When you move up to a management position for the first time, a seemingly endless array of new things get thrown at you. In order to be successful, there are four core skills you need that will support your development. You can even develop these skills before taking on your first management role.
When you finally get that manager job, you won’t be ready for it—even if you think you are. You’ll be exposed to new things about the way your organization works. You will be put into new situations you have never encountered before. You will be asked questions you absolutely don’t know the answer to. And the fact is that will continue to be true for every new position you take after your first management role.
For this reason, the most important skill you can develop is a willingness to be learning all the time. Some of that learning will be the study you do on your own. Take classes (in-person or online). Read books about leadership and management. Find ways to pick up new skills.
You also want to learn from the people around you. Sometimes that will come from more senior members of the organization who can mentor you. But you also need to be open to learning from the people you’re managing. They have perspectives that differ from your own, and you ignore what they know at your peril.
Once you become a manager, it is easy to focus on the productivity and success of your team. You may be judged based on a set of metrics, which can keep you focused on whether your people are hitting their numbers. As a result, you may find yourself cracking the whip to keep people working hard.
Performance matters, but much research suggests that happy workers are more productive than unhappy workers. So, you need to be attuned to how the people working for you feel about their work. Are they enthusiastic about their jobs? Are they excited about upcoming assignments?
Understanding how the people working for you are feeling is important. Emotions give you a window into people’s motivation. When people working for you are stressed, they are probably focused on what will go wrong if they don’t do their jobs well. Make sure that you also find ways to help them focus on positive and satisfying aspects of their work. An important way of doing that is to catch people doing good things more often than you chastise them for errors. Take every opportunity you can to thank people for the great work they’re doing.
One thing that many new managers struggle with is giving feedback—particularly negative feedback—to others. Periodically, someone who works for you is going to do something wrong, and you’ll need to provide them with feedback. That can be difficult because most people want to be liked by others, and when you give negative feedback to someone, they probably won’t like you so much in that moment.
Because giving people negative feedback is stressful, it is tempting to talk around the problem rather than state it clearly. A simple formulation everyone can learn that works effectively is “You did X, that caused Y, and in the future, I would like you to do Z.” This framing works because it requires you to state what action caused the problem clearly. It avoids talking about motivations and intentions and focuses only on what the supervisee did. Then, it relates the action to the outcome that caused a problem. Finally, it provides a clear alternative action you would like someone to perform in the future.
Often when you move into a management role, you’re still developing your confidence as a leader. That can make it particularly frustrating when people in your group (or other managers) disagree with your decisions. That disagreement may even cause you to dig in your heels and double down on your commitment to a decision.
If you get defensive when you are challenged, you make people less likely to express their opinions to you in the future. That’s unfortunate because you want to have people around you who will provide constructive challenges to your ideas and decisions. These individuals have other perspectives and values from you, and so they are expanding the range of information that you are forced to consider as you move forward with a project. Even if you elect to stick with your decision without revision, engaging openly with the people who disagree with you can give you further confidence that your preferred option is good.
It cannot be easy to have people challenge you. You may need to stifle a (perfectly natural) reaction to be frustrated when you encounter disagreement. Take a deep breath and think about the challenge before responding. You might even start by stating one or two of the positive reasons to take a different approach than the one you have selected. That approach gives you the best possible opportunity to learn from challenges.