7 Lead-Off Mistakes to Avoid as a First Time Manager

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsEvery Tuesday at the Management Excellence blog I share ideas to help those starting out on their leadership journeys.

Establishing yourself as a credible and positive leader is important and challenging. Here are some all-too-common missteps of first-time (and even some hapless, experienced) managers. Avoid them in good health!

7 Lead-Off Mistakes to Avoid as a First-Time Manager:

1-Leading-off with, “Things are going to change around here.” Too many managers enter into a new role assuming everything is broken and that they’ve been elevated to right the wrongs and inanities of the prior regime. Unless your boss has suggested that your function isn’t functioning at all, you need to show some respect for the work of the group, the team members and yes, the prior manager. You won’t win any hearts or minds by suggesting that everyone else was incapable of functioning without you around.

2-Leading-off with some variation of, “I’m the New Sheriff in Town.” I’ve lost track of the number of times a new manager has compensated for his insecurities by overplaying the “I’m in charge” card. The credibility conferred by your title lasts until you open your mouth for the first time. Don’t set a new land-speed record for blowing it.

3-Leading-off with, “Nothing’s going to change.” Yes, something will. Don’t try and assuage concerns about you as the new boss by telling a lie to kick things off. You might even believe that things won’t change, but it’s your job to help things improve over time and that means change.

4-Leading-off with an immediate restructuring. Senior managers inheriting crises make quick calls after assessing talent and workplace dynamics. You shouldn’t do anything in this area quickly. In your role as a new (and first-time) manager, plan on investing a quarter or two to assess talent and dynamics before remaking the group. And don’t forget to ask for your team’s help.

5-Leading-off by listening to just the noisy ones. Chances are, some of the the best ideas and insights are found in the brains and hearts of the quiet people on your team. Don’t equate noise level with gray matter…or even good intentions.

6-Leading-off like a solo consultant. I owe this one to an accomplished consulting colleague who admitted to investing the first 60-days in his first-ever role as a manager (with a VP title) by studying (investigating) everything and failing to engage his team. In his own words, “I squandered a start-up opportunity with my team by boiling the ocean on the business. I operated like a solo-consultant and not a manager responsible for others.” Balance in this case, would have been appropriate.

7-Leading-off by trying to be everyone’s friend. This one is particularly common to those first-time managers promoted from within a group. Sorry, but the relationship has to change. You’re no longer one of the gang.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Treat everyone with respect. Ask questions. Listen more than you talk. Find opportunities to help. Establish a culture of accountability. Share your values. Learn the business. Learn the people. Learn. And then begin to act.

 

 

New Leader Tuesday—Quit Walking on Eggshells around Boss Bullies

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsEvery Tuesday at the Management Excellence blog I share ideas to help those just starting out on their leadership journeys.

Almost every person who’s ever held a managerial position has spent time walking on eggshells around a deliberately difficult employee to avoid inciting a confrontation. I describe these individuals as “Boss Bullies.” They’re particularly fond of first-time managers because their tactics tend to work on these often overwhelmed professionals for a period of time.

These difficult characters are almost all the same. They aggressively assert their disdain for you as the new manager. They do everything possible to show their disapproval of your presence and they expect you to show deference. They know just the right buttons to push to get their way and make your life miserable.

I encountered my first one when I was promoted to a supervisory role after just a few months at my first post-college job. This particular individual made it clear through his words and actions that he wasn’t going to be managed or bothered by some newbie. It worked for him for awhile.

I wasn’t physically frightened of this bully, but I definitely allowed his bullying approach to push me off balance. I either avoided dealing with him directly or, if it was essential, I couched my comments and questions in niceties. I went out of my way to let him know that I wasn’t there to manage him, but that we needed his help. He was smart enough to help, but he definitely let me know every time that I owed him one.

Aside from developing a daily stomachache over having to deal with this character, my approach was visible to everyone on my team. It was a formula for failure on all fronts and it had to change. It did.

While I didn’t have a handy list of the ideas below for dealing with the situation, I very clumsily applied the principles and managed to change the nature of the relationship. In this case, the bully respected my assertion of power and became an acceptable…not exemplary, but acceptable citizen.

Instead of walking on eggshells, stomp on them and solve this problem.

