How can I be a good manager?
May 10, 2011 3:35 AM   Subscribe

Please help me become a good manager

I'm getting a promotion. I'm going to be a manager. Please help me do a good job.

Last year I got a promotion that took me from a midlevel creative job that featured some management to one that was more managerial. My new position is even more managerial than that. I'm officially a manager.

Please help me be a good one. My unit was made up primarily of young, eager people, and now I will be managing people older than me (with the potential for resentment in the mix).

Any advice? Any books I should read? Any common traps to avoid? I'm leaving out the stuff I'm good at/stuff I'm bad at, because, well, I want to hear everything without trying to preemptively shoot it down.
posted by lieberschnitzel to Work & Money (25 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Ask a Manager is a great resource.
posted by neushoorn at 3:50 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My current manager is the best one I ever had. The major reason why? Because he always asks me to do stuff rather than tells me. He treats me like a person who has been kind enough to help him out with things, and makes an effort to understand why I can't if I say I can't, rather than a minion to do his bidding.

He's awesome. The fact that you care enough to ask this question probably means you'll be awesome too :)
posted by greenish at 4:03 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't read management books, they're full of crap. Give experienced people clear and measurable targets then let them get on with it in their own way without butting in every five minutes - or at all. Good managers manage, brilliant managers play a lot of golf. If something goes wrong take responsibility and solve the problem rather than tossing someone else under the bus. Give the routine stuff to other people. Don't bullshit people. The officers in the Great War led their men over the top - don't tell anyone to do something you wouldn't do yourself. Put yourself in their shoes. Remember what your mother said - you've got two ears and one mouth for a reason. Never call a meeting that's not absolutely necessary and don't invite anyone who could be more productive elsewhere. Buy doughnuts for everyone on Friday. Watch 'The Office' - the proper one. Remember everyone's birthday. Remember that the secretary is the most important person in the office, not the manager. Don't be a twat.
posted by joannemullen at 4:06 AM on May 10, 2011 [18 favorites]

I used to have the world's greatest manager, and she was a Shit Umbrella.

I can't remember where I heard this analogy, but the idea is that managers are either Shit Fans or Shit Umbrellas. Shit Fans take nastiness--political BS, impossible deadlines, bad policies--and fan it out all over the people who report to them.

Shit Umbrellas, by contrast, know that their staff are valuable enough that they should be shielded from the BS from above. These managers block the BS from ever getting to their staff.

When I had my great manager, she never spread gossip to our level, never talked smack about her peers or supervisors, never passed impossible projects down to us, and was in other ways an excellent advocate for the people who reported to her. When she left, it became even clearer how much political crap she was keeping at her level so we could concentrate on being the creatives we were hired to be.

Be a Shit Umbrella.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:23 AM on May 10, 2011 [33 favorites]

Encourage them to resent you. Be unreasonable and demanding. Make them fear you.

Groups will inevitably find someone or something to hate, it's better if it's you and not the clients or the weird guy who sits in the corner. It gives them something to rally behind and encourages team bonding. "Isn't our boss a jerk? Yeah man, totally."

Fear is a powerful motivator. Feared leaders are highly successful at getting results. i.e. Steve Jobs. Punish failure mercilessly.

Be inconsistent and unfair and confusing. Reject good ideas brought to you in meetings only to demand that it, *your* idea, be implemented immediately on a completely unreasonable timeline in the next meeting.

If you are the "nice" manager that really knows how to "listen" people will bring you all their petty arguments and quibbles instead of resolving it themselves. The employees will walk all over you and get away with murder. If you are more concerned with being "liked" than having a highly motivated and productive team you are not a good manager.

That said, celebrate success extravagantly. But keep yourself removed from the celebration, it's for them, not you.

Lastly, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Anyway, that's just my theory. Personally, I'm a nice manager who lets my team get away with murder.
posted by j03 at 4:25 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't micro-manage. This is my number one piece of advice after suffering under some very nitpicky managers and flourishing under the managers who just told me what needed to be done and just let me get on with it. I know it can be hard relinquishing control of a process when you know how to do it well, but don't expect people to do it exactly the way you know. Don't get stuck in procedure. I am currently suffering under the management of someone who is stuck in procedure, and it's terrible for my sense of control over my work.

My number two is a little at odds with number one: it's know the job thoroughly. The deeper your understanding of what your people are meant to be doing, their respect for you will be higher and you will be in a better position to monitor how they are doing.

Check in periodically with people; give them clear targets and ask them how they are meeting them, and ask them how they think they can address problems.

