They made you a new manager. Now what?
Whatever you did to become a new manager is probably not enough to help you be successful there. Leading well is a skill set of its own. To help you make the adjustment successfully, it helps to have a plan. In this post I’ll give you six things to focus on in your first week as a new manager so you can get started on the right foot.
Open Notebook, Open Mind
One day some years back in Panama, an army Lieutenant Colonel I didn’t know asked to stop by and talk with me. I was a Captain; this was somewhat unusual – higher ranking officers don’t typically “pop in” for a chat with junior officers like me.
The colonel settled into a small vinyl chair in my little office, and introduced himself. He explained that he was about to take command of a nearby support unit – the kind that kept vehicles fixed, and made sure the beans and bullets got to us out in the field.
My unit was one of his “customers,” and he wanted to know how things were going, how customer service was, and if there were any problems we were having that he could help with. He asked me to be honest, so I did the best I could.
It was a pleasant conversation. He asked good questions, listened carefully to the answers, and scribbled in a small notebook he carried. After fifteen minutes, we shook hands, he said thanks, and walked away.
But what he left behind from that small little interview was not insignificant:
• I now had a connection to the new support commander.
• He gave me a direct link to him to solve problems.
• He showed he cared about my opinion.
• He had my respect as a professional.
He was doing one of the critical things that I think all new managers should do any time they move into a new leadership position – talking to key people and listening to what they have to say before making decisions about direction and focus.
Seek First to Understand
I was just one person he talked to, but the first four things you should do as a new manager is talk to people.
Get a notebook and a sharp pencil, and get started. As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
1. Meet with the Boss. The sooner you do this, the better. You’d be surprised at how many bosses fail to have a good sit-down when they bring a new manager on board. If they don’t ask to see you, make a point of getting in to see them. You need to have a starting reference point so you understand the direction the boss wants to go.
Ask him about things like what his vision is, and how you and your team fit into that vision. Talk about priorities and any special areas of focus he may have in mind.
It’s a good idea also to talk about how you will communicate – email? Phone? Meetings? There is no leading without communicating, and you’ll need feedback to ensure you are on the right track, so talk about what will work best.
2. Talk to your influencers. Most teams will have a few people who seem to swing a bigger bat than the others – they have been around the longest, have a specialized skill set, or maybe they are the best connected. Figure out who these people are and make a point of talking with them as soon as possible.
And by “talk” I mean ask them questions and listen very closely to their answers. Ask about things like the strengths and weaknesses of the team, areas to focus on, things to avoid.
In doing so, three things are happening:
1) You are getting the benefit of their experience and perspective.
2) By meeting with them first, you are acknowledging their value to the team.
3) You are beginning to forge a relationship of mutual support.
How they respond to you in your early days as a leader will have a big influence on how others see you, so take the opportunity to get things started on the right foot.
3. Talk with customers. Like the Lieutenant Colonel who visited me in Panama, meet with the “customers” that your team serves, whether it’s someone buying a final product, or other teams in your organization who rely on whatever it is that you produce.
Ask what they like about what your team does, what challenges they are facing, and how you might be able to help. When you know what their concerns and needs are, you have a better chance of making sure your team satisfies them.
4. Talk to your people. After you formally take charge, be sure to talk with every person on your team. Keep it simple, and adjust your questions based on their experience level.
Start with questions about them, their goals, skills, and recent successes on the job. Then ask for their thoughts on what could be improved on the team.
The more you know about your people, the better you will be able to lead them, and showing that you care enough to talk with them is a great way to begin the process of building trust.
Plan to Act
With all those good notes you have been taking, now you have a wealth of information that will help you set the right direction for your team. Steps five and six are what you should focus on over the next couple weeks.
5. Plan to get smart. Through these early discussions you may discover that you have a few knowledge gaps, whether it’s a technical skill you lack, understanding of procedure, or getting plugged in to the right information loops.
If you are going to win the respect of your teammates, you need to be honest with yourself about what you don’t know, then take action to plug the holes.
6. Score an early team win. A lot has been written about the importance of getting a “Quick Win” in the first few months of your tenure as leader. From your notes a few good projects may jump off the page as candidates. There’s nothing like an early success to set some positive momentum for your tenure as a new manager.
Just a quick caution here: the best results will come if you think of it as a “Team Win.” It’s not about you excelling; it’s about the team being successful as an organization with you as its leader. Seems like a small distinction, but it makes a big difference.
Steps for the New Manager – The Takeaway
If you are moving up to a new manager position, congratulations, that’s great! Just keep in mind that what you did to succeed in your old job will not guarantee doing well in your new one.
Plan for your success the same way my new friend from Panama did. First, understand the environment by intentionally engaging with key people, asking good questions, and listening intently.
By talking with these people, you build your understanding of the world you’ll be operating in, and at the same time lay the foundation for positive working relationships in the future.
Once you have a basic understanding of what’s going on, do what it takes to make yourself competent in your new job, and find a way for your team to score an early win.
These steps work best early on in your new position, but any time you do them, you are sure to wind up a better leader.
If you would like to learn more about specifically what to do, who to talk to, questions to ask, and for checklists and interview sheets to help you through the process, check out the Essential Leadership Skills for the New Manager Course. This video-based course will arm you with the tools you need to be successful.
The first step in leading well is not to keep doing what you used to do, it’s to develop a clear understanding of what you need to do now.