I’ve been a manager now for about 10 years. I remember distinctly being put in charge of people, a team, and sort of being like… well, they’ll figure out what to do! I just need to keep doing my own good work, and we’ll like, float along and be fine. (I’ll give myself a little break here — I was just 27.) But I’ve seen this at every company I’ve worked at. Employees are promoted to being a new manager, responsible for the work and the professional development of other human beings, but literally given no instructions for how to succeed or what to do.
Even more common is the fact that people who have no interest in or who are not good at all at management are frequently promoted to managers, because in the American workplace culture, management=advancement. (That’s a subject for another post — the fact that there should be more paths for those who do not wish to manage, and additionally, the reality that managing in and of itself is an entire job, and means you cannot often be capable of doing the work you were good at previously.)
This is enormously frustrating for anybody and everybody involved. The managers, their employees, the whole organization. And yet, very basic training or instructions are rarely given out. My hypothesis? Nobody gave your boss, or your boss’s boss, any training on how to manage, and they don’t realize or understand that they need to give you instructions as well. Or they realize it, but just don’t know how.
Well, they need to. And you need them, too. Managing people can be a very rewarding and interesting experience instead of a frustrating and draining one, if only you have the correct tools at your disposal. So what I’m going to attempt to do here is give you 10 Things You Need To Do When You Become a Manager. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Note: This advice is mostly applicable to people who are managing, for the first time, just one or two folks. If you are managing larger teams, or manage people who manage people, some of my advice would shift or expand. Maybe another post for another day…
1. Try to Assess if You Are the Kind of Person Who Will Be a Good Manager
You may not have the makings of a good manager, and it’s important to be honest with yourself about it, and importantly, forgive yourself for it. Being bad at management does not mean you are a not a smart person, or not successful at your work. You are just you. You may work best alone. You may not have great interpersonal skills. You may lack savvy at communicating feedback. You may not be emotionally available to develop other people. Your interest may be in the details of your work, not in broad strategy or vision setting. You may not be organized or good at keeping people on track. You may prefer to be recognized for your own individual achievements, instead of glowing when other people you’ve coached shine.
So be honest with yourself: Are you lacking in these skills? If so, there’s another important thing to know: that doesn’t mean you’ll never be a competent manager. It just means you need to invest in your own personal growth in those areas.
To do: There are one million and one personality tests out there that can assess your management capabilities and where you may need to put in extra effort. I like this HBR one that tells you your leadership style, and gives you potential blind spots. Gallup’s StrengthsFinder is another good one — for example, one of my top strengths is Developer, which means I thrive when helping, you guessed it, develop other people, which is an asset for a manager. If you have the Competition strength, though, you may have to remind yourself that you are not out against your report to “win.”
2. Learn, as Fast as You Can, How to Become Comfortable with Critical Conversations and Giving Useful Feedback
In my opinion, other than a lack of instructional and structured training around how to become a manager, what makes a weak or poor manager is the inability to have critical conversations and give your reports feedback that they either desperately need, or desperately want.
In order to be a successful manager, you will have to learn this skill. Even if you have a dream employee who does everything perfectly, you’ll eventually have to navigate potentially delicate topics like money, emotions, goals, or more.
So it’s time to practice. Where to start? I think the best thing you can learn how to say is, “This may be an awkward conversation, but there is some feedback I would like to give you.” Setting the stage for a potentially awkward conversation is just the best way to normalize the situation, and acknowledge the inherent difficulty of it all.
Additionally, everybody always wants to know: “How can I tell my report [fill in the blank about potentially difficult or negative thing] without making either of us uncomfortable?” News flash: You can’t. Luckily, critical conversations are like running: the more you practice and get out there and just do it, the easier it becomes. But first, you must start somewhere.
To do: This handy little GovLoop video on the kinds of feedback and how to give them is pretty useful. Watch it.
3. Have an Introductory, “Hey, Now I’m Your Manager!” Meeting, ASAP
Think about it: the fact that you are now somebody’s boss is actually a big deal. But often, this transition is not marked in any formal or recognized way. Doing a brief sit down with your new report, marking the start of your new relationship together, and learning about each other’s working style is an important ritual to kick off this new partnership.
