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I’m a Manager, Now What?

If you perform well at your job, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to be a manager at some point. Soon enough, you might be faced with managing a group of people for the first time and you may have not attended leadership or development training. What are some practical ways you can develop leadership skills and find your own management style?

These were the topics of discussion at a session at GovLoop’s NextGen Professional Development Virtual Summit: Advance Your Gov Career. Patrick Malone, Executive in Residence, Department of Public Administration and Policy, American University, and Donald F. Kettl, Professor and Academic Director, LBJ Washington Center, University of Texas spoke at the session.  

Malone first set the stage by taking management to the level of thinking, highlighting the importance of thinking as a starting point. W. Timothy Gallwey was a researcher who posited the idea of two selves- the conscious and subconscious self. “When people let self 2 [the subconscious self] take over, they were much more successful in tennis,” Malone stated. “This gets to the question of how we actually think.”

Early on in our careers, we tend to develop our technical skillsets first by taking courses and reading books. We handle technical challenges very well, and everything we do to tackle technical challenges is within the bounds of the organization. We need this early in our careers because it creates our expertise.

This is part of horizontal development or expansion within the same stage. “It’s our sense of comfort, it allows us to maintain a state of consistency,” Malone explained. “Not bad at all, this is where we sit normally.”

“Expertise may gain you admirers, but it will never gain you followers,” Malone said. “It’s not going to inspire anybody.”

As your challenges become greater, and as you transition into management, you will need to inspire your team.

Malone highlighted the problem with developing habits and patterns of behavior that consolidate into neural pathways over the course of a career.

“The challenge that we face is that people fall into these neural pathways,” Malone explained. “We challenge people to move beyond them.”

What we ought to do is adopt an adaptive mindset, and go into a more vertical, integrated perspective of thinking instead of a horizontal one. “This is difficult because our perspectives tend to resist change, and when they do change, we tend to think that we’ve lost ourselves,” Malone said.

This isn’t accurate, Malone explained, because the technical skillset remains intact- the manager is just adding another layer and establishing new neural connections in the process.

The way of establishing new neural pathways is through emotional intelligence.

There are four key components of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness. This is key to establish authenticity.
  • Self-management. Once we’ve allowed ourselves to feel emotions, we have to manage our behavior so that we react rationally.
  • Social awareness or being able to read an organization and establish intimate connections with people.
  • Relationship management, or the outward manifestation of what people see.

All in all, we should challenge ourselves to think differently and see things differently.

The simple act of noticing is one of the most powerful ways of doing this, according to Malone, as well as meditation, reading, and journaling.

Kettl then spoke on the following five points:

1. The inevitability of managing: If you’re doing well in your career, no matter what, you’re going to be a manager.

2. You’ll manage through teams:

  • “Your people are your most important asset,” Kettl said.
  • “You’ll only know what you know through the people you work with.” A good manager will put a team together so that the whole team knows more than they would individually.

Kettl asked a question to look at the mechanics of leadership within the audience. The overwhelming majority of respondents identified listening and focusing on problem-solving as the best ways to establish authority:

“It’s the interaction between the two top answers here, listening and problem-solving, that I think is interesting,” Kettl said.

  1. You usually won’t be able to pick your team: someone on the team will know more about almost anything than you will. “Especially if you’re a younger manager, how do you try to get the team on board,” Kettl asked. The government workforce, in general, tends to be older than the private sector, according to Kettl, so it’s almost certain that people on the team in a particular agency will be older.
  2. Conflicting voices converge best around shared problems: “it’s critical to develop shared relationships of trust,” Kettl stated. You have to first define a problem so that the team can work towards solving it.
  3. The world gets smaller the longer you stay in a field. “Everyone knows everyone, so it’s crucial to work on building relationships far beyond your team- and to act in ways that people will want to do that with you.”

If you want to attend sessions like this one at future virtual summits, pre-register today!

Photo Credit: Rawpixel on Unsplash

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