Get to know your people. If you know, for example, that Person A is in the process of a divorce or some other complicated personal issue, you will know to cut them some slack, and they in turn will reward you with respect, gratitude and greater productivity, because they won't want to disappoint someone who has treated them well. (Speaking from experience.)

Depending on your personality, you can be nice or a bit stand-offish, but don't force yourself to be someone you're not just because you think it's what a manager should be. If you do decide to be the nice type, don't be TOO nice. No one should feel it's possible to take advantage of you.

But please don't be scary! I've had scary managers, and it's never really added greatly to my productivity. It has made me miserable though.

Sorry, this got very long. I've had many managers and this is a subject about which I feel strongly.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think the main thing you might lose sight of as a manager is that your power over people will make them want to please you, and worry about the consequences of the things you say concerning their reputation or job prospects. They will be much more sensitive to you than you to them. They will even obsess over the language you use.

The main practical thing you can do for your employees is to be absolutely clear about their job status as early as possible. You must also have formal ways to get feedback from them on any issue, because most people will be unwilling to criticize you or your policies to your face. As a manager you can make things happen just on the basis of sheer authority, so it's extremely easy to stagnate in your own pre-conceptions and lose the discipline that comes from actually having to argue things for reasons.
posted by leibniz at 4:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My big #1 tip on managing: don't take things personally. Nothing lasts, and everything passes by, so there's no use in hanging on to it -- especially mistakes and failures. The worst managers I've known are ones who retain everything on a personal level; the things that happened months ago on a completely different project are still affecting how they manage. That's not productive, and it doesn't allow for growth.

A corollary to #1 is to recognize the difference between the above and a 'bad apple'. There's some employees out there who only feel good when they've torn their fellow employees apart through gossip or sabotage -- in those cases, it is about 'you', whoever that 'you' is. Someone can be unhappy with their job because they feel overlooked, or didn't get enough sleep the night before, or because they feel unduly criticized for a mistake, but those are internal,manageable things. If someone is only happy at work by overly criticizing their fellow employees, by gossiping, by being rude behind the manager's back, they need to be taken care of right away...firing is probably the most successful way, but maybe they'll see reason and stop their shenanigans. Maybe. At the several places I've worked, firing the bad apple seemed to be the only thing to truly fix the problem, and that firing always happened way later than it should have.

I really like the Shit Umbrella metaphor above; I may have to use that.

I'm not completely sure how much of j03's is satire, but with a slight twist I have a thought on it: don't be the boss that people like, but be the boss that people can trust. I've had employees directly tell me they don't like me, but when there's a problem or they need help, they still come to me. I might not be much fun as a manager -- but I listen and I take appropriate action.

Another, which is less easy: figure out how to tell the difference between a problem and a mistake. Problems mean that a process needs to be change, or a customer's requirements are unreasonable, or something is broken. Mistakes mean an employee isn't doing their job right. If employees are too worried that they'll be accused of making a Mistake when it's actually a Problem, they'll be less likely to bring it to a manager's attention, and the Problem won't get fixed. If employees get too comfortable with making Mistakes and it being treated as a Problem, then they'll keep making Mistakes because their manager will just keep changing the process to tolerate more Mistakes. They can be very hard to tell apart.

One major weakness I have that I've been trying to work on is to give compliments where deserved. If you have to correct people more than you compliment, then either you're not complimenting enough, or your employees are incompetent. The last one is far less common than the first. Candy seems to be the universal 'thank you' reward that people understand. Big bags of M&Ms are cheap.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

There is a huge amount of information out there on management and leadership. Mine it. Think about it. Let it percolate. Work out what works for you and your team. Don't be in a hurry - it will take you years to get comfortable at this, especially as you've moved from a productive role to a non-productive role.

But my #1 advice is to get yourself a mentor - an experienced manager, preferably not your boss or someone you deal with on a day-to-day basis. Having someone you can confide in and bounce ideas off is completely invaluable.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 5:11 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best managers I have had treated me and other workers as adults and as professionals. It seems like treating an adult as an adult is a no-brainer but it is amazing how difficult that is for many people. Treating any worker like a child or hounding them like you are a schoolteacher rarely works. If there are serious problems with workers that is one thing but never create many problems where there are few.
posted by JJ86 at 5:52 AM on May 10, 2011

Just don't disappear. Resentment shows up in a vacuum. So does paranoia. So really, you just need to keep in touch with people, genuinely know what they're feeling (even if what they're feeling is negative) and don't lie to people about your own feelings. It's really annoying to have to execute a bullshit project because the VP's boss has some personal pet issue. It's even more annoying if your boss pretends there's nothing wrong with it. "Yeah, it's bullshit, but we'll do it and move on" is a sentence a lot more worthy of respect than "No, really! It's really important that we move to a stapling system that moves to triangle shaped staples. It's the wave of the future!"

