What Every New Manager Should Know

Nov 3, 2016

Secrets of Great managers logoNote: This is the second in a series of interviews conducted by Rob Cahill, CEO of the management-training and education firm Jhana, with industry leading scholars, CEOs, founders and consultants on the topic of management. This week, he interviews Simon Cooper, senior director, leadership & talent development at InformaticaThe first article in the series is here.

Being the boss is never easy, and it’s especially hard for first-time managers. Simon CooperAuthor and leadership development expert Simon Cooper has spent the past 25 years studying the foundations and best practices of great leaders, great talent and exceptional organizations. I asked him to think back on his own management career and share a few lessons learned, challenges faced. Simon pointed out three specific things he wishes he’d known as a new manager:

Ask, don’t tell

One of the first things Simon notes is the significant difference between exerting power and wielding influence. “When I first became a manager, I used authority power to get things done. I didn’t ask people to do things or learn what they would like to work on. Rather, I identified what needed to be done and told them what to do.”

These days, Simon prefers to rely on influence as opposed to authority, explaining, “People come to work wanting to do a good job. Knowing that, I find that if I ‘ask’ rather than ‘tell,’ people nearly always volunteer to do the work, they take more responsibility, they own the problems and actively seek solutions and most importantly, they are highly engaged in doing so.”

There’s no monopoly on good ideas

New managers often feel pressure to always have the right answer. According to Simon, this is the wrong approach to solving problems. “As a manager, you do not have a monopoly on good ideas. When faced with a problem or opportunity, involve the team in the process and encourage them to come up with ideas.”

While it’s important to solicit ideas from everyone, Simon reminds managers, “You are ultimately responsible for which ideas get taken forward. Once you have received inputs from the team, be bold enough to make a decision and explain the rationale of that decision to your team.

The first step is the hardest

“The single hardest step in becoming a manager is the first one,” says Simon. While new managers were likely promoted for being a top performer, suddenly they need to rely on other people to get things done who may not (yet) be as skilled or efficient. According to Simon, “This challenge is even more exaggerated if you are managing the team that you were previously a part of. In this scenario, you have to gain the respect of people who previously saw you as a peer, perhaps even people who think they should have been appointed as the manager instead of you.”

Simon’s advice for new managers struggling to build credibility with their team? “Be open and transparent about the challenge you are taking on as a first-time manager. Ask the team to come on the journey with you. Ask them to give you feedback about how you could improve, and take that feedback as a gift rather than a threat.”

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