Read this chapter of my book for free about a recently-promoted manager who was scarded of leadership.

#16: First-Time Manager

“I’m losing sleep over being promoted to manager.” Jeff did look bleary-eyed and added, “I’m a good geologist, but the least qualified in the company to supervise others. I know these guys, and most of them have more experience than I do.”

Listen to positive comments; don’t deflect them

“What influenced you to take on this new role?” I asked.

There a several of things. “In this culture, you don’t turn down a promotion. And, besides, I was getting bored with my job. My boss was convinced I’d be a good manager and I thought I would make things better.”

Jeff explained, “My idea of leadership is to e inclusive and to encourage others. I want to create a safe culture where we’d be open and honest. We’d tell each other what’s working and what’s not. For example, when someone was was frustrating us, we’d tell him in a kind way. What happens now is we maintain harmony, but at the cost of getting results. We spend too much time on workarounds, trying not to offend anyone.”

First-Time Manager

“Your ideas are both practical and caring,” I told him. “The part I’m missing is why you doubt yourself.”

He had doubts in three areas. “First, I’m not sure I can manage others. I don’t know how to get off on the right foot.”

“My second doubt is about getting along with my boss in this new position. Our relationship will be different. I’m concerned about getting time with him–he is so busy. I don’t even have a job description.”

My third is, am I capable of implementing my leadership ideas? It’s easy to talk about the changes but hard to implement. In listening to myself, I have to make a difference and try. These are the changes that motivated me.”

Jeff was so modest I could hardly wait to point out his strengths. “Let’s look at each of your concerns. Can you manage others? Your 360 feedback indicates you are in the top 20 percent in these categories: decisiveness, a quick study, compassion, and sensitivity, self-awareness, and taking action.”

“A few of the written comments were:

  • Jeff is willing to stop what he is doing and help others even though it may negatively impact his projects.
  • He knows the business and points out places where improvement can be made and does it in a way that isn’t offensive.
  • He says what needs to be said in a clear, direct way. He’s a good communicator.”

He had the qualities to be a good manager. Now, he just had to figure out how to get off the right foot in his new role.

Jump start a relationship with a new boss or coworker

I shared what I had learned that sets the right tone and jumpstarts relationships with subordinates. I recommended having individual meetings and saying something like this: “We know each other, but as your supervisor, this will be a different relationship. Let me know how you want to be managed, so I don’t have to guess. A good start is to describe the behaviors of the best boss you’ve ever had.”

“What did the boss do that resonated with you? I’ll write these down and imitate them the best I can. I will try to remember what they are, but when I forget you have to remind me. If you’re silent, then you’re the problem, not me.

“Equally important is to reduce friction. What frustrates you? What are your hot buttons? If you know these I’ll try to avoid pushing them. Again, I’ll write these down, but if I forget, remind me. You reminding me builds trust and keeps the relationship real. This is important.”

“This should be reciprocal, so I’ll describe the ideal characteristics of some of the best people I’ve worked with, what they did that resonated with me, and I’ll tell you my hot buttons.”

I continued: “Your second concern is your new relationship with your boss. Consider having the same type of conversation with him as you will with the people reporting to you. You craft the conversation to fit in with how your boss thinks.”

If you don’t manage up, you’re the problem

I stressed this was a key point. “Now that you have the foundation in place it’s your responsibility to manage up. Again, if you are silent you are the problem. You and the people who support you will be overworked. Be specific about telling your boss the impact his requests have on you and your team. Bosses often have no idea of the cost of implementing requests. Your job is to give him man-hour costs for each request and tell him the impact it will have on other projects in terms of delays or quality. Do this and your team will know you have their backs. Don’t do this and you’ll be overwhelmed with requests.”

“Don’t wait for your boss or HR to give you a job description. Be proactive and draft one for him to use as a base document. This is a unique opportunity that you may never have again.”

“Your third concern was your qualifications. You have good, positive thoughts and you have a heart for people. Set your mind on creating a safe, open, and honest culture each day. Be consistent and you’ll have the impact you desire.”

You have influence and can make a difference

Jeff’s reaction was a pleasant surprise. “I just realized my new position gives me influence with my boss and the people I work with and that I can make a difference. I come from the school of doing what I’m told. This shift and how I see things will open doors. I’m excited!”

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