Not that you have to blather on about The Man Getting You Down, but God, I hate people who won't give a passing nod to reality.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:59 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Help the people you manage develop and grow. Don't be afraid they are going to take your job away, ensure that someday one of them will have your job. You should be their biggest advocates. Recognize that everyone is motivated differently. Never, ever ask a subordinate to do something you wouldn't be comfortable doing yourself.
posted by Silvertree at 6:28 AM on May 10, 2011

Please and thank you goes a long way.

Sweets or fruit or maybe both also goes a long way.

Nthing the shit umbrella...

Be predictable in your requirements and your approach - people like to know where they stand. If your parameters change communicate that so everybody is clear what they need to do.

Work out who wants to be challenged and who wants to do the same thing every day all year long and allocate work accordingly.

But in allocating work make sure you don't take too much advantage of the good productive people in your team, either. They'll resent it eventually, unless they get a payrise our of it.

Appreciate the support staff - you need them a lot.

Try not to hire people when you have an inkling that they will not fit into your team...they won't fit and it will cause all sorts of problems that are more time consuming to resolve than interviewing a few more people.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:34 AM on May 10, 2011

Understand your team's talents and wishes and respect them. We have a very talented designer here and our bosses see him as a programmer. You know, he applied for the design job, not the programming job. I think it's disrespectful treating him this way.

Manage with integrity. To me that means no politics, no turning your backs on your worker, no 2 faced behavior (nice to some then flip out mean to others).

Always scold in private, praise in public.

Like the other poster said, don't be a twat. Remember, lower employees have power too to either get your fired for things at this job (I've seen it happened twice) or other jobs you want to move to.
posted by stormpooper at 6:41 AM on May 10, 2011

1. Don't hover.
2. Listen to your workers, and do what they say. They know their jobs; you don't.
3. Do you own a nicer, better car than your workers? Leave it at home at take your beater to work. They don't need a visible reminder of the gap in your pay scales.
4. Take everything told you by your "superiors" with a grain of salt, regarding your workers. YOU know your workers; the higher-ups don't.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:05 AM on May 10, 2011

Good advice about your subordinates, above, but now some advice about your superiors.

(1) Know the history and the lay of the land: what did executives see your predecessor having done right and wrong. What kind of managers at your level have been promoted, or fired, or demoted.

(2) Know what is expected of you, both in term of your group's performance, and your personal performance. The latter is critical. Some executives believe that middle managers should only manage, and will be put off if they see you with your sleeves rolled upon the shop floor -- seeing that as a sign of micro-management or lack of managerial deportment. By contrast, other executives believe strongly that managers need to continue to be strong individual contributors, need to continue to develop their professional, creative or artistic skills, etc. -- they want your team to be implementing your vision as much as you are drawing out vision from members of your team.

(3) Get the authority to fulfill your expectations. Your budget should be as broad as possible, confining you to line items as little as possible. Maximize your purchasing authority, and your ability to set and change wages. Whatever authority is possible concerning pricing of goods and services, or other operating outputs, you should ask for. You should control hiring and assignments within your team, and have as much power as possible concerning termination and discipline. (If your boss must retain the actual axe, he should wield as you recommend.)

It's the authority that will lead your team to have a proper posture to you. No one can or will love, fear, trust or respect (whatever you think works) a manager they know to be impotent.
posted by MattD at 7:20 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Never give advice or criticism without making it actionable.
posted by telegraph at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2011

Don't feel like your staff has to like you. My staff and I aren't all friends, but they know that I've always got their back, and that if they have a question, I will drop what I'm working on to help them out. Figure out how you manage best. I have weekly check-ins with my team to make sure that everything is being covered. Make sure you can trust your employees to do a good job- that makes everyone's life easier. Involve your employees whenever possible in decisions that directly affect them.

The best one piece of advice I ever got was that if something goes really well, it was all your team, if something goes really wrong, you take all the flack for it.
posted by Zophi at 8:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Holy crap! As someone who works as an underling, j03's advice is exactly what will make me not do my work up to level (and I'm having a hard time determining if that was just a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic response).

You know what motivates me?

