Management advice for my younger self
In my early career, I was like many green, young managers—convinced I could do it all and determined to prove I could go it alone. Not surprisingly, I was mistaken. I recently asked some of the leaders I respect most about their own early career faux pas and what advice they wish someone had given them. The responses fell rather neatly into two categories.
1) If you don’t have a mentor, go find one…or five.
Even if your company assigns a mentor, that person can’t be everywhere at once. Mentors aren’t mind readers, and with their own jobs to do, the onus is on new managers to ask for what they need. Robert Sutton is the New York Times bestselling author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. He says one thing many managers have in common is the wish that they’d asked “for help earlier and more often, starting right away, and building a network of people they [could] trust.”
Particularly for recent grads, asking for help can be humbling. Bestselling Disrupt Yourself author and Thinkers50 inductee Whitney Johnson says that expecting a successful academic track to automatically result in workplace success is “like using a map of Florida to navigate Montana.” She herself was successful in college, but in her early management days, “A coach could have helped me to get the right map— and taught me how to use it.”
2) Let your team play the field game, and get back in the dugout.
Many new managers find themselves stuck between roles. On one hand, they’re now in charge. On the other, they still have day-to-day tasks. What’s important is balance. Elizabeth Robillard, head of partnerships and operations at Lytics says, “Most of us gravitate toward familiar tasks, but that isn’t how management works. You can lead by example, but you also have to provide direct instruction and feedback.”
It’s not easy. Good managers must help define their team’s identity and get things done without stifling innovation along the way.
Head of Global Talent Development at Informatica, Simon Cooper says his challenge was less trying to do everything, and more trying to control everything. He finally realized, “In teamwork 2+2 should equal 5. Developing a culture of mutual dependency, team identity and collective responsibility creates a powerful and engaging environment. To be part of a synergistic team is an amazing experience but to build and lead such a team is a truly incredible feeling.”
It’s really tough to move into management for the first time. To ease the transition, HR leaders should look for ways to help new managers build their networks and grow their leadership skills. Provide training tools, assign mentors, set up regular check-ins and keep tabs on hours. As the role models for their teams, if new managers burn out from overwork, their direct reports may not be far behind.