To do: The second your report is aware that they will have a new boss — you — send them a calendar invite or swing by their desk and say, “Hey, I’m so excited we’re going to be working together! I’d love to set up a brief meeting to learn more about you, your projects, and your working style.” Nota bene: Do this only AFTER you are 100% positive they understand they will have a new boss, and you are that new boss. Otherwise, it could blow up in your face.
In the introductory meeting, if you don’t know each other well, just spend a bit of time learning facts about each other — where you’re from, hobbies, whatever. You certainly don’t have to — and shouldn’t — be best friends with your report, but you must establish a pleasant personal relationship.
Once you’ve made some chit chat and shown that you are a human being and not a robot intent only on focusing on your own personal work and success, explain to them the following:
-Your goals at work
-Your style of working and communicating
-Things at work you’re proud of
-Areas you’ve struggled at work
Then ask them to do the same. This builds a baselines rapport for a productive relationship and understanding of each other.
Additionally, ask the following:
-In what ways do they like to be recognized for their work?
-What makes them feel energized at work?
-What drains them at work?
-What are their main two or three professional goals for the year?
Make sure to take notes in a shared document that you both can refer back to often.
This may seem like a lot of work, but, guess what? Managing people well IS a lot of work. Get used to it. (Managing people poorly, on the other hand, takes almost no time or effort at all!)
Additionally, if you are being handed a new employee from another manager who is perhaps leaving, or moving to a different position, do a “hand off” meeting, as recommended by Lara Hogan.
4. Have Your Report (and You) Take a Personality Test or Two to Understand How You Can Complement Each Other
What they say is true: high emotional intelligence makes for a strong manager. But if you weren’t born with emotional intelligence, that’s fine. There are plenty of internet tests out there that can help you understand what motivates and drives other people, and what challenges and blockades they may face. You need to know these things about yourself, too; the core of strong emotional intelligence and being a good manager of other people is self-awareness and self-knowledge.
To do: Two tests I like to take in the workplace to assess personalities are the DISC personality test and the StrengthsFinders test. You have to pay for StrengthsFinders, but it’s affordable; there are lots of free versions of DISCfloating around out there. DISC assesses your mode of operating in the world, and the kind of conflict style you have — either dominance, influence, steadiness, or conscientious. StrengthsFinders gives you the top five areas that you’re most developed in.
Take these tests, then schedule a meeting with your report to go over them. Did they resonate? What did you learn about yourselves? Knowing some differences and potential similarities between the two of you, what can you do to keep your working relationship productive and open?
5. Schedule a Weekly 30-minute Touchbase, and Never Cancel It
This isn’t rocket science, but you’d be surprised about how many managers either don’t do this, or do it, but cancel it constantly. A 30-minute touchbase each week is a chance to check in on everything from the status of projects, to challenges or frustrations your report is facing and how you can help them overcome them, to an opportunity for critical feedback.
And I must repeat again: don’t cancel these! Of course, things come up, but if you must cancel, always reschedule. Even if it feels like you don’t have anything to talk about, these weekly meetings are your lifelines to each other. It’s perfectly fine to start a touchbase where you have nothing to talk about with, “Well, I don’t have much to talk about this week. But what about you? How is your week going?” These meetings engender trust, and are the foundation of a solid employee-boss relationship.
To do: Schedule, and never cancel. It’s such a disrespectful move to constantly be canceling meetings for somebody who works for you. The message you send when you do that is: “You’re not important, and I don’t care about what you’re doing.” So make a commitment and live up to it. Hold these meetings even when you don’t think there’s something to talk about. (Spoiler alert: there is almost always something to talk about.)
6. Give Your Report Clear Expectations on What You Want
Setting expectations can be one of the most fruitful things you can do as a boss. Guess what? People want to do well at work. But they’re not mind readers. Honestly, most people are literally totally clueless. I’ve had reports before earlier in my career who were often showing up quite late to work. Each day I’d grumble, frustrated and increasingly resentful, wondering why they weren’t doing the most basic work task of all: showing up on freaking time. But I never said anything.
One time, when I gathered my courage and told my employee they needed to be there at 9am, their eyes widened — people on other teams often showed up past 9 and this employee thought that was just what folks at the office did. From there on out, they showed up promptly, having understood my baseline expectation.