Six Ideas for Clearing Away the Eggshells and Dealing with Boss Bullies:

1. Engage. Your instinct is to avoid and ignore. Do the opposite. You need to cultivate a formal boss-to-employee relationship with the individual in question. Without engaging fairly and professionally with the Boss Bully in question, you have no behavioral basis for feedback, coaching or ultimately, some form of discipline, including termination.

2. Clarify Accountability. The Boss Bully understands that his/her approach results in different standards for accountability compared to the broader population. You need to eliminate any opportunity for a double standard by clarifying the individual’s responsibility for results and ensuring that the accountability is upheld. One manager I coached used post-project performance evaluations from team members and the project manager to facilitate discussions on this difficult individual’s interpersonal approach, attitude and other dysfunctional The Boss Bully must understand what they are accountable for in terms of both results and workplace behaviors.

3. Observe Often, Reinforce Positives and Tackle Negatives Immediately. The best way to manage this situation is to observe the individual’s work with others as much as possible and offer clear, specific behavioral feedback. If the bully is a mostly an individual contributor without much team involvement, it’s all on your shoulders to engage often enough to offer feedback. Tackle performance issues immediately and provide positive feedback as long as it is merited.

4. Warning! Don’t Apologize or Attempt to Praise Your Way Forward. It takes time for some managers to overcome their fear of Boss Bullies, and those initial steps to engage are awkward and even frightening for some. Beware the tendency to engage by apologizing for your intrusion, and resist the urge to offer positive praise for behaviors that simply meet the standards that everyone else is accountable for. You weaken your case with the Boss Bully when he observes your visible discomfort and extraordinary efforts to placate him.

5. Build on Progress. Your goal should always be for a positive outcome. I’ve observed more than a few Boss Bullies respond positively to appropriate attention and clear feedback. While I’m practicing without a license on this one, I suspect that some behaviors are cries for attention and for respect. Your willingness to pay attention to someone is a powerful motivator.  As you observe positive progress, offer appropriate feedback and importantly, strengthen the relationship by extending your trust on workplace responsibilities. Assuming that your trust is rewarded with results, keep it going.

6. Know When to Cut Your Losses. If the attention and feedback don’t work, it’s time for the Boss Bully to go. Work with your manager and H.R. team. Remember that they’ll be looking for clear documentation and proof that you’ve been constructively tackling this issue over a reasonable period of time. Don’t do what so many managers do and that is ignore the topic until you can’t take it anymore and then ask for help. Insure that your boss and H.R. are attuned to the situation immediately and document the process over time.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Too many managers spend too much time walking on eggshells. They either avoid the Boss Bullies or, they deal with them in a manner that reinforces aberrant behaviors. Your only mistake here is to perpetuate the problem. Spend too much time walking on eggshells and you’ll inevitably crush some of them. Fail to resolve this problem and you may be crushing your future prospects with your firm.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

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New Leader Tuesday—Ideas to Help You Cure Feedback Fright

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsTuesdays at the Management Excellence blog are dedicated to those just starting out on their leadership journeys.

While the act of delivering constructive feedback doesn’t rank up there with the fear of public speaking (stage fright) or facing an IRS audit (just pure fear), too many managers…especially newly promoted first-timers avoid this activity because it makes them uncomfortable. Others use crutches like sandwiching or sugarcoating to calm their own fears, creating muddled messages in the process.

A good number of managers carry feedback fright with them throughout their careers, leaving a wake of under-developed, under-supported team members wondering what they might do better to strengthen their own performance and further their careers. When polling participants in workshops, one of the top wishes I hear is, “I wish my boss would give me more feedback.” Seriously. No one wishes for another IRS audit, but they want more feedback. Even the constructive (“you need to improve this”) kind.

It’s essential for you to learn to tame your emotions and control your feedback fright. Failure to overcome this issue will prove debilitating to your effectiveness as a manager. And frankly, it’s not so hard to resolve.

9 Ideas to Help Cure Yourself of Feedback Fright:

1. Remember, your team members are waiting for it. Read these words and believe them…after all, you read them on the internet: good people are hungry for feedback. Seriously. They’re waiting for it. They want input to help them raise their game.

