Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lessons For New Managers

Take your management position seriously:
Whether you're supervising a staff of four or four-hundred, you are personally responsible for setting each member of your staff up for success. When they are frustrated with their work environment, it makes a world of difference for them to feel heard. Take the time to listen and find ways to show the you're genuinely invested in their success.

Put your employees first:
Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort for the good of those in their care. Keep the best interests of your employees in mind at all times and you'll have a dedicated staff to support you in your time of need. Building this trust helps make those hard asks a little easier when the time comes.

Hire slowly, fire quickly:
Listen to your instincts, and take your time making hiring decisions. There is a lot of time, money and effort invested in the hiring process. The decision is an important one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

On the other hand, fire quickly. If an employee commits a fireable act, there’s a high likelihood it won’t be the last. If it’s a bad fit, there’s bad performance, or your staff or reputation are on the line, pull the bandage off quickly.

Hire people smarter than you:
Many managers were first lower-level staff that were subject matter experts in their area of focus. The longer you sit in a management role, the more you drift toward a generalist or "jack of all trades." To set yourself up for success, only hire people who are smarter than you in the area(s) for which they are hired. Bring them on, watch them shine, and allow them to teach you more about their area of expertise. They will not only make you look good to upper management, but will also teach you technical skills that make you a more valuable asset to the company.

Learn to evaluate tough choices:
When faced with a tough decision, weigh your options realistically, then diplomatically. Never hesitate to seek the advice and support of trusted mentors and peers. Don't be afraid to give bad news, but give it early and openly. Know that you will make a few bad decisions, but it's not the end of the world. Do your research, look at the problem from all angles, make a decision and act with conviction.

Don’t sweat the little things:
Life likes to throw curveballs. Just when you think you have things figured out, something will change that has you reeling. In this scenario, freaking out is never productive. If it seems like the sky is falling, take a step back, take inventory of the things you still have (family, friends, health, security) and realize that this challenge is just a speed bump.

Once you realize that the worst case scenario isn't so bad, you can look at the problem from a new perspective and begin your plan of attack. Size it up, make adjustments, and knock that thing out of the park.

Think outside the box:
I hate this cliché as much as the next person, but what I hate even more is hearing, "But we've always done it this way!" Without change, there can be no progress. Comfort leads to routine, routine leads to complacency, and complacency leads to mistakes. Schedule time (quarterly, bi-annually, annually) to review your processes and see if there are opportunities for innovation.

Remember, just because people do things a certain way now doesn’t mean it’s the best way. There is no guarantee that changing the process will have positive results, but if you never test it out, you'll never know. If you feel that you can do it better, don't be afraid to rewrite the rules!

Set clear goals:This applies to life in and out of the office. Clear, measurable goals help you stay motivated, focused and moving in your intended direction. You can have large goals (e.g.- I want to run a hospital.) but if you don't break them down into smaller goals (e.g.- Go to graduate school. Secure management position. Earn professional certification. Build professional network.) then it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Put your goals in writing and store them somewhere where you can review them often. Find ways to track your progress to stoke the motivational fire. Most importantly, when you achieve your goals, take time to celebrate!

The desire to shoulder the burden of your entire team is admirable, but ultimately futile. You may succeed for a while, but eventually you will destroy yourself or your team. If you've hired correctly (see above), then there are people on your team who are better than you at the task anyways.

Delegate responsibility to your SMEs and empower them to own the task themselves. If they need support, let them know that your door is always open. If you've done your job correctly, they will crush it and you will both get rave reviews from those up the management chain.

Encourage 360-degree feedback:In order to foster personal growth for yourself and professional growth for your staff, you should employ a system of 360-degree feedback. In this system, you should regularly provide your employees with feedback regarding their performance and they should have the ability to candidly discuss your ability to lead and mentor them.

The success of such a program relies on the ability of you and your staff to maintain open lines of communication and be open to constructive feedback that can sometimes be hard to swallow. It may be a hard slog at first, but if you stick with it you will be paid dividends down the road.

Make time for life:
If you're in that situation, it is a failure on your part and that of your supervisor. Expectations need to be realistic and if they're not, they need to be revisited in a one-on-one conversation. Maybe your supervisor isn't aware that you're overburdened and having this discussion can help him redistribute workloads. Maybe he's unwilling to budge, in which case you should probably start looking for another job.

Listen, all-nighters and 80-hour weeks are okay (and even necessary) in short sprints, but if you're living that lifestyle month after month and you're unhappy, do something about it. Life is too short to spend slaving away to make someone else's dream come true.

Always make a concerted effort to balance your work obligations with your loved ones, hobbies, goals and aspirations. Don't worry, the work will still be there when you get back.

Don’t bring work stress into your personal relationship:
This ties into the point above. There are times when stress in the workplace is unavoidable. Before you leave the office, take a deep breath and exhale. Life will go on. Leave your baggage at the door and head home.

Having strong personal relationships with friends, family and significant others can help relieve stress, settle nerves, and recharge your proverbial battery. This is achieved through open conversations, not by projecting your frustrations onto those you love. Do your best not to drop your work stress on the people closest to you and make sure to apologize on the rare occasions that you do.

Stay healthy:
Stress is inevitable. It also has dramatic effect on well-being, some that manifest as physical changes and others that are imperceptible. It is extremely important that you take good care of yourself in order to shoulder the demands of being a manager.

If this means taking a day or two off as "mental health days", take them. Eat well, drink water, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. Each of these points has been discussed extensively elsewhere, but their importance cannot be overstated. You are the leader of this team and it is important that you do everything in your power to always be at the top of your game.

Be grateful:
This is a thread that is common to many of the points above. Life is hard. Managing people is hard. There are a lot of demands placed on you and a lot of people who will make it seem like your decisions make the difference between success and failure, between living and dying. The truth is, in many cases, they don't. The business will not fail, you will not lose your job, life will go on.

Life is ever-changing. Be grateful for having a job. Be grateful for having people who will love and support you no matter what. Be grateful for the opportunity to share this world we live in with beautiful landscapes, structures and creatures that will live on long after you've become nothing more than bone dust.

If you're absolutely killing it, enjoy it and work hard. If you're unhappy, know that it will get better and keep plugging away. Throughout the entire process, know that your value comes from within yourself and that, at the end of the day, you are truly blessed.

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