To do: Setting expectations applies from everything to when you want your employee to show up, to what an appropriate dress code is, to what kind of specific deliverable you expect on a project, is critical.
Repeat after me: Nobody is a mindreader. And you’re the boss now, which means having to do the sometimes-uncomfortable thing of actually telling people what you want. But guess what? You’re the boss now. Your job IS to tell people what you want. Own it.
7. Learn to Delegate, But Add Coaching Into the Delegation Mix
We hear a lot about delegation as an important skill for any manager to master, and it is. But delegation with coaching is where you’ll really see success, both in the work and the development of your employee.
What I mean by delegation with coaching is this: Say there’s a big project that you think Mary is ready to take on. Delegation is saying, “Hey Mary, I want you to do the presentation in two weeks to the board about all of our widgets. Good luck!”
Delegation with coaching looks like this: “Hey Mary, I want you to do the presentation in two weeks to the board about all of our widgets. Here’s a one-pager with the critical elements the presentation must include. Also, if it were me doing this report, I would make sure to do X, Y, and Z — but that’s my preference. I’m just telling you to give you a model, and I want you to approach it how you think is best. Please turn in a draft of the presentation to me in one week, so we can review it together, I can give you feedback and make sure it meets my expectations, and you’ll have one more week to make tweaks and practice.”
To do: Read this Harvard Business Review article on how to delegate with coaching. It’s useful for managers at any stage in their careers.
8. Understand That a Large Part of Becoming a Manager Means More Meetings
There’s not much more to this piece of advice than the title. Sorry, bub. Managers have to deal with a lot of stuff: project deliverables. Development of their team members. Leadership meetings. HR meetings. One on ones.
To do: Embrace that meeting lifestyle. Try not to resent it. You’re now representing the development and work of another human being. This is part of the gig.
9. Learn Your Agency’s Expectations Around HR Policies and Advancement
You’re not only now responsible for a person’s success in their work work, but you must understand everything about how HR operates at your organization, because you could and likely will encounter situations that require you having a by-the-book knowledge of everything from how to deal with sexual harassment, to pay cycles, to how promotions work.
To do: Hopefully your organization has an employee HR handbook. Dig it up, and read it cover to cover. Schedule a meeting with your HR department to go over what the raise and promotion cycle looks like, as well as everything from vacation policies to potential dress codes to sexual harassment policies.
10. Understand that Managing, When Done Well, Is Emotionally Draining, So Create Boundaries and Self Care Spaces
One thing that nobody tells you: managing is incredibly exhausting. You’re setting vision. You’re assigning work. You’re dealing with interpersonal problems. People are coming to you for advice. You’re trying to do your own work, too. It’s a lot.
Don’t feel bad if you feel tired. Learn to take mental health days and set boundaries with your reports (yes, they can come to you if they’re having issues completing a work project; no, they cannot come to you to solve their problems with their girlfriend). Setting a boundary in a non-work-related issue looks like this:
* Listen a bit * “Hey Ronald, that sounds like a complicated issue, and I wish I could help. But i’m not qualified to deal with this particular problem. I’d like to keep the focus here on conversations about your projects and the job. But good luck with that issue. So, let’s take a look at Project X…” Then repeat as needed.
Additionally, don’t check email or Slack after hours… okay, good luck with that. But at the very least, don’t send Slacks or emails after hours. It sends the message to your team that permeating boundaries of work time is acceptable for everybody, which will lead to more emotional exhaustion and boundary crossing.
In short: Management, believe it or not, is not about the glory. That’s the mistake many people think when they get promoted to manager. But no. Understand that being a manager is like being a coach on a sports teams. Actually, it’s not even being the coach. It’s like being the second-tier back-up assistant coach. You are not the owner of the sports team. You’re not even the head coach. You are the no-name consistent coach who has one job: to bring the best out of her players, create an environment for them to thrive in, learn new skills, see how they contribute to the bigger picture, and overall succeed.
You will get no glory for this role other than — the thing I find personally to be wildly fulfilling — the satisfaction of helping other people learn and realize their potential.
But isn’t that a wonderful thing?