Open Letter to New Managers

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This is an open letter to the many who have taken on roles of leadership at their work. It is particularly focused on managers who are sitting on the other side of the desk for the first time.

What went through your mind the first few days on the job as a new manager? I remember my first assignment vividly.

Despite having gone through college as a business management major and serving in several key internships where I was able to spread my wings as a manager, nothing hit me like the sobering reality of the first day on the job.

When school was over and I stepped onto the big stage of finally “being in charge”, all of the principles, tactics, tips and tricks seemed like ancient Greek.

The butterflies in my stomach were more like Boeing 777 jetliners.

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For me, things were a bit complicated because my first full time assignment was as a second lieutenant in the Army. My duty was to be executive officer of a troop training unit of 450 personnel. We were at a training base where bus loads of new trainees arrived every six weeks. We cycled through people like some big airport.

Besides the military cadre that reported to me, I also had several civilian employees who were civil service, making the controls and procedures vary a great deal.

Even setting aside the military aspects of the assignment, I still had to deal with critical core issues of taking charge of the people and process before me. I am sure I made some mistakes. Well, OK, I know I did.

Walking into a strange environment, meeting new people, and learning a whole new set of job expectations is daunting, right? Here are some things to remember.

1. Power of the Position –  The role you have been given has its own power base. Because you hold the title, whatever it may be, you are bestowed a certain amount of power. Now, it is up to you to decide when and how to exercise that power.

For me, I prefer to make it the power of last resort. This means I want to use other means to persuade my team to follow my lead without having to drop the hammer. The Power of the Position is exactly that, a hammer.

If you use it improperly, you are nothing more than a bully. If you have ever had a boss like that, you know how unpleasant it is to come to work each day.

2. Get to Know Your Team –  Begin on day one trying to build rapport with the team. I didn’t say make friends. The friend zone is a dangerous place for a manger to go.

By building a working relationship with the team, you can learn ways to influence each member without forcing a one-size-fits-all style. One size does NOT fit all when it comes to effective leadership.

Yes, on the front line of an actual battle, you would not custom tailor your commands to the troops. However, day-to-day business usually gives you the chance to structure your directives to individual players without having to rely upon mass communication.

3. Seek Knowledge –  Learn the ropes as fast as you can. Basic business principles may be universal (e.g. accounting has debits and credits), but every business unit has its own standards and practices you must embrace to start.

You may indeed be able to change the world, eventually, but don’t try it in your first 100 days. Making decisions without knowing the consequences makes you look foolish. Learn the business, learn the protocols, and establish a knowledge base from which you should operate.

In the process of gaining this knowledge, you will meet some very helpful people who just might become life long associates if you handle it right.

4. Be Decisive –  Make a choice to be decisive. Be firm in your decision making process. That takes preparation and careful thinking. But if you have prepared and learned the work of the unit, you can be more and more decisive as time goes on.

The reason to be this way is to demonstrate a firmness about your role as their leader. No one likes working for a wishy-washy manager. Managers who can’t stick to their decisions are quickly dismissed as unreliable and too easily swayed.

5. Keep Your Perspective –  Keep an open mind as time goes on. Situations change regularly. Yes, sometime you find a rhythm, but don’t become complacent with that. Keep your eyes on subtleties about how things are unfolding. Keep a balanced view.

One day, some years later, someone came into my office to talk about a problem. They were complaining about something that had recently changed. I knew I had made a solid, informed decision about moving forward with that change. After hearing this person “complain”, I invited them to swap seats with me. I stood up and stepped away from my desk chair, inviting them to come around behind my desk, and sit where I had been.

Awkwardly, they sat down. I took their seat across the desk. Then  I asked, what does this problem look like from over there? Sheepishly, they said, you know, it does look different.

I didn’t have to say  much more. The message had been delivered. Perspective made all the difference.

6. You’re Going to Slip –  Recognize that you will make some mistakes. Hopefully, no lives are at stake. Mistakes do happen to managers and leaders all the time. The key is to be ready to deal with the mistake.

Do you go into D&D (defense and denial)? Or will you admit the mistake and quickly move to remedy the situation?

The more you can do to acknowledge the matter and work toward correction, the faster you will build a reputation as an effective manager.

awards

[shareable cite=”Doug Thorpe”]It’s not always the things done perfectly that win us awards. Sometimes it’s the way we handle adversity and error.[/shareable]

In Conclusion

Being a new manager can be hard. Just remember that thousands before you have done it and survived. Make each day a learning experience. Never stop growing.

If you can follow these key ideas, you will be on the road to a successful management career.

[reminder]What is your story about being a first time manager?[/reminder]