It surprises me that I have not turned to this subject sooner in this series of articles, since it is such an important topic. So much of value happens in a manager’s first year — both good and bad — that most of us who have managed for many years, still maintain quite vivid memories of the year one experience.
To begin with, nothing quite prepares you for the experience of being responsible for people and the business or mission responsibilities associated with your new job. Books, prior training, and direct observation of other managers help but confronting real issues and situations from the management side of the fence for the first time, is uncharted territory in most ways.
An initial mistake made by many new managers is to assume that becoming a manager is part of a natural evolution in their profession — from subordinate to being a boss — when actually becoming a manager is entering a whole new profession. No longer an employed doer of some professional service or task, now you must energize others to do that something. Once the realities of this profession shift set in, the new manager begins to realize the new job is really a conundrum: simultaneously energizing and exhausting; seemingly straight forward yet complex; apparently clear yet frequently ambiguous; and about having some power yet often feeling powerless.
As a new manager, you quickly discover there are few certainties, perfect performance is impossible, frustration comes with the job, failure is always an option, as is that dreaded possibility that you will be the captain of the ship when it suddenly runs aground. Moreover, certain people are, by temperament, better suited to the managerial role. The managerial role generally requires more attention to people than things, as much of one’s emotional intelligence as of her or his pure grey matter, some comfort with not always being right or in control, and the ability to shift one’s focus and attention gears rapidly.
New managers must navigate these new uncharted waters for themselves and learn the hard way, many of the lessons that will serve them well for years. As the old saying about the unfairness of experience goes, “first it gives you the test, then it teaches you the lesson”. So, here are a few suggestions for all new managers and their supervisors concerning how to make the most out of one’s rookie year.
First, start by concentrating on and practicing the big adjustment new managers must make; stop doing things others should now be doing. The manager’s job is to facilitate, coach, mentor, and motivate, not undertake the efforts of others. In other words, avoid micromanaging.
Second, learn to establish priorities and stick to them. If you attempt to tackle everything that comes your way, you will quickly become overwhelmed, many of your decisions and actions will be off the mark, and you will almost certainly leave some important matters unaddressed. Learn to distinguish the more important from the less important and focus your time and attention accordingly. Delegate when appropriate and do not assume responsibility for things that are best left to others.
Third, do not run from your challenges. Procrastinating in the face of uncertainty, as a means to avoid mistakes, can quickly become a habit that is hard to shake. Embrace your responsibilities and act like a manager.
Fourth, remind yourself frequently that every mistake is a learning laboratory and go to school on what went wrong, or why you did not get the outcome you desired. What you learn from your first year mistakes will serve you well for years to come.
Fifth, start getting comfortable with the SHADOW you cast as an authority figure. Whatever your self-image, your subordinates will form their own views of you as their boss. Accepting the shadow of authority you cast as a manager is difficult for some who see themselves as benign, friendly, and non-threatening. Rest assured your subordinates — especially those you criticize and discipline — will come to see you differently. (See also an earlier article in this series entitled “The Shadow of Authority”)
Sixth, practice humility. There were times in my first year where I simply felt lost, confused, and uncertain. I thought I was prepared to manage but facing my subordinates as the mis-steps piled up was truly humbling. Fortunately I had good mentors who supported me and helped me learn from my experiences. Practicing humility helps you keep yourself and the daunting challenges of your new profession in perspective as the learning process unfolds.
Finally, find your new BUZZ. One of the most frequent laments I hear from new managers in my workshops is that they miss the excitement and psychic reward they received from being good at whatever they did before becoming a manager. Managing has its own rewards but it takes time to really discover them. Be patient until you discover what it is about managing others that provides your new psychic satisfaction. If that discovery never comes, perhaps management is not for you. In that case, the sooner you acknowledge and act upon that realization, the better.