— June 14, 2019
Being responsible for managers early in their careers is no picnic. There are so many things that they don’t know — and can mess up! Here are several crucial areas experienced managers often don’t think to explain, but which can save new managers — and therefore their bosses and team members — from a world of heartache and repair.
Delegating isn’t leading. Most new managers start out by distributing or assigning work as if they’re sharing it, treating their team members as the equivalent of assistants who will do the work dutifully, without question or challenge, according to instruction. Explain early on that subordinates are independent operators, not little shadows or servants. Just because the work gets done doesn’t mean that the new managers are doing the tasks of management: assessing subordinates’ skills and preferences, matching the work to them, and providing ongoing support and attention. So give new managers examples of how to delegate work successfully, as well as examples of how it can go awry.
Collaborating well with others can be as important as technical proficiency. This is a tough one, because in most cases, the new managers’ technical proficiency is what got them promoted. Be sure to explain the need for cooperation and coordination upfront, and keep reinforcing it. New managers may be fabulous at tasks, but if they don’t communicate in an inspiring way to team members or work successfully with peer managers, much of what they intend to accomplish will fall to the ground, and they’ll be perceived as ineffective, even if they’re respected for their technical expertise. If they can’t figure out the balance with help, they may be better as individual contributors rather than as line managers.
To be a successful manager, it helps to be a MacGyver. The ’80s TV action show character MacGyver carried a Swiss Army knife and a roll of duct tape. He worked for a CIA-type think-tank, and was an unconventional problem solver, possibly the original hacker. He was simultaneously intrepid and aware of his emotions, persistent in the face of challenge, and capable during conflicts (even though he preferred to avoid them). Ever observant and adaptable, MacGyver always scanned his environment and thought through his options before taking action, and he improvised complex, nuanced solutions using only whatever happened to be lying around.
MacGyver’s qualities and practices serve a new manager well: being self-aware, reviewing the environment and adapting to the actual conditions, carrying a mental toolbox of common sense, and inspiring loyalty and fondness in others.
Staying in touch is almost always more effective than operating at arm’s length. Distance tends to strengthen misunderstanding and is also likely to minimize any sense of inspiration or connection. But rather than having the senior manager hovering over the junior, it works better if the new manager checks in frequently and reaches out for meetings — with the senior manager agreeing promptly, of course.
So encourage the new manager to be in frequent contact, particularly when something is going wrong, whether it’s a sudden emergency or a worrisome trend. When they check in, you can stay in touch on progress and verify that they’re heading in the right direction; you’ll also have the chance to recognize and acknowledge their strong efforts.
Look for — and track — improvement. It’s easy for both the new manager and the experienced boss to come to work every day and do what needs doing without necessarily remarking on small steps, standard milestones, or even significant events. But this can result in a lost opportunity on both sides. Having a sense of where new managers are on their growth trajectory will help you buoy them up if their confidence is lacking, or to rein in the ones who are aggressive about their ambitions but have few achievements to show. Prepare the new manager with effective ways to ask for feedback, demonstrate the benefits of self-analysis, and help them stay aware of their growth as a way to keep building it.
If you advise your up-and-coming managers in these areas, they’ll be able to accomplish more sooner and can participate as a vital part of your team and the organizational bench strength. In addition, if you are conveying these lessons to them and modeling the same behaviors in a positive, supportive, consistent way, you’ll have a good gauge on just how well you’re doing as a leader.