“I didn’t sign up for this, people are driving me crazy.”
Many line or middle managers I meet never intended to manage people – most admit they were very good technically and got promoted. Being responsible for other people’s performance can be terrifying and most new managers learn by trial and error.
So why as mangers and business owners do we continue to throw our best performers to the lions? Managing people is a skill and not one to take lightly.
We feel comfortable promoting high performers because they will excel at anything, right?
Unfortunately, this is not the case as promotions usually lead to increased people management responsibilities. The skills required for managing people are learnt over time. In fact, you never stop learning because every person is different and motivated by different things, but there are some soft skill fundamentals that can assist.
If you have found yourself in the unenviable position of being promoted to a role that requires people management, you are not alone. Here are five tips to fast track your management journey:
- Communication. Set clear expectations with team members from the start; you need everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction. Never assume people know what to do or what you are thinking. Always communicate your expectations clearly.
- Accountability. Don’t hide behind your team, you need to be visible and always leading by example. Always hold yourself and team members accountable. If you let little things go now, it is human nature that your team will start to push the boundaries over time. Everyone must be made accountable.
- Vulnerability. This is NOT a weakness; it is actually one of the most powerful tools you can have in your management kit bag. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek advice or contribution from others. Most new managers prefer to suffer in silence instead of showing vulnerability and this is a mistake. Vulnerability shows you are human, helps to build rapport with your team and fast tracks learning.
- Motivation. Take time to get to know your team and learn what motivates them. When you know what motivates individuals in your team you can reward and encourage the high performers. People are motivated by different things; don’t fall into the trap of assuming what motivates you will motivate the team. Take the time to really get to know the individuals in your team, even if you had previously worked together.
- Thirst for knowledge. Seek a mentor, inside or external to your organisation; this must be a very honest, trusting business relationship. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for professional development and invest in yourself. Some new managers are lucky to work for organisations that have a learning culture and will invest in your development. Read books, go to conferences and watch relevant speakers. As a manager you can never stop learning.
Remember you are a human and you will make mistakes. This is a good thing and the fastest way to learn. Be fast to forgive yourself and search for the lesson gained from the experience.
You are now in a position of leadership and this is a privilege, but it is also a responsibility. Not every promotion leads to people management and often there are alternative pathways, but if yours has, you will need to look at things differently.
Not all succession planning is linear and obvious; sometimes recruiting an experienced people manager is a better option than pushing your best performer into an unnatural role.
New managers need to learn new soft skills and it is likely they were not taught these during their studies.
Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder and director of wattsnext, specialists in HR, recruitment, compliance and people performance.