Being a VALUED member of the staff. Knowing that my boss and other higher-ups who work with my boss appreciate and value my work makes me do my work well. I do my job, and I appreciate being noticed when I do something particularly exceptional. I appreciate that, in my job and in my situation, my boss will seek my opinion on department matters. But what also helps is knowing my boss has my back 100%.

Also, remember that you're the new guy. Do things differently from the last guy (I've had four bosses in my current job now and they all chose to handle certain matters differently, which I adapted to in no time) because you will anyway, but remember that these people working under you have been doing their jobs for awhile, too. Unless there are serious flaws or missteps that have been occurring under the previous watch, trust that the people under you know what they are doing.

The other thing that really helps? CLEAR AND CONCISE communication. Being really clear on directions or instruction and timelines is the most helpful thing as a manager you can do. And if there are changes to anything, informing everyone in a timely manner is incredibly important and helpful. Nothing devolves an office into craziness more than not knowing what the heck is going on with what you need to do, and it can impair or delay the work of your staff.
posted by zizzle at 10:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Manager Tools podcast. Start with the basics.
posted by fief at 10:18 AM on May 10, 2011

If there really is a chance for resentment, you can do two things: You can ignore it, and take the reigns as a manager with gusto, or you could consider speaking with the employees that might have some resentment to get their input. Keep it basic but important to draw out answers - 'What do you like about it here? What would you change? When did you see this department functioning most successfully? What do you need to be successful?'

Know your employees' job responsibilities, and use that to simultaneously protect them and hold them accountable. In other words, work to prevent 'scope creep' on their responsibilities as best as you can, while using their job responsibilities to keep them on task.

Set some goals for them - some small, and some large - and celebrate or recognize your employees once these are achieved.

Keep tabs on the pace of the office. If it's been a busy month (i.e. late hours, weekends, etc..) you had first and foremost better be a part of it, and more importantly, know when to ease up so they can stay refreshed, alert and happy.

Also, you will be great. You got promoted for a reason. Congrats!
posted by glaucon at 11:20 AM on May 10, 2011

Nthing "don't micromanage." Don't make people fill out unnecessary TPS reports or having constant "catchup" meetings "just to stay informed" every other week whether you need them or not.

As far as I'm concerned, the point of a boss is to (a) assign the work, and (b) be a resource in the event that I am having trouble doing the work. (Plus the shit umbrella thing.) A boss should be around when you need to access them, but they shouldn't be in your face all the time-- that's what delegation is for.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:39 PM on May 10, 2011

Response by poster: I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for responding. I look forward to being a non-micromanaging shit umbrella who isn't anyone's friend! Seriously, please keep the suggestions coming. And thank you for the kind words in the mix. They are appreciated.
posted by lieberschnitzel at 5:21 PM on May 10, 2011

One thing - I now find myself edging into the land of being one of the older people in the office and it is amazing how much stereotyping there can be about us older employees. Please don't assume older employees will automatically resent a younger manager, for example. I don't care if my manager is 25 or 65; I really just want someone who can do the job and, as everyone says above, is a non-micromanaging shit-umbrella. Also, despite being older and female and reminding some people of their mom, I am actually more tech savvy than some of the younger staff we have, and more than pull my own weight in the office. You would be surprised how many times I have to prove that to younger staff, managers and otherwise. Please judge us older employees fairly - based on our performance.
posted by gudrun at 6:34 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd offer the following:
Try not to worry too much HOW something gets done, as long as it gets done.
Having said that, keep your staff informed of the larger implications of their work-- how and why a project is important, this can help them assess strategy.

Ziggy500 has it right-- you need a good balance of detailed job knowledge and keeping out of the way.

Be approachable-- use the first five minutes you are at work to get to know your staff a little better. This is difficult for me because I naturally try to keep my work and private life very separate-- but a little chit-chat in the morning helps to gauge where folks are mentally and emotionally.

Be honest-- let them know that they are welcome to ask you about anything, but that there will be issues you can't discuss. No harm, no foul-- you'll just tell them you can't answer that question.

Almost all of my professional life has been supervising people 20 to 10 years older than I am. Respect their years of service, but be honest that you might occasionally ask them to try a new process, or take up a new responsibility. Be clear that it is not because they've been doing something wrong [unless it is], but that there might be a more effective way to get the job done and more fully support other people or the department goals.

Good luck, have fun, and congratulations on realizing the different skill set needed in your new position.
posted by calgirl at 10:19 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Guy gets on the MTA...   |   Bending SDL Passolo to my will Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.