Managing Others for the First Time

Posted on August 12, 2011.

“Cindy was the worst manager I ever had.”   - Mark

Not the most ringing endorsement regarding my performance as a brand new manager! It’s also not at all what I thought any member of my team would ever say about me.Though Mark and I laugh about it now, I was very defensive at first.   I then came to realize how right he was and what I should have done to make sure he never uttered those words.

I truly did have my head in the sand. To avoid earning the dubious award for “Worst Boss Ever,” follow these Five Golden New Manager Rules:

  1. Filter the information you receive from your new team. Those first few weeks, everyone streamed into my office one by one to tell me what was wrong with the department, who they liked, who they didn’t like and what changes I needed to make. I took copious notes, believed almost everything and nodded assent to everyone.  It’s not that my new staff were liars, saboteurs or stupid.  It’s just that almost everyone had their own agenda, which was usually ”How can I get Cindy to help ME.”
  2. Assess the situation, then act. Since I believed a fair portion of what my new employees said, I applied their suggestions and changed people’s responsibilities, work teams, and training. What a disaster!  Why didn’t I just wait until I understood the lay of the land and the people in it?
  3. Listen more than you talk. I was pretty cool. After all, I was only 33 years old and was managing over 20 people, many who had significantly more experience than me. In the most subtle way possible, I made sure everyone knew how fabulous I was. It makes me cringe just thinking about what they were saying behind my back! I should have taken the time to hear about their experiences and how they ended up where they were.
  4. Be fair and impartial. It can be hard to avoid the natural tendency to like some people and not others. I’d like to blame my own error on being young and having no training on the issue, but the truth is we’re only human. My biggest mistake was that everyone knew who my favorites were and who I didn’t like. Those poor folks not in favor immediately lost credibility on the team.
  5. Keep your ear to the ground. It’s a truism that the boss is the last to know, and being somewhat clueless as a manager will be a challenge that stays with you forever.  But being completely without awareness is a disaster. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the chicanery that went on when I first became a manager. This doesn’t mean you should watch the clock or build a network of spies, but you do need connectivity.  Bottom line? Create the kind of culture where people want to keep you in the loop.

We'd love to hear about some of your First Time Manager Pitfalls!