Your Role As a Leader
You might get to be a manager because you are a brilliant performer or a great politician, but what keeps you in management is how well you rally your troops and keep them performing. As a manager, you are the face of your company. You represent upper management to your employees. Your bosses expect you to do the following:
Reflect and support company goals and objectives, even if you don't agree with them
Reflect and support company policies and procedures, even if you don't like them
Communicate the company's needs to employees
Give upper management feedback about how employees perceive and respond to company goals and polices
Give upper management feedback about what works and what doesn't about how the company does business
If this is your first management position, these expectations can come as a jolt. You've been on the receiving end throughout your career so far. Now, it's your job to help shape and deliver company standards and expectations to employees who not so long ago were your peers, whether you worked with them at this company or with other people just like them at another company.
Learn to Delegate
When you were an employee, among your strongest assets was no doubt your ability to do a lot of things. In the course of the workday you could accomplish numerous tasks and projects. You met people and learned processes that made it easier for you to do more with less, and you excelled. Now that you're a manager, you need to learn to let this approach go. Your bosses expect you to delegate job tasks and responsibilities to the employees who report to you. You are now the one making the assignments. Your task is to make sure other people get them done, not to do them yourself.
At first you may find delegation uncomfortable. After all, when you were an employee, you didn't much like the manager stopping by your desk to say, “Would you get these reports done by Wednesday? I need them for the project presentation.” Never mind that you were also working on the presentation — it was now also your responsibility to do the reports. Even when it was within your job description and skills base, it sometimes felt like the manager was dumping on you. Now you might feel that you're dumping on others, especially if you came from within their ranks.
Effective delegation is a craft many managers take an entire career to finally understand and master. It's not easy to know how much you should remain involved. Even if you pass off an assignment entirely, you still remain accountable to your bosses for its completion. Yet you can't hover over the employees now responsible for doing the assignment. Try this approach and you'll find two things: One, it truly is faster and more efficient just do the job yourself; and two, there's no better way to frustrate and demoralize your employees.
An often-overlooked benefit of delegation is that it lets managers learn from their employees. The person to whom you delegate a task or project will undoubtedly approach the work differently than you would have.
You must find a happy balance, which comes through experience. Perhaps you're fortunate enough to have a mentor, a capable and experienced manager elsewhere in the company (or even your own manager) who can offer guidance and suggestions. Every situation is different. As you begin to see former coworkers from a different perspective, you begin to understand how to integrate their respective talents and abilities — and accommodate their shortcomings — to get things done.
It's easy to come into work and go into your office — right to e-mail, checking on the status of ongoing projects, and plunging into the day's workload. You could end up going the entire day without talking to the employees you manage, even though they surround you. You could … but if you want to stay a manager, you really can't.
Instead, make it a point to go from office to office, cubicle to cubicle, and workstation to workstation to make contact with your employees. Don't miss anyone. If you do, people will begin to feel slighted and left out, or they will suspect that something is wrong. If someone's not there for your rounds, catch him or her later in the day to make contact, however briefly.
Be present without being intrusive. Ask questions, and listen to the answers. Walk around and just listen to employees talk as they work. Don't sneak around — you want people to know that you're there and you're interested. But don't hover, either; you don't want people to feel you don't trust them to do their jobs without constant supervision. You can't know what's going on if you're not there. And if you're not there, people will attempt to resolve problems in their own ways, which often results in less-than-ideal results.
Employees are highly sensitive to routine and to changes in it. They learn very quickly to read the moods of their managers and to shape their own moods accordingly. One person's moods can set the stage for a department or even an entire company.
Consistent daily interaction promotes more than just good feelings; it also promotes effective and collaborative teamwork. When the manager takes a few moments to chat, employees feel better about coming to work and about doing the work expected of them. Small-talk matters.
When you stop to ask employees what they did over the weekend, chat about how things are going with the kids, or to mention a good movie you saw or your adventures with your new lawnmower, employees feel that you care about them as people and as individuals, not just as cogs in the corporate machine. Not that we need to drag all of our personal problems into work, of course. But we do need to at least remind each other that we are human and have lives outside the office. This is what helps to create bonds.
