A management position brings excitement but also increased responsibilities for getting the job done, coordinating staff, instilling team work and dealing with issues from the mundane to the large. And as the number of retirements increase, more members of the Canadian workforce will find themselves promoted to management positions. However, a title does not a manager or leader make. There are three steps to becoming a respected manager:
Step 1. Permission To Lead
Some new managers may worry that staff won’t respect them in their new role. This may be true if the manager has been hired to manage former peers or former co-workers who perceived themselves as the manager’s peers. Others move into the job feeling a bit insecure about their readiness for the position.
These concerns indicate that the manager is grappling with one of the first steps associated with taking a leadership position: Giving oneself permission to lead. Many times people think that their subordinates or their superiors, or their very title, should confer permission to lead. While this may be true, the first step is to give oneself permission to take on the role.
Attempts to be a ‘buddy’, flatten the existing hierarchy (we’re all the same), control through force or threat (I have to show I’m the boss) or spread the decision-making around by being wishy-washy indicate the new manager has yet to give herself permission to step fully into the management role.
Once the manager is comfortable with the idea that he now must make decisions, hold difficult conversations with subordinates, team build and use skills like listening, empathy, directive, clear communication and patience all the time, he’s ready for the next step.
Step 2. Earning Staff Respect
Once personal permission is given to lead, the manager must attend to the needs of the staff. Asking oneself: “Are people clear on what we are all doing in this company and what the purpose of the work is?” is important. This helps the manager focus on staff needs as they relate to overall business goals. Second, looking at the group as a whole and assessing its strengths and development needs is key. For example, if someone isn’t pulling his weight, the manager must ask why? Does he need new skills? Is he unclear about his role, or does he feel unfairly treated? Other times a new manager may inherit a high-functioning team and need to ask, How do I support this team? This could mean staying out of their way by providing the proper resources, climate and encouragement to continue doing a good job.
Committing to ongoing communication with staff who are performing optimally or needing more direction is an important step in managing an effective staff group. Like housework, this managerial job is never done. For example, if a new manager is working with Gordon to resolve a particular issue such as making deadlines, then hears that Gordon’s co-worker Brenda went to his boss about the issue, the manager needs to talk to Brenda about her concerns. He also needs to discuss what made her go over his head. Hence, the need to settle a missed deadline issue also includes a need for a conversation with another staff person about proper processes at the organization.
Taking the example further, some managers may decide that now the deadline issue has been resolved, there is no need to talk to Brenda. This could be a mistake. Two important staff issues have arisen: the need to clarify expectations around deadlines and about how concerns that arise at work are to be dealt with. This can lead to productive conversations with the entire staff group about how to air concerns and resolve contentious issues. By relentlessly tying loose ends, managers clean up situations that, if allowed to fester, could cause bigger problems down the road.
Another key way of obtaining staff respect is recognizing that all jobs are important and nothing is too “menial” for anyone, including the manager. For example, when the company president was first to an early morning meeting, he made the coffee and unloaded the dishwasher. Chipping in to keep the company kitchen clean, mopping up a spill or tidying-up on occasion, communicates caring about the company and its staff, the value of everyone’s work and an appreciation of other’s contributions.
Step 3. Searching Self-Analysis
The day may come when the new manager loses it, in the form of an angry outburst or an exasperated loss of patience. New leaders may be alarmed at the intense emotion they feel when this happens. However, the experience is necessary and helpful to their development. The best way to ensure the experience is positive is to try to understand what elicited such a strong reaction. For example, if you raise your voice or are abrupt with someone, trace back through the interaction to the source of the outburst. Perhaps you’d told the person what you thought and they ignored you. Or, you were in a rush and the staffer was taking too long. On further analysis, you might discover that you are a bit worried about whether this staff person is going to keep his job—maybe you’ll have to fire him – the most unsavory aspect of management – if he keeps underperforming. Pushing further into the incident, you discover that you are taking too much responsibility for the staff person’s behaviour and that upon reflection, you haven’t spelled-out the choices he is making (ignoring advice, not asking for help and putting in minimal effort) and the ramifications of these choices (his behaviour will end up with his losing his job).
By conducting a self-analysis upon experiencing an upset, a new manager can tap into a rich source of information about his or her management, an outstanding issue that needs attention, places where more clarity is needed, or how to help a staff person and meet company objectives.
Becoming a manager requires giving oneself permission to be a leader. This means taking control, ultimately, of oneself – not of others. Engaging in meaningful conversations with staff, working to be truly respected as a competent, fair and loyal manager requires self-analysis and the willingness tackle anything that comes along. And rest assured – something will always come along.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.