m still learning.
Below are 10 tips I wish someone would’ve shared with me the day I was given the job of manager. If you find yourself in the same newly promoted role, I hope you find inspiration in the tips as you rise to the leadership level of being a successful manager.
1. Promoted from Niche to Leverage
Many people who get promoted to manager earn the right after becoming really good technicians. They develop a skill and excel at it, so someone in the company decides they can lead others to do the same.
This is perhaps the biggest problem new supervisors face.
You developed a skill as a technician, not as a manager. Management is a different skill. It requires you understand how to lead others, how to train others, and how to leverage others.
In other words, you were promoted because you got really good at a niche skill. Now you have to get really good at leveraging the talents of others to achieve the results you were once responsible for achieving as an individual.
Tip #1: The very skills you developed as a technician will not take you to the next level as a manager.
2. Your Number One Job is Training
As you make the transition to your new role, you need to understand your primary responsibility now is to train, coach, and hold accountable. The success of your team depends on how well you are able to accomplish these three things.
As you evaluate problem areas on your team, it’s important for you ask what role you play in the problem. Is more training needed? Does someone simply need coached through a problem? Have you not put the metrics in place to hold your team accountable?
Ben Horowitz wrote this advice to new employees, “When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated”.
Your job is to figure out how to enable capabilities and how to inspire motivation.
Tip #2: A manager’s job is to train, coach, and hold accountable.
3. Learn Your Team Before Making Changes
After landing in your new role, you may quickly find yourself wanting to change things. Resist the temptation for the first month of your job.
If you’re working for the same company where you were a technician, you may believe from a technician standpoint change is the best avenue. But you haven’t yet fully seen the role from a managerial standpoint.
If you’ve landed a supervisory role at a new company, you may want to implement change based off off past experiences.
In both cases, waiting at least one month before making substantial changes gives you time to learn your players. This includes the players who directly report to you and the players on the managerial team you’ve also joined. As you’re learning your players, take copious notes about the new ideas you have. You’ll never get a second chance to view your new role with a fresh set of eyes. As you note your ideas, also note how you’re going to sell them to your team.
It’s been said the only people who like change initially are wet babies. By taking time to get to know your team, you’ll start to build trust and learn their skill sets. These two things will be critical to implementing changes should they be necessary.
Tip #3: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Learn your team and develop trust before making changes.
4. Overcome the Number One Complaint of Employees Nationwide
As a technician, you may have believed the number one complaint of employees nationwide was pay. It is not. The top complaint of employees on a regular basis is “I don’t know what’s expected of me.”
One of the easiest ways to avoid this obstacle is to develop position agreements. These written pieces of paper outline the result the employee is responsible for achieving, the tasks the employee is responsible for accomplishing, and the measurable standards for which the employee is held accountable for. All three pieces of information are critical. Writing position agreements and updating them as the role evolves helps keep your employees in the loop about your expectations. The agreements are in essence contracts between managers and employees that outline success expectations.
Once established, position agreements make it easy for you to train and coach to the tasks. They also establish the grounds for holding your employees accountable.
You can’t win a game if you don’t know the score, so you’ll also need to setup tracking. This will come in the form of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Critical Drivers. As you review progress of these on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, they will allow you and your team to know if you’re winning or losing.
Your team’s job is to improve the numbers. Your job is to coach them so you’re leveraging their talents. You can accomplish this quicker if you’re both on the same page about how to win the game from the beginning.
Tip #4: Build a game plan that ensures your team always knows what’s expected of them.
5. You’re Being Watched
Whenever you tell your employees something, they are going to watch to make sure you enforce it. If you don’t enforce it, they won’t do it. Again, people don’t like change, even if they know it’s in their (or the company’s) best interest.
If you’re a parent, you know this inherently. Children test boundaries on a regular basis. Being a manager is like being a parent. You have to live up to the things you say, or you’ll soon find your employees are walking in their own directions.
Doing what you say is more than just giving instructions and enforcing them. It is also about holding yourself accountable. If you tell someone you’ll have an answer by Tuesday, you’d better have an answer by Tuesday. If you don’t, you set the example that accountability is not important.
You’re always being watched. You’re a leader now. If you expect other people to follow you, pave the path of accountability from the beginning and never hit an accountability pothole along the way.
Tip #5: Where focus goes, energy flows. Your employees will watch and test you to see if you hold them accountable.
