The Manager – Feared Species or Trusted Guide?

A couple of years back when I had started blogging, I had written an article about what can transform a manager into a great manager. Today, I am extrapolating on the same subject because I know that management is not easy. No matter how good you are as a manager, you will find that there are some people in your team who refrain from opening up ‘for fear of retaliation.’ This article delves a little more into what you, as a manager, should consider when you are assigned a team to manage.

Disclaimer: I write this article based on my personal experience as a manager and do not claim to be a management guru.

Deconstructing the Role of a Manager

Many first-time managers take up the role with some pre-conceived notions about management, such as:

  • “Becoming a manager means that I have absolute control over my team members and their careers.”
  • “I will dictate how work is done in my team and I don’t have to listen to what my team has to say.”
  • “I can relax and work less after I become a manager.”
  • “The rules that apply to my team members do not apply to me because I am now a manager.”
  • “My team members should not question my authority because I am their manager.”

And many more…

All the above statements are incorrect.

Great managers should be:

  • Facilitators – You should consider yourself as somebody who is going to support your team and help them get their work done.
  • Non-political – As a manager, you should never play politics within your team, which means that you cannot create factions within your team.
  • Empathetic – A manager who can empathize is more successful because you have put yourself in your team members’ shoes and have a fair idea of what they are going through.
  • Never subjective – A manager should never allow personal feelings about a team member affect the professional interactions or assessment. A manager cannot have favorites but can identify those team members who have the potential to contribute and grow.
  • Decision-enablers – You should provide opportunities for your team members to take decisions or at least contribute to decisions that affect the entire team, department, BU, or organization.
  • Mentors – Mentoring is a very important responsibility and as a manager, you have to groom your next level to take over from you.
  • Leaders – As a manager, you have to lead by example. A leader is somebody who can motivate their teams to do better and aim higher.

Month One as Manager – Dos and Don’ts

If you are a new employee, you will need some time to settle down to get your work environment setup, attend induction programs, as well as meet your team members. If you are an employee who has just been promoted as a manager or are taking over an existing team as manager, you will probably have to undergo some management orientation programs and also get to know your team from the previous manager’s inputs. The following guidelines should help you get started during your first month as a manager.

Dos

  •  Set expectations – Present your expectations as a manager in terms of punctuality, work ethics, meeting etiquettes, etc. Ask your team to send their expectations from you as a manager.
  • Open communication channels – Have an open-door policy and let your team know that you are available for any kind of discussions, be it work-related concerns or career aspirations.
  • Schedule 1-on-1s – Set up 1-on-1 meetings with all your team members over the course of your first month. Understand what they are working on and if they face any obstacles in getting their work done.
  • Understand team dynamics – Even if the team is new, you will see some groups forming within your team. The first secret to becoming a great people manager is to observe your team members and understand the team dynamics.
  • Arrange a team outing – Take your team for an outing to break the ice and the barriers of communication. The team also get a chance to know you outside the office environment.
  • Learn from the team – Be open to learning from the team. If it is an existing team, they will surely have more knowledge about the processes as compared to you.

 Don’ts

  • Create sweeping changes to the existing functioning of the team, like changing their seating preferences or implementing new work timing policies.
  • Use harsh words or be rude (this rule applies throughout your tenure as a manager), because this creates a lasting detrimental effect on the relationship you can build with your team.
  • Try to force your team members to tattle on each other. It will create the wrong impression about you and break any chances of building trust.

The Discerning Manager

Your team will comprise people of varying levels of experience, different attitudes, and a range of skillsets. A great manager should know how to leverage all these differences to build a high-performing team. It takes time to gauge and understand each person’s strengths, interests, and areas of improvement. But the time you invest in understanding your team members will help you reap the benefits in the long term. Also, every team member does not require the same amount of attention or support. You need to identify your level of involvement in your team member’s work based on your observations. The following guidelines should get you started in this direction:

  • Observe and identify the following talent, if available, in your team:
    • attention to detail
    • work ownership
    • parallel thinking/innovative
    • interpersonal skills
    • knowledge sharing
    • team player
    • communication/listening skills
    • technical aptitude
    • adaptability to change
    • enterprising
  • Identify the areas of improvement for each of your team members.
  • Depending on the talent or lack of it, work with each team member to create a plan for leveraging their strengths and provide training in those areas that they are lacking.
  • Some team members need more support from you than others and need to be managed accordingly. Do not apply the same management style across the board. That is detrimental to a manager being successful.

