Set your manager New Year Resolutions now!
Becoming a manager for the first-time is an exciting and significant career milestone. It means your organization has instilled confidence in you as a subject matter expert and individual team player – so much so that they’re banking on your ability to scale your talents across a broader team.
One of the biggest mistakes first-time managers make is to emphasize delegation over team development. It’s an easy misstep that many people take due to lack of training in soft skills and leadership best practices. In fact, the Harvard Business Review found that most managers are a decade or more into their management career before receiving formal leadership coaching from their employer.
Fortunately, the Internet and technological advancements have democratized executive leadership coaching, bringing forth unlimited resources for young managers to proactively educate themselves and stay connected with their teams. Here are a few resolutions for first-time managers to keep in mind as we head into the New Year.
Practice team time management. Personal time management is challenging as is – studies have shown that “workload” is the No. 1 cause of workplace stress. As the manager of your team, you’re not only responsible for managing your own tasks, but also how those who report to you are managing their own.
We recently surveyed 5,000 employees across the U.S. and EMEA and found that “work/life balance” was the job-related driver most correlated to overall employee happiness – above team dynamics, office environment and – believe it or not – upper management. Frequent, informal check-ins can go a long way when it comes to ensuring team members are challenged without feeling overwhelmed.
Track team engagement in addition to output. As manager of your team, you’re responsible for promoting efficient output that ripples into business and/or organizational impact. Team efficiency is closely related to employee engagement, so managing how your team members are feeling on a regular basis and making necessary adjustments is an important aspect of being a manager.
As a manager, you should create avenues for both long and short-term engagement. In the long-term, work with each employee on individual career plans and goal setting. Use formalized review windows and check-ins to demonstrate your commitment over time. Moreover, infrequent check-ins in the form of a simple Slack message (e.g. “How are you feeling about Project XYZ? Is there anything you need from me?”) serve to reinforce your desire to keep employees happy and engaged on an ongoing basis.
Use EQ to tailor your management style. It has been said that in business, emotional intelligence (EQ) can be just as important if not more important than IQ. Managers with a high EQ know how to read the individual personalities of their team members and manage their own style to better fit the dynamics of the team.
One way to gather this information is to host ongoing conversations, both formally and informally, to understand what motivates your team members. Many HR teams have also begun to implement mandatory “personality” testing (a la Myers-Briggs or DiSC) to reveal behavioral differences. If your organization hosts such assessments, dig into what your employees’ profiles mean for your management style and adapt accordingly.
Exercise transparency. First time managers in particular can struggle with balancing established work habits with newly-minted positions of authority. Upon becoming a manager, you might feel as though you need to act a certain way – and you do. Managers are important role models within an organization.
Engendering trust will be one of the first hurdles you face as a manager. A study from the American Psychological Association recently found that a quarter of U.S. workers do not trust their managers, and only half of the respondents believed their employer is upfront and honest with them. Given this, it’s important to keep in mind that with a greater focus on professionalism should come a greater focus on transparency. Whenever possible, provide context into the ways in which an individual team member’s contributions manifest within the team and the broader company vision.
Be an active listener. Capturing team feedback is only as good as your ability to distill what you are hearing and turn those insights into action. Far too many managers rely on weekly “stand up” meetings to give employees’ a platform for providing feedback. The problem with these types of settings is that they can be overrun by dominant personalities, or worse, seen as an unnecessary time suck.
Good leaders know how to instill a culture of feedback and listening into the fiber of the team. Great leaders know how to take what they hear and – when it makes sense – use those insights to affect positive change. Reinforcing the value of feedback with both words and action show employees that their voice matters.
Give praise generously. Dale Carnegie famously wrote that the best leaders frequently give “honest, sincere appreciation.” Many first-time managers fall victim to thinking that delivering criticism or finding flaws is the main responsibility of the manager. Indeed, course-correcting inefficient behaviors or poor working habits is part of a manager’s credo – but more importantly, a manager’s job is to take an active and eager role in the development of each team member.
Be proactive in your own career development. Many organizations do not prioritize management training for mid-level managers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important at this stage of your career. In fact, becoming a more effective leader is as important to your own career as it is to the well-being of the company.
Be curious in your pursuit of becoming a stronger leader, and actively seek out ways to improve your craft. This could be as simple as picking up some literature or subscribing to a few magazines, or it could be as involved as asking your employer to undersign the cost of a training or seminar.
Find a management mentor. Of course, the best way to learn is by shadowing someone you admire. Consider senior leaders within your organization – or even outside of it – who inspire you to be a better manager and ask them to grab a brief cup of coffee. In your initial meeting, specify that you are seeking management guidance and demonstrate your commitment to learning. Odds are, they will be flattered by the gesture and eager to share their wisdom with you.