Newly appointed to a supervisory, team leadership to management position? Congratulations on your new role. But just how ready are you for the new challenges that lay ahead?
Experience shows that most employees get promoted because of the technical expertise they demonstrate; in practice, little time is spent preparing people for management. Most are simply left to operate in a mode based upon their own experiences of good and bad management. This can make the new managers learning curve a difficult and often tortuous route; since at the time when we need to learn most quickly, we experience the pressures of transitioning into a new role, which frequently impair performance. Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson identified this feature as far back as 1908 and it still recognised today. However, management training has dramatically improved to offer managers tools and techniques to cope for effectively with these pressures.
Making sense of first time management demands “cognitive restructuring” and requires the manager to adopt a different view of the working world. Those who struggle with this new perspective, often experience a loss of self-belief and low self-esteem. Hanlon’s Paradox captures this precisely by arguing that “impending or actual change lowers self-esteem and the ability to cope with change just at a time when we need to learn”. Thus, at such times, personal reflection, external support and guidance on essential management practice can be a wise investment. Many new to management find that the key skills required for success may be somewhat different to their own personal skill set. Here are some insights and guiding principles which can ease the transition into the management role and facilitate interpersonal success.
Things change when you become a new manager and not just in the skills and competencies you need to demonstrate. People develop differing expectations of you; former colleagues may perceive you differently and even ostracise you. Your newly elevated station can rapidly become a lonely place. The new manager needs to build an understanding of organisational culture, the micro political behaviours it generates and how such influences can support or inhibit the pursuit of performance goals. Above all, the mindset needs to change from being a “doer” to leading others “to do”; This may seem obvious, but in management practice it is the most difficult feature to overcome and illustrates the early importance of effective delegation. At the same time, it is imperative to avoid micro management; where giving too much direction becomes counterproductive and only creates a culture of “manager dependency”.
Undoubtedly the biggest challenge is the need to demonstrate good interpersonal skills. Whether you call it “people skills” or “emotional intelligence”, all managers need to have a grasp of the fundamentals of human psychology and the paradox of why people can be so predictable yet so different. Treating employees, the same may seem fair, but it is essential that managers accept the uniqueness of all. Specifically, this means, to understand appreciate the variety of motivations, values and drivers that people demonstrate and how those you manage may see situations, problems and issues in a totally different way than you. An important lesson to learn is that whilst it is easy to build rapport with personalities like our own, what of those who are not like us. How do we effectively bridge the divide?
All people exhibit idiosyncrasies and preferences in the way they behave. Essentially this is our personality, i.e. the unique being we present to the world. Whilst managing people in the same style may appear to be fair, this philosophy may not be entirely successful. It is necessary to know your people as individuals and what makes each of them “tick”. The more managers can relate to the whole person, the better the outcomes; the more we can align the less likely we face conflict. Most managers learn quickly that in practice that solving technical problems is simple compared to the complexity of dealing with complex interpersonal issues. Machines have a built-in predictability that people do not necessarily have; but more importantly machines don’t choose their attitude but people do!
In seeking to build the interpersonal skill sets that enable us to manage diverse teams effectively, a solid ground rule can be drawn from Pearman and Allbritton (1997). In researching the complexities of human behaviour these two psychologists sought to explain why people can appear so alike yet be so different. In examining why some thrive on ambiguity whilst others want clarity and why some are friendly and uninhibited whilst others are withdrawn, they concluded that successful relationships are built by not only recognising differences, but valuing such differences. Diversity from the management perspective, is not a source of potential conflict but a creative force for continuous improvement. They offered managers a mantra for maintaining successful interpersonal relationships: “I’m not crazy I’m just not you”, Appreciating differences is a critical component in high performing teams and taken to its logical outcome, enhances genuine consensus whilst delivering a more dependable mechanism for effective communication and decision making
Communication as a management competence cannot be underestimated. It underpins everything that we do and is arguably the most critical management skill. Whilst we communicate in many ways, language is the ultimate tool through which we express our opinions requests, ideas and feelings; in all supervisory activity, using it wisely is imperative. No one expresses this more lucidly than Charles Irvine (2006). He promotes communication as the mechanism for individuals and organisations to achieve the goals they desire. In advocating a “partnering” relationship with those we lead, the reality emerges that the differences between people can be the greatest source of development for both manager and team.
Communication therefor encapsulates the fundamental principles of management activity; since it is the mechanism through which we seek to influence and connect to our world, convey our thoughts and ideas and seek to convince others. Jo Luft and Harry Ingham expressed this clearly in their Johari Window; this model emphasises the key components of management. The first being to give and receive feedback, the second to share appropriate information to enable others to perform their tasks effectively. Managers must therefore remember that the quality of their communication determines the quality of their personal and organisational outcomes.
If you have got this far in your reading well done! Unfortunately, in our busy lives we are often so preoccupied with day to day crises and deadlines we fail to create the time and space to think! Stephen Covey in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” recognised this precisely in his 7th habit. He speaks of the need for us to create time to “Sharpen the Saw”. By this he means taking time out to reflect on our practice and seek to construct an agenda for improvement. Only by exploring how and why you want to manage can you successfully conclude why others should choose to follow you?
In this short extract, the message has been to highlight key features for interpersonal success as a manager, but of course there exist many other factors that contribute to excellence. If management is an important area for you, either as a new manager or one seeking to refresh their thinking, why not attend one of our seminars. Aztech through their highly-acclaimed Management and Leadership programmes, will assist and enable you to reflect upon your personal experience to inform your future practice and generate a series of structured goals for your future performance transformation.
Yerkes, R. M. & Dodson, J. D. (1908). The relationship of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459–482.
Pearman, R. and Albritton. S. (1997) “I’m not crazy I’m just not you” Davies Black Publishing
Irvine C. (2006) Cash in On Conflict: Professional and Personal Success through Partnering. Author House
Luft, J.; Ingham, H. (1955). “The Johari window, a graphic model of interpersonal awareness.” Proceedings of the western training laboratory in group development. Los Angeles: UCLA.
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic ([Rev. ed.].). New York: Free Press.
Dr Rod Linter is Leadership and Project Consultant, with over 25 years of global experience of working with individuals, teams, major projects and organisations. He has been a Senior Consultant with Aztech for over 10 years and brings a wide range of theoretical and grounded knowledge from his experience in the energy sector, to his learning programmes.