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What Aspiring Managers Ought to Know About Being a Manager

The common perceptions that aspiring managers have about the role of a manager can be summarized below:

  • The title of “manager” gives them the “formal authority” to lead and manage.
  • They are independent to make their own decisions.
  • They have full control of what they want to do for their departments.

How true is such perception? The reality is not as simple and straight forward as one may think. For instance, a manager recently highlighted his experience when he first became a manager as follows:

“Prior to my promotion, I definitely had some perceptions on what being a manager is all about. I visualized being in a position of ‘power’ and having the formal authority to set direction and guide my subordinates to do their work. I was excited about the kind of control that I would have running a department. Finally, I thought I had complete independence to shape the department the way I want it. I couldn’t wait to get started.

Then in the first couple of months into the role, I got so overwhelmed by the demand of the managerial role. I spent my time just fire fighting, trying to resolve issues and problems that my direct reports had and they had plenty every day. In addition, I felt that my peers were not impressed with my team. They were not cooperative and as such it was really hard to get support and resources to get things done. I did not have a great relationship with my peers either in the very beginning. I believed my subordinates realized that. As a result, my department struggled to get support and resources. A favorite question from my Superior was: “How are you getting along with your peers and your team? Is everything OK? Are they clear of what you want to do?” I was taken aback by such question as I thought my “boss” was only concerned about the end results that I ought to accomplish for the company. Instead, his questions focused on my relationship with my subordinates and peers. And of course, my relationships with my subordinates were complicated. I didn’t have much time to spend with them. I had the tendency to spend more time with the average and new employees rather than the experienced ones, as I felt a lot more comfortable with them. I felt I could really add value to them. On the overall, I knew that I was not getting the full support from my subordinates as well as my peers.

It took me a number of readjustments in my first 12 months to finally get it right.

Well, that’s a brief recollection of my initial experience being a manager. One thing for sure, my perception of what the role is was totally different from what the role actually is.”

The reality is that the title of “manager” does not come with any entitlement that will drive subordinates and peers to adhere and get behind you to support your cause. While the role may suggest independence, you are actually very dependent on many stakeholders: subordinates, peers, superiors and external partnerships such as customers and business partners. You have to help them succeed for you to be successful in your role. As far as control is concerned, you will only be successful at having full control of your department when your subordinates respect and trust you to discharge your authority.

In a nutshell, 3 key foundations that you need to do right are:

  • Set direction: This is very critical to steer the direction of your department in alignment with the organizational goals. There must be clarity on direction and its purpose. You must secure buy-ins at the onset and address resistances as they arise.
  • Build relationships: Proactively build relationships with your subordinates and peers. Do not apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Get to know them. Everyone differs in terms of history, preference, style and experience. Invest your time for a customized approach to each one for a rewarding working experience.
  • Earn trust and respect to discharge authority: This starts with having good relationships with your subordinates and building trust over time. Understand that your subordinates are sceptical about you. They spend the initial months just observing where you stand; whether for yourself or for the department. Key is for you to demonstrate that you have their interests at heart. For instance, in the event that one of your subordinates makes unintentional mistakes, do not penalize him/her. Have a conversation, provide feedback and help him/her by taking full accountability on the unintended mistake. This is one of the best ways to earn trust and respect as subordinates need to have a “safe” environment to perform at their best.

How was your experience as a first time manager? What were the challenges that you faced with?