2. Quit hesitating because you’re worried about the reaction you’re going to elicit. If properly constructed, delivered and managed, constructive feedback most often will elicit a positive response. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. I’ve lost count of the times someone has thanked me and offered some variation of, “I’ve never heard that before,” or “No one ever mentioned that to me.” And while not all of these discussions go swimmingly, if executed properly, the majority will. Hey, nothing’s perfect!

3. Deliver feedback on observed behaviors not hearsay. Don’t get caught up in the “he said/she said” traps. Get out with your team members and observe them in action and offer feedback in near real time. If someone is suggesting aberrant behavior outside of your eye-sight, redouble your efforts to observe.

4. Always link the behavior to the business. If you make it personal, you’ll lose. If you link the behavior to the business, you’re operating on the side of goodness.

5. Plan your feedback discussions. Nothing strengthens performance like proper planning. Take time to think about the behaviors and business impact and then jot down your opening sentence. Practice the opening sentence to yourself a few times and then put it to work.

6. Get it just right with time, tone and temperament. As you approach the discussion, spend a few moments focusing on your objectives: a clear, concise and unemotional discussion leading to an action plan to improve. Feedback is best served in Goldilocks fashion. If it’s too hot…too emotionally turbocharged, it will be destructive. If it’s too cold…too old, it will be ineffective.

7. Don’t inventory the issues. The closer to the observed behavior you address the situation, the better the outcome and the better you’ll feel about these discussions. The worst feedback habit is waiting for the annual performance review and then backing up the dump truck and unloading. This won’t go well for either party.

8. Create a discussion, don’t deliver a monologue. Know that your goal in the discussion is to engage the receiver in developing ideas that he/she can put into action to strengthen or change the behavior in question. You don’t have to have all of the answers…you simply have to create the situation to jointly develop the answers.

9. Remember how to get to Carnegie Hall. OK, old, lame joke with a point. Passenger: ”Cab driver, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” Cabbie: “Practice, practice, practice.”

The Bottom-line for Now:

While there are a number of different and very important managerial tools to support behavior development and change, feedback is fundamental. Your feedback fright is best resolved by employing a number of good habits, starting with the recognition that your people are hungry for clear, meaningful and timely input on improving. By the way, so are you. Remember to be a great feedback receiver when it’s your turn.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

New Leader Tuesday—Learning from Your Communication Mistakes

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsTuesdays at the Management Excellence blog are dedicated to those just starting out on their leadership journeys.

You will make many communication mistakes in your formative role as someone responsible for the work of others. People are complex. The process of communicating with others is filled with opportunities for mistakes, misfires and misperceptions.  It takes time and more than a few mistakes to recognize your need to understand the communication preferences of your team members and to learn to tailor your approach.

4 Communication Lessons Learned the Hard Way:

1. Trying too Hard to Sound In-Charge. One first-time supervisor perceived that part of being in charge of the department meant showing strength with a commanding tone in all interactions. His brusque style was off-putting to a group that prided itself on team cohesion and a track record of great results. When apprised of the tension his style was creating he sat down with the group, apologized and adopted a more supportive and empathetic tone. He learned that being in charge didn’t mean that he had to sound in charge at all times.

2. Misjudging Communication Preferences of Your Team Members. Another common mistake is to misread the amount of communication interaction people desire from their supervisor. Ask an independent person too many questions on a regular basis and they will perceive you as micromanaging. Give another person ample space when they really desire regular contact and feedback, and you’ll be perceived as distant and uncaring. Pay attention to what works when communicating with your team members. Accelerate the process by asking about their preferences for contact and communication. They’ll be impressed that you cared enough to ask.

3. Abusing Feedback. Excessively sugar-coated or watered down feedback doesn’t help anyone. I see this problem regularly with new managers uncomfortable in delivering constructive feedback (i.e. the type that is driving for improvement). Instead of constructing a clear and crisp discussion that identifies the behavior, explains the implications of the behavior and invites a true discussion on how to improve it, they strive to make themselves comfortable by surrounding the message in praise and diluted terms. No one benefits from this type of feedback. (I am cringing as I write this, recalling a number of my early and awkward attempts at this process.)

If you are uncomfortable delivering constructive feedback, ask to attend a training course or seek out one of the many resources on feedback (including many posts at this blog) and practice making your positive and constructive feedback focused, specific and usable.

