What No One Told Me … Before I Started Managing People

What No One Told Me … Before I Started Managing People

Did you know that over 90% of managers state that they have never been trained how to manage their direct reports?

Managers are expected to ‘know’ intuitively how to lead, inspire, and have direct conversations with their employees. As an Executive Coach, I often hear managers say, “No one ever showed me how to do this!” or “I am just winging this!” This lack of support and truly lack of knowledge often stunts the growth and leadership influence of a manager and can negatively affect the team.

When I became a manager of 17 employees, I made many mistakes at first. After a very candid and tough conversation with an employee I had to terminate, I received feedback from my team and the ex-employee that I had not communicated clearly about performance and expectations. This hit hard because I thought I had, and I assumed that my team knew what was expected of them when it came to performance. After all, I had to figure it out on my own and promoted quickly because of that. Why couldn’t they do that?

Unlike some roles, which can be studied and prepared for in advance, leading a group of people can best be learned on the job; as well as proactively pursuing knowledge. You will make mistakes. Embrace them and learn from them. Here are three key lessons I learned that I wished someone would have told me about being a manager.

1.     There is power in letting your team members do the thinking. In Kevin Crenshaw’s book, “NeverBoss: Great Leadership by Letting Go”, a leader inspires thinking by asking great questions that invite feeling, thinking, and action. “When people feel, think, and act on their own, they start to become leaders.” This is particularly true when you have to address mistakes. Mr. Crenshaw proposes asking these questions to engage conversation and brainstorming:

  • Tell me more about it…
  • What do you see?
  • Would A or B work better?
  • What is the standard or procedure?
  • What do you think?
  • What do you recommend?

When you engage your team to think for themselves and search for their own answers, there is a higher degree of ownership for solutions as well as follow through. As leaders who desire to be the very best, we tend to take on too much. Your role is to let them shine and succeed. In turn, this reflects positively on you as a leader and key contributor to your organization.

2.     Don’t aim to be liked. Aim to be transformational. Being liked is not the same as being respected by your team. Often managers have a tough time with this one. It requires a certain level of courage and self-awareness.

Transformational managers are models of integrity and fairness, set clear goals, stirs the emotions of people, and inspires people to reach for greatness (based on their terms and the company objectives).

Easy, right?

Not really! However, there are literally thousands of books, podcasts, and digital resources available on becoming a transformational leader.

Some of my favorites are:

Radical Candor – Book written by Kim Scott

Coaching for Leaders – Podcast by Dave Stachowiak

TED Talk: Tribal Leadership – Speaker David Logan

3.     Managers coach, not tell. Coaching your people helps build rapport, supports them through business challenges, develops self-awareness, and finds solutions. It also helps you understand how people think about their work, their careers, and their relationships with the organization. Coaching also helps you to improve a person’s performance and deal with issues before these become problems. This skill takes a lot of time and thought.

Daniel Goleman wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review Leadership that Gets Results, in which he characterized the coaching style of leadership as one that

 “…help[s] employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to their personal and career aspirations. They encourage employees to establish long-term development goals and help them conceptualize a plan for attaining them. They make agreements with their employees about their role and responsibilities in enacting development plans, and they give plentiful instruction and feedback…”

Management can be demanding and consume a lot of time. The best managers embrace challenges and build trust with each employee one day at a time. However, being the kind of manager described above also brings unmatchable rewards: positively impacts the lives of people, grows the business through productive teams, and enriches your career journey and purpose.

Alison Nail-Malone is an Executive Coach, speaker, and corporate leadership consultant; and runs Malone Consultants Group. Get her free leadership article by clicking here.

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