Challenges for the 21st Century Manager

  • Social media – Today, with the advent of social media, smartphones, and digital technology, it has become difficult to ensure that your team is productive and efficient at work. While some organizations limit the access to social media, personal email accounts, and the usage of smartphones in office premises, it has become a challenge for managers to monitor and track their employees regularly. The solution to this problem is to stop trying to prevent how much time they have spent on social media or other distractions. Instead, track their work and check if they are sending out their deliverables on time and with high quality.
  • Remote employees – The other challenge that today’s manager faces is dealing with remote employees or an employee that works from home (if your organization has such a policy). With such employees, you need more frequent 1-on-1s and regular tracking. Again, the only way to track a remote employee is to track the amount of work they churn out and see if there are any dips in productivity or efficiency.
  • Millennial – Managing Gen Y or the millennial is one more challenge that today’s managers have to deal with. They are connected to social media and digital technology. They are well-educated or at least more aware of what is happening around the world, and they tend to question anything that does not make sense or appeal to them. They are also more accepting of differences, whether it is the thought process or way of living or any other cultural or demographic differences. The most effective way of working with Gen Y is to be as transparent as possible in your communication as well as your work style.
  • Work force reduction – Another challenge that most managers face today is the possibility of frequent work force reductions. When such an event occurs, the entire team morale is shaken up and you will find your team members jittery about their job stability. The best way to handle such situations is to ensure that you are transparent about the reasons why somebody lost their job and also to address any concerns or fears that your team members may have. They need to be assured that there are no personal feelings involved when somebody is terminated.

Empathy – Your Most Powerful Tool

If you can empathize, you have crossed an enormous barrier that most managers face. It is not easy, but it is worth the effort. To be able to empathize, you need to know and understand your team members. Your team members will not open up to you unless they trust you and believe that you always have their best interests in your mind. So the first step to being empathetic is to gain your team’s trust. One way to gain your team’s trust is to open up about your vulnerabilities or fears. When they see you more as a fellow human being and less as a manager, the path of trust starts getting paved. After trust is established, learn more about your team members’ lives so that when they approach you with a problem, you can provide an informed solution or an informed decision.

G.O.F.A.R.A.H.E.A.D – Ten Commandments to Becoming a Great Manager

Be Genuine – you have to care about the growth of your team members, and not as part of some goal-setting activity.

Be Objective – you always have to play fair and be objective. Everyone has to be treated equally. That does not imply that you give the same professional responsibilities to everybody – that has to be decided based on your team member’s capabilities.

Be Fun – nothing endears a team to their manager more than somebody who can let down his or her hair at times when the occasion calls for it.

Be Approachable – whether you have a solution to your team member’s problem or not, your team member should feel free to come up to you and discuss their issues.

Be Receptive – you need to be open to negative feedback and also discuss corrective actions if any.

Be Assertive – when a team member is going down the wrong path, you need to immediately take corrective action and guide them.

Be Humble – when your team sees you as another human being, who is just their bridge to upper management and who protects them in adverse situations, the usual barriers start to dissolve.

Be the Example – you cannot expect your team members to follow certain rules if you do not follow them yourselves. You have to set the example and lead the path.

Be Appreciative – whenever your team member does well, be prompt in appreciating. If we forget, they don’t forget.

Be Discerning – not every team member needs to be monitored or managed the same way. Don’t use the same yardstick for all team members.

In conclusion, I hope this article has proven helpful to those who are struggling as a manager or are soon going to become one. These guidelines should help you along and channel your energies in the right direction to become a great manager and more importantly, remain one.