BusinessDay

How to start your new role as a leader

Dear Dr Sobande,

I am a junior partner in a small investment firm. My job is huge—there is always more to do than time to do it.

Last year, the firm hired a junior analyst to work with me. I did my best, but things just didn’t work out. He worked very slowly, made lots of mistakes, and got super defensive every time I tried to give him feedback. Our HR person told me the fit was all wrong. They found another position for him in the company, and I have been limping along without help.

I have finally found someone else but I am terrified of repeating what happened last time. The first guy told my boss that he was intimidated by me. I don’t know what to do with that. To be fair, I am a type A personality, I’m good at figuring things out and getting things done, and I guess I expect other people to be like that, too.

I realise I don’t know the first thing about managing someone. I am so gun-shy now. Can you give me some ideas about where to start?

As you begin to relate with your direct reports the most important thing you can do is give them crystal clear direction about what the job is, the exact tasks they are expected to perform,…

New Manager

Dear New Manager,

Well, there are about a million books on this subject and even more people out there offering classes on the topic. However, you asked me, so I will take a crack at it.

First, let me say that I spent 30 years working hard at being a decent manager, which is not natural for me. If I can do it, so can you. I was never great at it but I was never the cause of a hostile work environment lawsuit, so I am calling that a win.

I have had more people tell me they are intimidated by me than I can count. It took me years to stop trying so hard not to be intimidating, and it never really worked. The only thing to do if people tend to respond to you that way is to make clear from the outset that you care deeply about their success, you intend nothing but the best for them, and you will have their back no matter what.

Avoid unrealistic expectations

The first thing you need to know is no one else is like you. You might have things in common with direct reports, but the big difference is that you are a manager, and they are not.

If they were like you, they would be leading people. Avoid the temptation to make everyone be like you. When you fail at managing people because you expect them to be like you. They aren’t. But if you do a great job, they will find their own strengths and become more themselves as they get better at what they do.

Get better at hiring

The next thing to know—and I am sorry if…

This may be too late for your new hire, but you can tuck it away for the future hiring process. You must know that most of the battle with getting it right with an employee is hiring the right one. It sounds simple, but of course it is that straightforward. To avoid suffering from hiring disasters, you may want to look for a couple of things:

– Engage potential employees who take responsibility for themselves, their own experience, and their own destiny, and are not inclined to blame others for their own lack of success.

– Engage employees with a growth mindset. They must trust themselves to be able to learn, to grow, to recover from mistakes, and to move on with the confidence that they will be able to rise to whatever challenge they face.

Skills and experience are always desirable, of course, but those can be learned and gained over time. Ultimately, you don’t want to hire a turtle if you need them to climb a tree. If you need someone to climb a tree, hire a squirrel.

Read also: How to get your people to trust your leadership – 2

Avoid ambiguity start and with a clear direction

As you begin to relate with your direct reports the most important thing you can do is give them crystal clear direction about what the job is, the exact tasks they are expected to perform, the best way to perform them, and the timeline associated with each task.

You must paint the picture of what a good job looks like, catch people doing things right, and offer gentle re-direction when they don’t. Anything you can do to offer clarification will be useful, including checklists, examples, detailed instructions, and common pitfalls to avoid.

Explain to your direct reports that your job is to help them be as successful as possible. You will start by helping them identify transferable skills they can build on while you offer feedback on what is working and what needs to be sharpened.

Take time to explain to your team that at the beginning you may appear to be a micromanager until you see evidence that they are able to get the job done alone on any given task, at which point you will loosen up.

You will have to find a happy medium between what is “good enough” and “the way I would have done it” so your direct reports can build their own confidence and find their own path in getting the job done. It is very important that you always re-assure your team members that you will start with tight supervision and loosen up as their competence and confidence increases.

I must confess to you that in my leadership development journey, I managed people badly at the beginning before I became self-aware and emotionally intelligent. My personal transformation felt like someone turned the light on in a dark room. How else could I write this column? I have learnt to avoid giving clear direction because I didn’t want to come off as bossy. As you start your leadership journey, you must avoid these mistakes:

– Don’t indulge in your own perfectionism. Avoid breathing down on people’s necks when they are perfectly capable of doing a good enough job.

– Don’t leave people to their own devices and then criticising their work after the fact.

Share your expectations

As a new leader overseeing a team, with people who are new to you it is important you state your expectations for your team members very clearly and be ready to reiterate them. In my consulting role, most leaders I have worked with think their implicit expectations are obvious to everyone in the team, so when they aren’t met, it seems shoddy or obstinate.

The things you expect to be obvious to everyone simply are not. Your team members or employees will be coming from homes, cultures, educational systems, and generations that are different from yours, and you will need to make your standards clear. Let me share examples of things most managers think are obvious and their beliefs that people should:

– schedule time with you to review high stakes work and get feedback

– come to you for clarification about priorities

– try to see the bigger picture of how their work fits into the results of the whole department

– review their work to catch embarrassing errors and mistakes

– proof their work before sending it to you or to anyone else outside of your department

– escalate when they are overwhelmed and cannot complete all their work

– ask for help when they need it

– tell you when something is wrong

– be on time

– figure out the platforms and systems you use in your business

– dress appropriately for the business they are in

– take breaks and take proper care of themselves

The list appears to be a lot because it is. However, unless you tell people what matters most to you, they will waste their time trying to figure you out and they will get it wrong. You simply cannot expect people to read your mind.

Lead with values

If your company doesn’t have a strong onboarding programme, you will want to explain to your new DR what the business does, who it serves, and how it generates revenue and profit. You will want to share the company values if any exist—and if not, share your own leadership values.

If you have no idea what your values are, now is a good time to get some insight so you can share them with others. Read 4 Questions to Help Clarify Your Core Values to get started. It might be a good idea to have your new hire to do the same, so you can start a strong two-way communication about preferences and workstyles.

Scott Blanchard often shares the advice his boss gave him when he started his first job as a supervisor: “Remember that everything you do or say will end up being dinner table conversation tonight.” The fact that you even care enough to do a little due diligence on this is a good sign.

You might make some missteps, but if you own them, share your awareness of them, learn from them, and keep trying to do better (all examples of a strong locus of control and growth mindset, by the way) you will be okay.

Be kind. Be clear. Be consistent. Go forth and win hearts and minds.

Love, Madeleine

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