This post was drafted nearly two years ago - a couple of months after I started my first management job. I decided not to post it then. I think I felt too inexperienced to be imparting my so-called wisdom to anyone, and it’s not as if I had an easy time of it in my first few months of managing. Now, my perspective is a little different. This blog serves many purposes, but one purpose is to supplement my memory. Writing and publishing these notes here makes the experience and the knowledge more real - for me, at least.
Since finishing that first stint at management, I’ve had two serious opportunities to become a manager permanently. This is more to do with being in the right place at the right time than any inherent ability. Although tempted, each time I went for the non-management option which seemed to promise the more interesting work or the better environment. I'm not avoiding being a manager, but it's not the goal of my career either.
I feel that I have enough experience of management that I don’t need to be afraid of it, I can avoid some of the pitfalls and I won’t be excessively dazzled by what it has to offer.
I would not say I have a natural talent at management, but that’s ok, because the worst managers are those who think they are great at it. As a fairly introverted person, I sometimes felt I was at an disadvantage when compared with my more extroverted colleagues. On the other hand, I felt that sometimes being introverted was a real asset.
I like diversity of all sorts. Any theory of management which proclaims that good managers must have a particular personality type is wrong-headed, depriving workplaces of a diversity of temperament and leaving it more susceptible to group think-induced mistakes.
Anyway, this is what I drafted -
1. Find a mentor and/or confidant - outside of your area
This is a difficult one - both to stick to, and because of the inevitable negative consequences when this isn’t followed.
As a manager, you are held to a higher standard than your staff. There will always been annoyances and annoying people in the workplace. It can helpful to vent about these irritations, but do so in the right way. Never complain about one direct report in front of another direct report. The days of sending email rants are over (if there's no other outlet for you, draft something outside your email programme, to lessen the temptation of sending it).
Better yet, confide in somebody outside of the situation - ideally an experienced manager in another organization who can give you some non-interested and non-specific advice.
2. Find some quiet time, and make the most of it
One of the biggest changes about being a manager is that your work time is no longer your own. Expect to be interrupted at any moment - it could be anything, from crisis management to leave requests and other administrative tasks to receiving stupid questions which your staff shouldn’t need to be asking you. It can be exciting - your work days can take some very unexpected turns.
When so much time is spent helping your team members do their jobs, it can get difficult to do your own job and the things your manager is wanting from you. One way is to find some quiet time - such as starting early or finishing late or (if you’re lucky - and sparingly) working from home - and do this work then.
Your manager is more likely to gauge your performance by how you deal with the tasks he has given you, rather than how you are helping your staff, so keep perspective.
3. Be prepared to make mistakes
As a new manager, you will make mistakes and people will expect this of you. All you can do is pick yourself up, debrief (one of my managers used to talk about “lessons learned”) and move on. Throw yourself into a challenging reference query or technical question to short circuit any unhelpful rumination. Dwelling on past mistakes helps nobody.
4. Find something to enjoy about the role
When you become a manager, you generally get paid more, but there has to be some other work-related reward you can focus on. Nothing damages a workplace's morale than a miserable manager, who doesn’t really want to be there. Particularly when you’re having a bad day, it’s good to think about something you like about being a manager. As a manager you get to participate in those strategic and higher level conversations about the future of your workplace. These can be extremely interesting - and rewarding. Even more rewarding, but it’s often not apparent until after some time has passed, is seeing how you have been able to help particular staff grow into their roles, sort out problems and develop professionally.
Almost two years on, I would add this one: The only way to be keep the respect of your staff is to be true to who you are. Don’t let the organization compromise the traits and values which define you. If you think you’re changing for the worse, it’s time to get out.