Managing Like a Boss

Managing Like a Boss

Question: What is the best advice for someone new to managing people? I was recently promoted and will supervise two people. I didn't work with the two directly before this, but I knew them from general office functions and I'm not sure how to act like a boss now. 

Answer: Congratulations! Both on your promotion and on having no idea what you're doing. This is good. A general sense of cluelessness is the best place to start. 

I was in the same boat when I became a manager of real, live humans a few years ago. My work until that point had consisted mainly of me working alone in my little bubble. The shift to a larger company and a bigger role meant delegating work and providing feedback. Do these things come naturally to you? Me either. 

And so I learned by trial and error. Nothing catastrophic happened, but I certainly found myself wishing that I'd handled certain situations differently—that I'd been more direct or more empathetic. I also learned by studying other managers I admired, then outright mimicking them. If there's a recipe for being a good people leader, it includes much of the following: 

Stop expecting your reports to think like you. If everyone thought and acted just like us, managing people would be a cakewalk. But people are wired differently. There are different definitions of quality work, timeliness and attention to detail. If you accept that people have different ways of doing things, then you won't feel indignant when they do. Seems obvious, but it took me a while to realize this one. 

Find out what motivates them. Some get satisfaction from a job well done, regardless of the task at hand (nannying, data mining, ship captaining—doesn't matter). Others need to know that what they're doing is contributing to a greater good. Still others need to feel that they're growing personally or progressing professionally. To understand your reports, you need to know what motivates them. What gets them excited? What do the like least about their job? Where do they hope to be five years down the road? Ask them. They'll give you vague, bullshit answers at first, so keep asking. 

Have weekly touch bases. A once-a-week meeting that's regularly on the calendar makes it easier to discuss what's working and what's not (without it feeling like a BIG DEAL). You don't even have to come with an agenda. Just show up, ask what's on their mind, then shut up and listen. If you let them steer the conversation, they'll eventually get around to telling you what they're struggling with or need your help on. It needn't be a massive heart-to-heart every week, but at least they'll know it can be, if needed. 

Set a good example. This means rolling up your sleeves and taking work of their plate when they have too much. It means following through, respecting others' time and being personable without being nosy or overly familiar. It also means living the work-life balance you want them to have. Take days off and leave early when you can so that they feel at liberty to do the same. 

Spread the praise.  Never accept credit for something your team has helped you accomplish. Pass the credit on and show your appreciation as often as you can. Praise can take many forms: a quick email, an in-meeting salutation, a three-word Post-It note. All that matters is that it's authentic.

Keep these things in mind and you'll avoid turning into every worker's bane: the boss who saunters through the office on his high horse, barking out commands and acting like a know-it-all ass.

Holidazed and Confused

Holidazed and Confused

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