I have said this before and I will say it again – it is extremely difficult for me to wrap my head around the frequent absence of people management training in many organisations. In hindsight, when I think of my many struggles as a brand new people manager I am certain I could do with some tips on maintaining high EQ during tough conversations, understanding cultural and generational conditioning, and sometimes even just “being nice yet effective”.
Most of our education system, professional college admissions, and university life spelt intense competition. There was little time to pick up on the nuances of human behaviour and that is all that people management entails on most days. It is no surprise that effective leadership and people skills escape even seasoned leaders in our workplaces. Feedback sessions translate to rants, constructive criticism often doesn’t exist. And almost everyone seems to hate his or her boss.
Effective leadership training and a workforce that insists on continuous learning can resolve all of this. But till that happens, here are a few pointers on how new managers can position their preparedness to take on the human task of managing people at work. It is a win-win scenario for their own career progression as well as a work culture that is rooted in empathy and objective focus on performance.
Groom yourself from a specialist to a generalist
As a junior member of the team, one often does a set of tasks really well and some, just average. But people management means that you now oversee a group of people who have their individual strengths and weaknesses and you must be able to add value to all kinds of tasks. This transformation is difficult for almost every new manager. As a defence mechanism, their first response is often micromanaging tasks and business functions they feel the most confident about. I did this too – with writing and client servicing, to the point of being extremely annoying! At the same time, I undermanaged budgets and finances, hoping the excel files and invoice approvals will take care of themselves. They didn’t, of course.
That being said, it is also unfair to expect new managers to suddenly wake up one morning and become a know-it-all. All they really need is perspective. So if you are a new manager who hasn’t had the opportunity to work in different business functions and departments, block time with different domain experts in your first month on the job. Your job is not to know the specifics of each of them does but to understand their perspective and how it impacts business decision-making. For instance, spend some time with a finance subject matter expert and budgeting, new business pipeline, taxation, and invoicing and how that reflects on your job description. Speak to HR to deeply understand your organisation’s perspective on hiring and retention, employer branding, performance, and people management. A little proactiveness in reaching out to domain experts can really broaden your perspective on business management. And often, it will give you visibility beyond your team and ‘work friends’.
Get to know your team as individuals
Human behaviour is deeply rooted in personal experiences. Get to know your people, understand their personal and professional aspirations, their educational background, their core strengths and weaknesses. Find out where they need help and what they feel confident about. Understand their working styles and differentiate the risk takers from the safe players, the people gurus and the technical rock stars. It will only help you manage them and their performance better. And if your team feels that you are already invested in them as a new manager, they will join hands and help you succeed.
Ask the right questions
The most certain signal of an effective and more importantly, humble manager is the ability to say, ‘I don’t know’. If you have had managers in the past that you would like to emulate, sign up for their mentorship. Talk to them; understand how they manage performance and tough conversations. Find out what challenges they have faced as managers and how you can avoid them.
Not just mentors and seniors, speak to your juniors. Understand what people management skills they appreciate and which ones you will probably need to tone down. You will not know till you ask.
Internalise this – you’re not a lone warrior anymore
As junior professionals with minimal dependencies, a rebellious lone warrior is a romanticised and, often, coveted persona. But everything changes when you are a manager. Now, your personal conflicts can directly impact your team too. Now is the time to go from a warrior to an astute diplomat. You will now be required to find the middle ground in times of conflict. You will not be one raising the colloquial hell. In fact, you will be expected resolve bottlenecks that occur due diverse agendas and work styles within your team and/ or organisation. The sooner you realise what your new role really means in terms of organisational behaviour and problem solving, the faster you will be able to pick up these skills.
Self-learning can go a long way
As a one-time lone warrior who was now struggling to strike the balance between high impact performance and the ability to be relatable, inspiring manager, the one man who helped me most was Marshall Goldsmith. Now, I am no big fan of leadership gurus and self help articles and books but I had been rather unfortunate as far as the emotional quotient of my own managers was concerned. This meant that I had to look outside to develop relevant skills in this area. If you are in the same boat, the internet is a great place. Blogs, articles, videos, and podcasts, they are all there for you to understand what is expected of effective, empathetic managers. Of course a lot of it will come from personal experience too. But when faced with difficult situations, at least you will know some best practices to guide you through them.
Make no mistake, people management is a whole different animal compared to everything you do before that. It can present situations that will require you to unlearn and re-learn a fair bit. But starting strong can go a long way in sealing your reputation not just as an effective manager but also an engaged, proactive star employee.
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