4. Unleashing a Torrent of Your Ideas. Another manager I coached was filled with ideas on how to improve departmental processes and work-flows and she was relentless in telling people how to change their work. She was quickly perceived as an overbearing micro-manager (no one loves this character) and people worked hard to avoid her. Once she became adept at asking team members for their ideas on how to streamline processes and asking “What if?” questions on her own ideas, the team began to respond with creativity and enthusiasm. She accomplished her desired results and gained team support and trust in the process with a simple shift from telling to asking.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

A mentor of mine once offered, “You’ll go far as you are able to communicate.” At the time, I thought it was an awkward phrase and I didn’t think much of it. Looking in the rear-view mirror of three decades of leading others, I wish I had tattooed it on my forearm the day he said it. Your ability to communicate with others…to appeal to their hearts and minds and engage their energy in pursuit of common goals is what your role is all about. Starting today and continuing everyday hereafter, focus on strengthening your ability to communicate with others. This critical skill will take you far.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

New Leader Tuesday—Learning to Adapt Your Approach to Individuals

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsThe New Leader Tuesday series is dedicated to helping first-time, early career and even experienced professionals with a “beginner’s mind” progress on their journey towards effective leadership.

This job of being responsible for the work of others would be easy if it weren’t for the people!

As a first-time supervisor, I recall cloaking myself in a no-nonsense, my way or the highway persona. I suppose it was a style that I thought was appropriate given my newly anointed role responsible for the survival of western civilization and the timely delivery of answers on the support lines for our firm selling electronic cash registers. After all, the cash registers must ring…or roll…or calculate, and nothing was going to keep MY team from delivering the best service in the industry. So help me… .

I was taught quickly by the patient but perplexed team members who had no intent of responding positively to the new dictator in charge, that I had to change or perish in this role.

In reality, my approach reflected a lack of style…and awareness…and emotional intelligence…and social intelligence…all issues that many of us struggle with when thrust into first-time management role without background training or real-time coaching and feedback.

First-time supervisor burnout or flame-out is an all-too-frequent outcome that is costly and destructive to individuals and teams. Training, coaching and feedback are critical…with two out of three of these free. If you’re not getting the support and feedback you need in your new role, ask for it, find a mentor at work or find someone who has experience in your network of friends and family and ask questions and learn from their wisdom!

I learned several valuable lessons from this uncomfortable first-time supervisor’s boot camp experience: 

  • It’s critical to be clear and universal in reinforcing the firm’s values and in setting expectations and ensuring fair and timely accountability across the team.
  • It’s not only OK to adapt my style to the needs and approaches of the individuals, it’s essential to support relationship development and begin building leadership credibility. Again, no compromising on values, expectations and accountability…but definitely customization of my approach. While this seems intuitive, it wasn’t a reflex action for me. It was a learned approach. The hard way.
  • The wonderful thing about working with and guiding and supervising a team is the diversity of approaches and styles. They are in and of themselves the ingredients of creativity and innovation and learning, and the sooner you as a first-time supervisor or manager recognizes and adapts to this reality, the faster you will begin building credibility and forming productive working relationships.

Learn to Recognize the Preferences of Your Team Members:

While there are many and varied styles and communication or interaction preferences, a few examples include:

  • Individuals who thrive on regular care, feeding and attention. They thrive when their work is visible and they have an opportunity to engage, ask questions, showcase their progress and generally maintain a steady level of contact with you.
  • Others take pride in their independence and will let you know only when they need help. While it is reasonable for you to check in from time-to-time, make it as non-intrusive as possible…just enough to ensure your obligation for awareness and quality.
  • Some shine in group settings…and others…those filled with brilliant ideas struggle to engage and share in those environments. Others simply would rather walk on hot coals than be thrust into a group initiative.

A Public Service Notice: No Micromanaging Styles…Ever.

It is never acceptable to adopt a micro-managing approach. If you feel forced to adopt this style, you have a performance problem that must be dealt with as such. Sadly, too many first-time and experienced managers miss this memo on micro-managing. It’s toxic, ineffective and just plain bad form on the manager’s part. Fix or remove the problem, but don’t reduce yourself to standing over someone’s shoulder.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You will cultivate a style over time…in large part by learning from trial and error. You can accelerate the learning process and improve your effectiveness by remembering to adapt your interaction style to the behaviors and preferences of others, while never compromising your commitment to fairness, your firm’s values or your obligation to drive results.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.