It happens everyday: someone is put in the position of managing people for the first time and finds it is daunting and very different from what they expected. New managers often find they are completely unprepared for what it takes to be the supervisor because they were counting on the fact that just being the one in charge coupled with their own sparkling personality was going to make them a hit with employees.
Au contraire, mon frere.
What does it take to supervise employees in the workplace successfully? In addition to things you can learn (how to interview, how to address behavior and performance issues, how to communicate better, etc.), it takes a couple of other attributes that are sometimes not as easily acquired:
1. Self-Awareness. To maintain your composure under stressful situations at work (and at home), you must be aware of your underlying assumptions about people and work, your motivations, your own hot buttons, your talents, and your limitations. A tall order, I know, but without this basic awareness, you are prone to react (and over-react) to situation after situation in the workplace without producing the results you desire. In fact, without self-awareness, you’ll probably make the same mistakes over and over, produing exactly the opposite of what you desire. Becoming a manager is a great experience for learning these things about yourself. Managing others will help you increase your self-awareness, but you have to be willing to recognize and own your “stuff”.
You also must be self-aware enough to realize that even though you would like to believe you “deserved” the promotion to manager, the workplace is not always about merit. Maybe there are others who would be as good or an even better manager, but you were in the right place at the right time to be selected. Realize this, have some humility about it, and keep focusing on your own growth as a person to enhance your growth as a supervisor of people.
2. Flexible Personal and Professional Boundaries. Having flexible boundaries means you decide what to let into “your space” and what to keep out. Good but flexible boundaries make you resistant to influences that will get in the way of your ability to function as a healthy manager. As you understand your role as manager, you should come to understand that your role is to get maximum production out of those who work with you while enforcing all the rules of the organization. (Sometimes that means you will not be the most popular person around. You have to be OK with that.) As you create professional boundaries with your employees, you are establishing the ground rules for how you will behave and others are to behave around you. Having flexible boundaries means . . .
· You build trust with your employees as you maintain confidences, are firm, fair, and consistent in your dealings with others, and admit when you make a mistake.
· You understand that you have a role to play, and your employees have roles to play and that the decisions made and the actions taken at work are not designed to personally favor you or another individual.
· You do not make decisions out of pity for others or just so your employees will like you.
· You hold yourself and your employees accountable for expected performance and behavior in the workplace based on the business objectives for your work group.
3. Realize Forms and Structures Don’t Manage For You. I work with managers who frequently ask for a form to use to address an issue with an employee – whether it’s for evaluation, discipline, etc. I often balk at this request because for some managers, I sense they want the form, so they can say every critical thing they want to say to the employee on paper, then slide it across the desk to them and feel like the problem is solved without a conversation. This is not management. This desire to let the forms do the talking can indicate conflict avoidance that protects the manager from dealing with messy and often ambiguous people issues.
Yes, issues should be documented in writing. But while the structured information on forms can help managers make sure they are addressing the right things when working with employees, the form itself is not the magic – the manager’s interaction with the employee is. Instead of managing by remote control through a form, you must look someone in the eye (or hear their voice on the phone if you’re in different cities) and talk about what’s going right and what’s not working then continually follow up to make sure the employee stays on track. And yes, you have to be self-aware enough to recognize the baggage you might bring to the conversation. Yes, you must keep within your flexible boundaries.
4. Remember You’re Working with Other Adults. Due to the hierarchy of most organizations, we often fall into the trap of believing that those at the top know more than those toward the bottom. Not so. There is plenty of knowledge and experience that must be tapped to make any organization successful. So, remember you are working with adults who know a thing or two about work and life. Some of your employees are more knowledgeable and more experienced that you are, too. You don’t have to be the one with all the answers – you’re there to help others discover the answers (whether you already know them or not).
Taking on the role of manager will be challenging and rewarding. Instead of validating your talent and wonderfulness, it is for most a wake-up call and growth opportunity. Enjoy!
Copyright – Beth Strathman 2011
All rights reserved