Imagine being promoted to a leadership role. Maybe you are going to be a manager for the first time. Or that you are now going to lead a project.
Perhaps you are being promoted to team leader. Maybe you are going to be a department head.
Chances are that you know the people you will be leading. Some of them may be friends. They are your colleagues. You are their peer.
But now you need to be their leader.
Making that adjustment can be tricky. Even if you are being promoted into the role at a new organization.
As a consultant, I had to walk this fine line all the time. I was brought in as an expert and a leader. But I wasn’t going to get very far if I didn’t earn the respect of the team I would be leading.
The same was true as I rose through various ranks in my career. Whether it was being appointed team leader, earning a promotion, or taking department head or other executive duties, it all came down to some version of this balancing act.
In the old days of command and control, managers could just bark orders and people would pretty much fall in line. The work was pretty straight-forward and easily measurable.
Much has changed. Work today is much more complex. Collaboration is absolutely necessary. And individual ideas are tremendously valuable.
Being a good manager today requires much more finesse. It’s a balancing act of building a healthy team culture and delivering results. Often under the constant pressure of “do more with less.”
This post is going to give you some insights and guidelines on how to approach the role. Whether you are a new manager or an experienced leader, I think these ideas will help you (and your team) to be more successful.
The magic manager model
To work your manager magic, you need a model. Some sort of framework useful for thinking about your approach.
The way I look at it, you have to aspire to knowing yourself and your team as well as you can.
You need to see what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong. And you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
The same is true for every individual on your team. The better you know each one in this way, the greater success you will have managing the group.
Of course, this is not a one time endeavor. Getting to know yourself and everyone else is an ongoing process. People are complex and understanding them takes time. It’s something you always aspire to achieve but will never quite fully get there.
In support of this, you can put in place an ongoing process. This is the mechanical part of structuring your day, your week, your month, your year. We’ll dig into that more down below.
Finally, your foundation is a mindset of respect. You must understand and respect everyone’s roles. And you must respect each person as a person. Sounds basic, but it can be easy to slip off track if you don’t intentionally focus on this mindset.
If we draw it out, it looks like this:
But let’s talk things through a bit more.
A foundation of respect
The basic principle of being a manager are to embrace the responsibilities of that role without going overboard.
You don’t want to be a jerk. But you can’t be everyone’s best friend either.
A useful way to view this might be to consider going on a road trip with your friends.
You are all equal people who share a common goal. You know each other pretty well and for the most part like hanging out together. Like even the closest group of friends, you will sometimes get on each other’s nerves.
On the road trip, you are the driver.
That puts you in a leadership position, with some responsibility. You are expected to take charge.
People will look to you to establish some parameters and structure. Do you need someone to help navigate? Are we all chipping in for gas? When and where will we stop for lunch? That sort of stuff.
If you ignore all of this and refuse to manage, you aren’t respecting your role. If you get all pushy and demanding and snarky with everyone, you aren’t respecting the people.
In your role, you have a right and a duty to expect certain things and even to decree certain things (wear your seat belts, please). And your friends have that expectation of you in that role.
You should lead the discussion of various issues and be sure that communication is happening across the board so that you all can have a smooth and enjoyable trip.
None of this responsibility makes you a superior or inferior friend or person. You are not there to wait on everyone like a hired driver. And you are not to make arbitrary rules just because you can (it’s 8 hours of classical flute instrumental on this drive or you can just walk!).
Find a way to respect your role, and the roles and responsibilities of others, while also respecting everyone as an individual (and expecting the same from them), and you are well on your way to a solid foundation on which to build your management style.
A structure for the ongoing process of management
To build on your foundation of respect, it’s a good idea to establish an ongoing process. These are the mechanical steps that will set the pace for actually managing tasks and interactions on a day to day basis.
The main purpose is simple. Communication.
If there’s one job you have as a manager it is to ensure that communication channels are established and that communication is constantly flowing.
The number one cause of all problems in the working world today is lack of communication. Or ineffective communication. Or miscommunication.
Communicating the right thing, in the right way, to the right people is your primary job. Everything else stems from that.
The task is once again complex, but a simple structure can go a long way.
Setup a regular series of meetings with your direct reports. A weekly one-on-on private discussion is essential. There is no more powerful form of communication at work.
Things are said in that context that just can’t be said in a larger group or an open hallway. Give your people a clear signal that you are always available at a set date and time. That time is reserved, whether it’s needed or not.
You might have simple check ins most of the time. But when there is something more crucial to discuss, you both have this pre-arranged forum ready and waiting. And you’ve built up the habit of speaking face to face on a regular basis.
You should also setup regular team meetings for the same purpose. There are many things that the whole group must be “in on” and contributing to week in and week out.
The bookends of this process are reflecting and listening.
As time goes on, it’s crucial that you take time to step back and reflect. You need to consider how things are going, how you are doing, how others are doing. This is part of the work to continually get better at understanding yourself and each individual on your team.
Just as important, you need to focus on listening. Contrary to old school thinking, these meetings aren’t for you to impart game-changing wisdom and new demands. They are mostly for you to listen.
Listening is how you gain information, insights, and the ability to help make changes where needed.
The higher ground
Always, you are striving to know yourself better so that you can improve the way you manage. You are not born a manager. And nobody starts out as an amazing manager.
It takes time and effort.
What you are building with this foundation and this structure is a way to become more self-aware so that you can see where you are at and make adjustments.
Part of knowing yourself is forgiving yourself when you make mistakes. Mistakes are ok. You just need to learn from them.
Part of knowing yourself is knowing that you are growing. The you of last year is not the you of today. And next year’s you is going to be a whole lot more experienced and capable. That’s the point of all this.
Part of knowing yourself is figuring out how to know yourself better. You might learn a lot more about yourself by noticing how you handle things in non-work situations. And those lessons can help you to become a better manager too. Some of those will be the best lessons of all.
All of this is true of everyone on your staff.
You need to be forgiving and encouraging to them. You need to recognized that they are growing. And you need to help them to figure out how to know themselves better. You are their guide, mentor, and supporter.
Your management model
Being a good manager is a challenge. There are many fine lines to walk and no clear cut rules.
Today’s work environment is complex and dynamic. People are facing more tasks with less time and a dire need to collaborate effectively.
Fortunately, you can develop your own management approach along the lines of what we have discussed here today.
You can aspire to know yourself and your staff better, on a continuing basis.
You can setup a structure of meetings to facilitate communication, the most important aspect of running a great team.
Surrounding that structure with intentional reflection and infusing it with deep listening, you can build a solid engine for yourself and your team.
And building all of this on a foundation of respect–for the roles and the people–can help bring clarity to lots of fuzzy situations.
By doing all of this, you can help your team (and yourself) to achieve things you might not have thought possible. All while minimizing the stress and anxiety that can throw so many groups off track.