New manager managing your former peers? Consider this: A young professional receives her first people management opportunity. She’s flattered, thrilled, and nervous all at the same time.
After the initial rush of excitement, the worries set in. How will her former peers react to the news? Do they think she is too young to be their manager?
She can picture them huddled around cubicles saying she doesn’t deserve the promotion or that she doesn’t know enough to lead the team. She’s experiencing a classic bout of impostor syndrome and begins to doubt herself.
Lessons for First Time People Managers
Managing your former peers is awkward, especially for a young manager. The first few weeks after you are promoted are the most difficult but also the most critical in building trust and establishing your new relationship with your team.
In this time, the team looks to you for cues on how to act around you.
It’s a difficult situation but you can make it better or worse through your actions.
If you’re awkward and uncomfortable around them, they will be awkward and uncomfortable around you. If you can “toughen up” and get over the awkwardness that you feel, then you have a chance.
Sometimes you have to “toughen up” or address a difficult situation head on.
People management is not easy and many first-time managers are not aware of the difficult situations that they will face until they face them.
If you want to be a manager, you have to be comfortable with the idea that people will judge your actions and vocalize their opinions of you more often than if you remained an individual contributor. It’s just a fact of life.
The responsibility and power that comes with a leadership position also brings with it greater scrutiny.
Many people have a hard time with the criticism when they first become a manager.
First, it’s the slights that peers who were passed over for the promotion say that get to them.
Then, it’s the rumblings they hear from the team after they make their first difficult decision.
Over time, managers get more comfortable with the idea that people talk and work hard to build trust with their team so the criticism is few and far between.
How to Deal With Criticism as a Manager
Empathy and maturity are two important qualities that a good manager must have when dealing with criticism.
A good manager can understand why an employee is reacting a certain way to a situation and is mature enough to let it go.
Letting it go can be difficult as our natural reaction is to resent the person or react ourselves but it is so critical to the future success of the team that we move forward.
The best action a manager can take when dealing with criticism at work is to take a step back, evaluate if their decision or course of action should change, and then work to build better rapport with the individual.
Bottom line, you are more of a target in a leadership position. People will talk. Get over it now.
Giving feedback is really hard but very important
Your two primary responsibilities as a manager are to deliver on your commitments and to make your team better. Many managers focus more on the former than the latter.
You are solely responsible for the development of your team.
The more your team improves, the better results they will achieve for your department, and the better manager you will become.
Aside from training, the one effective way to get your team to improve is by giving feedback. Giving feedback is very difficult. It can be awkward and uncomfortable. The person receiving the feedback may react in various ways that make the situation better or worse.
First-time managers often shy away from having these tough conversations but they need to happen.
Giving feedback is not only key to the development of the individual but also critical to managing their expectations at year-end. Many individuals only hear positive feedback from their managers and are blind-sided at the end of the year when they don’t get the promotion or don’t receive a good performance review.
It’s important that you give consistent feedback to your team so they know where they stand and what they need to improve upon to get to the next level. This communication is critical if you want to gain the trust of your employees and if you want to make a meaningful impact in their work performance.
It’s also important that you provide adequate positive feedback. Too much negative feedback actually weakens performance.
Studies show that the ideal ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback is 5:1.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is the right thing (for the team)
When you have given rounds of feedback and have provided plenty of training opportunities yet an individual doesn’t improve, you may need to manage them out for the good of the team.
This is very hard, especially when the employee is a nice person who is trying hard but not succeeding. First time people managers may be inclined to let the person skate by in their year-end review.
This is when it’s important to remember the following:
Fight hard to keep your stars and let go of your weakest performers.
It can feel really awful providing a negative performance review and it’s always best to provide this feedback prior to the year-end review so the person is not blind-sided.
Many times, the employee in question leaves on their own terms because they know the position is not the right fit for them either.
The best feeling after letting go of a weak performer is replacing that performer with a rockstar, who not only delivers on the job but makes those around him or her better.
You never would have had the head count to hire the rockstar if you were still holding on to a weak performer.
Managing out people can be the hardest thing you may have to do as a manager but can be the most critical to team success.
It’s all your fault
With a leadership position comes a certain amount of responsibility. As an individual contributor, you are responsible for your work and your work alone. As a manager, you take on responsibility for the work of the team you manage.
Navy seal Jocko Willink refers to this as extreme ownership, which means you take ownership and responsibility for the work that your team produces.
When something is done poorly or a big mistake is made, higher management comes looking for you and not the individual on your team. This new responsibility can be difficult for first-time managers to handle.
As a young manager, your first reaction when confronted with a situation like that may be to say “it’s not my fault” but the quicker that you accept that it is, the easier it will be for you.
The worst thing that you can do in this situation is place the blame on to your team.
The biggest leverage you have with upper management is the perception of your team as a high performing team.
You cannot trade that in to escape blame individually.
You owe it to your team to step up and be the leader that they need in this difficult situation.
When this situation happens, managers find it best to accept responsibility versus fighting the blame.
Finger pointing is an unfortunate part of corporate culture. Figuring out how to escape a difficult conversation with your and your team’s reputation unscathed and yet with the other party feeling like their needs will be addressed is a skill that managers need to develop.
If this happens to you, do not appear defensive. Calmly and very succinctly explain the situation, and spend the most time on discussing what you can do to move forward.
If you need to address the situation with a team member after, do so calmly and with empathy.
Reflect on what you can do differently as a manager to avoid the situation in future.
People do not make mistakes on purpose, so figuring out why the mistake is happening and addressing the root cause versus dwelling on the mistake is often the best move for you and the team.
Put the team first (and don’t be a yes man)
A first-time manager must work very hard to gain the trust and respect of the team. This trust and respect does not come automatically with the title. It is earned over time.
Key to developing this trust is the team knowing that their manager has their best interests at heart and will stick up for them when necessary. Many managers fail at this part of the job.
There’s a fine line between pushing an individual to do their best work and to set that individual up for failure from the beginning.
Don’t care more about your ability to come through for that stakeholder than you care about your team. It will be your greatest mistake.
How to Motivate Your Team As A Manager
When you are leading a team, whether as a direct manager or indirectly as a project manager, you need to motivate the team to do their best work for you.
You have to push them to perform at their highest and then thank them when they deliver.
At the same time, you need to make sure the team feels that you would not put them in an impossible situation and that you would stand up for them and say no when necessary.
Saying yes to everything or being a “yes man” at the detriment of your own team is the quickest way to lose the team’s respect.
Saying no is a difficult thing for a first-time manager or young manager to do, especially when under pressure to deliver, but it can be key to earning the team’s trust.
Movies and television often depict managers as authoritative or hard yet many first-time managers find that being authoritative or hard with their teams does not come naturally. Their gut instinct is to be nice and avoid conflict at their detriment.
First-time managers can also struggle with the added pressure and scrutiny that come with management responsibilities.
How Young Managers Can Succeed
If young managers are mature enough to handle awkward situations, if they put their team first, and if they focus on improvement then they are off to a great start.
Overall, demonstrating toughness at the right times is the key to being an effective manager and developing a high-performing team.
Although management is difficult, at the end of the day, you get paid for this greater responsibility both financially and in experience.
That is why people management can be one of the most challenging and most rewarding opportunities in one’s career.
If done correctly, you can make a huge impact in an organization and also in the lives of your employees and those you manage. Management isn’t for everyone, but by following the tips and guidelines laid out in this post, you can increase your chances of success as a manager.
People managers, what lessons did you wish you knew in the beginning?
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