When providing comments, be concrete. Cite specific, tangible examples, like so:
“Josephine Hall is a major client, and your follow-up call caught an error in her order before she noticed it. She called me to say how courteous and professional you were over the phone. She received the corrected order by next-day delivery, which averted a potential crisis.”
“Great job getting out that report, Joan. I know you came in early every day this week to make it happen, and I appreciate your effort.”
“You all worked really hard on the Johnson proposal, and we made it to the final round. I know no one likes to work Saturdays, but if we can all give one last effort on these final questions, we can get the phase two proposal done for delivery on Monday.”
“We're short staffed right now, and I know that's not your fault. But we still have customers to serve, so let's give it our best. I'll lead the first team; who wants to lead the second and third teams?”
By commenting on specifics, you show that you're plugged into the daily activities in your department. Even though you have your own job responsibilities, you know what's going on with your employees and their job responsibilities. No one can work in a vacuum for very long; we need interaction and reassurance that what we're doing is right and that it makes a difference. Otherwise, why bother?
Advocate When Necessary
There are times, too, when you need to become an advocate for your employees. An advocate is someone who takes on the cause of another person to bolster the person's position or to use his or her own abilities on behalf of the other person.
For a manager, to advocate for an employee means to step up, directly or indirectly, in support of the employee's issues or needs. This may take the form of going to your boss and saying, “We're really overworking this team. We have to give them some relief before they break down and we lose momentum.” Such an approach is about getting support to help meet personal and company goals, not getting people out of their responsibilities. And sometimes advocacy takes a less formal approach.
Consider the following example:
In Kevin's department, window offices were at a premium. They were awarded to project managers whose longevity entitled them to move out of the “stable” of cubicles and into the more spacious and private environment of an office with real walls and a door. Having a window was the crowning bonus.
Everyone knew and honored the pecking order for window offices. Then Kevin arrived. Kevin made no secret of his dissatisfaction at having a cubicle in the center of the large room. He complained, loudly and frequently, that he felt like a mouse in a maze. Just as loudly and frequently, Kevin announced his intention to move into the next available window office. He wasn't going to wait around for all the others to move through their paces; he was going to have his cake and eat it, too. A window office opened up, and even though it was supposed to go to Rhonda (who was out of town), Kevin indeed moved in.
When Rhonda returned, she couldn't believe that her manager had simply allowed Kevin to do what he wanted to do. Not wanting to make a big deal out of something that seemed so petty, Rhonda asked her manager, Marge, why she hadn't intervened. “It's just an office,” Marge said. “And you spend three days a week out in the field anyway. As long as you have a desk and a computer, what difference does it make? Besides, there's nothing in writing that defines who gets what offices. I can't really kick Kevin out so you can move in and then never actually be there.”
Marge let Rhonda down, and in a big and public way. She was right about the amount of time Rhonda spent out of the workplace, but that did not off-set the reality that Marge failed to protect Rhonda's right to the informal perks of longevity. Rhonda told Marge that she would have turned down the office, freeing it for the next person in line. But she was hurt and angry that Marge had preempted her generosity. The message Marge sent to other employees was clear: Out of sight, out of mind.
Marge apologized to Rhonda, acknowledging that Kevin should not have gotten the office. Rhonda agreed that since Kevin was already there, it would serve no purpose to make him move back to his old workspace. As a remedy, Marge arranged for Rhonda to use a company car for the days she was out in the field — an perk until then reserved for managers.
The companies that survive and thrive in the current environment are those that can make quick changes to mobilize to meet the next challenge. Big, successful companies constantly redesign themselves, creating new departments and divisions as well as developing new products and services. Networking, Internet services, wireless communication, e-mail — unknown terms just a few years ago — have become the buzzwords of the business world.
Companies have to redesign their products and services to meet these challenges, which often results in big changes. Departments that once specialized in certain services may become resources for the entire company — or they may go away entirely, replaced by other services and products. As manager, you must guide employees in making the transitions these shifts require. Though many of your employees' work tasks might remain the same, the focus and purpose of their effort has changed.