6. Empower Your Team
Also remember you were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. As a team leader, your job is to cultivate others to be leaders in their roles.
It may be tempting to solve all the problems for your employees because you can do it quicker than teaching them. But eventually you’ll find yourself being the doer instead of the manager. In these moments, it’s best to remind yourself that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
So use your ears more and empower your employees to think more. When you feel tempted to just solve the problem, step back and ask the question, “What do you think?” Then listen…even through the awkward silence. Coach your employees through coming up with the solution on their own.
When they bring you a final project for approval, spend a few moments reviewing it. Even if it is perfect, ask them, “Is that the best you can do?” You may discover they were holding out on an even better idea for fear of breaking the status quo.
Tip #6: Make the transition from doer to manager by empowering your employees with the tools and conversations they need to become decision makers for their responsibilities.
7. Delegation vs. Abdication
Remember, as a manager, your role is no longer about you and what you can do for your company as a technician. You’re now employed to empower others, but you are still ultimately the one responsible for their outcomes.
Time management is one of the most important skills you need to master. You must learn how to distinguish which tasks are best done by you and which can be delegated to others on your team.
As you plan your daily activities, you should ask yourself two questions:
- What can I and only I do?
- What is THE most important thing I could be doing right now?
If someone else can do the job, or be trained to do the job, delegate the task. You should be spending the majority of your day doing high leverage activities that will drive your company forward. If you’re nervous to delegate a task, ask yourself, “Could they do this at least 80% as well as me?” If your answer is yes, delegate. If the answer is no, train.
But don’t fall into the abdication trap. When you delegate, you are still ultimately responsible for the completed task. This means you should require your team to update you on their progress, monitor their progress, and train when things aren’t meeting standards.
Many times new managers fall into the trap of abdication. They assign a task and assume it will be done. They wrongly believe that because they gave the task to someone else to do, they are no longer responsible for its completion. That’s abdication.
Tip #7: Successful managers know how to successfully delegate, not abdicate.
8. Friend vs. Supervisor
As a new supervisor, one of the hardest things to realize is you’re a supervisor first and a friend second. For many people, balancing the two roles is difficult, especially when it comes to having the hard conversations.
When your employees know you always have their best interests at heart, the hard conversations get easier. But for some people it is easier to remain a supervisor and not a friend. This doesn’t mean you lose compassion, it simply means you understand that your role as a supervisor comes first and it’s easier for you to do that when you’re not in the “friend zone”.
Leaving the “friend zone” is important for another reason. You now play by a new set of HR rules, especially when it comes to harassment and discrimination claims. Participating in off color jokes in the break room is no longer an option, it’s now your job to stop them.
Learning how to manage work relationships is tough. Understanding the laws that govern your new role, even tougher. If you’re not well versed in EEOC, Title VII and how harassment, discrimination, and retaliation can affect your job and your company as a whole, now is a good time to ask your HR director for some extra coaching of your own.
Tip #8: Managers understand that they’re a supervisor first and a friend second.
9. Follow the 100-50 Rule
As you manage your work relationships, remember no one likes to be managed. In reality, you can’t manage people. You can only lead them.
A good rule of thumb for a new leader is the 100-50 Rule. You’re 100% boss but only 50% of the relationship.
President Theodore Roosevelt is often credited for saying, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
While you’re always a supervisor first, remember what it was like to be a technician. How you make others feel about their role in your company will determine how motivated they are to achieve the results they’re responsible for.
Tip #9: Managers understand they’re in the people business. While you’re always a supervisor, you’re also always only half of the relationship.
10. Always Practice CAN-I
Finally, remember you’re developing a new skill. You’re a manager now. Whenever you find yourself asking, “Can I do it?” or struggling to lead your team, pickup new resources and develop your skills.
Practice CAN-I or Constant And Never-ending Improvement. Read leadership books, listen to management podcasts, and attend webinars and classes. Find a mentor to teach you how to become a manager.
You’re in the PEOPLE business. Your job is to grow your people. You’re measured by how well you can leverage their output to grow the company. The best leaders in the world never stop learning.
I recommend adding these three books to your Manager Learning Library:
Tip #10: The best leaders never stop learning and developing their skills in both leadership and in their trade.
Congratulations on your new role! Much like a child taking his first steps, you may fall down from time to time as you’re leading your team. Get back up again, practice a little more, and take the next step towards becoming the best manager in your company.