Companies & Industries

Becoming the Boss


You're a new manager. Will you survive this rite of passage?

The Idea in Brief

Ask new managers about their early days as bosses, and you'll hear tales of disorientation, even despair. As Hill points out, most novice bosses don't realize how sharply management differs from individual work. Hampered by misconceptions, they fail the trials involved in this rite of passage. And when they stumble, they jeopardize their careers and inflict staggering costs on their organizations.

How to avoid this scenario? Beware of common misconceptions about management: For example, subordinates don't necessarily obey your orders, despite your formal authority over them. You won't have more freedom to make things happen—instead, you'll feel constrained by organizational interdependencies. And you're responsible not only for maintaining your own operations—but also for initiating positive changes both inside and outside of your areas of responsibility.

Armed with realistic expectations, you'll more likely survive the transition to management—and generate valuable results for your organization.

The Idea in Practice

To succeed as a new manager, Hill suggests this approach:

Replace Myths with Realities

Managers wield significant authority and freedom to make things happen.

• You are enmeshed in a web of relationships with people who make relentless and conflicting demands on you.

• Build relationships with people outside your group that your team depends on to do its work.

• A U.S. media-company manager charged with setting up a new venture in Asia initiated regular meetings on regional strategy between executives from both businesses.

Managers' power derives from their formal position in the company.

• Your power comes from your ability to establish credibility with employees, peers, and superiors.

• Demonstrate character (intending to do the right thing), managerial competence (listening more than talking), and influence (getting others to do the right thing).

• An investment bank manager won employees' respect by shifting from showing off his technical competence to asking them about their knowledge and ideas.

Managers must control their direct reports.

• Control doesn't equal commitment. And employees don't necessarily always follow orders.

• Build commitment by empowering employees to achieve the team's goals—not ordering them.

• Instead of demanding that people do things her way, a media manager insisted on clarity about team goals and accountability for agreed-upon objectives.

Managers lead their team by building relationships with individual members of the team.

• Actions directed at one subordinate often negatively affect your other employees' morale or performance.

• Pay attention to your team's overall performance. Use group-based forums for problem solving and diagnosis. Treat subordinates in an equitable manner.

• After granting a special parking spot to a veteran salesman—a move that ruffled other salespeople's feathers—a new sales manager began leading his entire team rather than trying to get along well with each individual.

Don't Go It Alone

• Recognize that your boss is likely more tolerant of your questions and mistakes than you might expect.

• Help your boss develop you. Instead of asking your boss to solve your problems, present ideas for how you would handle a thorny situation, and solicit his thoughts on your ideas.

• Find politically safe sources of coaching and mentoring from peers outside your function or in another organization.

Provided by Harvard Business—Where Leaders Get Their Edge

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