Do you have advice or books to recommend for a first-time manager?
December 11, 2012 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Newbie Managerfilter: Do you have advice for a first-time manager?

I just started a new job at a major Fortune 100 company. It's a terrific role and a great opportunity. I'm very excited.

For the first time, I will be managing a team made up of at least four (possibly five) direct reports. I'm in my late-30's (downward slope toward 40) and all are at least 10 years younger than me. Previously, I've managed handfuls of interns and small teams of one or two, but this is the first time I'm responsible for growing a team, nurturing them, and helping them walk a career path.
  • What's the best book you would recommend for a first-time manager?
  • What's the best advice you ever received when you were a first-time manager?
posted by zooropa to Work & Money (17 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I asked this same question just over two years ago and received some good answers.
posted by otters walk among us at 3:13 PM on December 11, 2012

Remember this mantra: It's better to be respected than to be liked by your peers.

Other advice:

Be clear in your instructions.
Set deadlines.
Never berate an employee in front of others.
Listen. Then talk.
Don't talk over people.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:14 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Manager Tools. It will make you better at the management portion of your job (as opposed to the business portion) than 90% of managers. And it's free!
posted by bfranklin at 3:15 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ironically, I answered Otter's question back then and said: You don't have to be mean to get your point across. You don't have to be nice to be liked by your staff.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:16 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Start off just a little more strict than you feel you have to be. It's a hell of a lot easier to loosen than tighten.

Know what your employees want. Some people are motivated by the opportunity to be promoted and do more work. Some people are motivated by the opportunity to gain seniority in place and be the go-to people with lots of PTO because you know they get the job done. Some people like money more than titles. Some people like titles more than money.

Every good thing your team does is because of them; every bad thing is because of you. Don't just say it, believe it. Because it is absolutely true.
posted by Etrigan at 3:44 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find an ally in HR/Legal.

Edited to add: I guess that wasn't very helpful, was it? As an employment lawyer, I find that managers could better help the company if they had someone in HR/Legal they could trust and run things by in advance of saying or doing things that they aren't sure of or haven't experienced yet. Employee comes to you with a question about benefits? If you can help steer them to someone USEFUL in HR, that's a great solution. Need to fill out a review but you're conflicted? Have someone in HR you can run it by.

(It's possible that HR doesn't have any of these people, but it doesn't hurt to look).
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:49 PM on December 11, 2012

The key thing that differentiates the great managers I've had (most of them!) from the not-so-good/terrible ones is that the great ones consistently gave clear instructions and positive reinforcement.

One very inexperienced manager I had rarely explained what he wanted or gave positive feedback when things went well (90% of the time), but was very quick to jump on me when anything went wrong, and this led to a horribly negative working environment where I felt undervalued and unhappy. This could probably have been remedied very easily (& I probably took it more personally than I should have), but as it stood, I spent most of my time trying to stay out of the way rather than working enthusiastically.
posted by littlegreen at 3:50 PM on December 11, 2012

I really like Rands in Repose for management advice; and I think most of what he advises works even if you don't manage programmers (I manage geeks though, so YMMV). His book is called "Managing Humans" and is excellent.

I also strongly recommend the "No Asshole Rule."

Some things that I use/say all of the time as a manager of 1.5 years, none of which are original, attributed where I remember where they came from (aka the best advice I received):

1) One of the big things Rands advises is a sacred one-on-one meeting with your direct reports every week. I have found this to be essential to build relationships, strengthen communication, and help small issues stay small issues. It has even helped solve big issues. And my notebook of information from the year of one-on-ones makes writing reviews much, much easier.

2) Praise in public, criticize in private. And praise as often as possible--if you can "catch someone being good" that goes a lot further than scolding.(a mentor)

3) Unless there are glaring, serious impediments to productivity, wait 3 months before you say anything about changing anything, 6 months before you change anything, and a year before you change anything big. This is so that you get a chance to understand the culture and so you understand WHY things are the way they are. Once you start making changes, don't change things without understanding why they were the way they were before. (a mentor)

4) "Assume positive intentions. And its corollary: Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to ignorance. When confronted with a situation that seems ridiculous or outrageous to you, before jumping down someone's throat, ask "why" the person chose to do whatever it is. Sometimes there is actually a logical, reasonable answer.

5) When you are really, really angry with someone, wait 24 hours, if possible, before speaking privately with him/her about the issue. You may have to take immediate action to resolve the issue, but cool off before discussing it with the party or parties involved." (From an excellent article about advice to new principals)

6) Customize your management style to each direct report. I have one direct report who point blank asked me to micromanage him and another who I just occasionally bring in from orbit so that we're on the same page about what he's doing. (my boss)

7) Have a mentor outside your organization who you can run stuff past when you need a different perspective. (my dad)

8) If people are doing what they love every day, they don't mind doing the stuff they don't love as much and they will be loyal and thrive. Try and make sure people can do what they love as much as possible. (a mentor and the head of an organization I admire)

9) Plan your vacation. On days when it's all too much, knowing that you have an escape planned helps (and actually take your vacation--you do no one any good as a burnout). (my dad)

10) Remember that it is healthier to work to live than to live to work and encourage that in your employees if your workplace culture allows it. Real life comes first. (an old mentor and an old boss)

11) Befriend HR and other people you will need in the building BEFORE you need them. (building administrative assistant--they know all)

12) Remember that everything you do will now be seen reflected in your title and as a reflection of your boss. You no longer speak just as Joe Coworker. Ever. (my dad)

13) Embrace the message of this comic. You will encounter more people now who don't know things that you think are common sense. You need to really, truly believe they're not common sense.

Hope that helps. You're going to be great.
posted by eleanna at 3:57 PM on December 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

My go-to suggestion for leadership questions is the book Small Unit Leadership by Dandridge M. Malone. Yes it focuses on military leadership, but the same techniques apply to any situation where one is called upon to lead.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:21 PM on December 11, 2012

Like the post above, I'll recommend a book - Leadership the Outward Bound Way.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2012

Fire people when they need to be fired. Bad apples rot a team.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:50 PM on December 11, 2012

I'm also a newbie manager (new to the org with a team who have been around much longer than I) and eleanna's advice is all awesome.

Re: Weekly one-on-ones: I'm finding it really helpful to follow the following format:
- [congratulate on a genuinely good thing report did last week]
- Any headaches left over from last week?
- Tell me what's on your radar for this week.
- [Adjust tasks & priorities as necessary]
- Any red flags or headaches coming up?
- Is there anything you need from me? Outside resources I should look to bring in?
It takes less than 15 minutes, but is helpful both for me to hear about what they think they should be working on, but also how they think about what they're working on. They should do most of the talking. I take notes and only speak up only to praise or correct a misunderstanding.

That XKCD strip eleanna linked is gold and SO. HARD. to keep in mind sometimes. (Definitely my own biggest weakness and something I'm working hard on.) And yes, change is incredibly slow. Organizational rate of change is nearly on par with geological time.

And to that end, seconding bottlebrushtree about firing people: it's a hard decision, but sometimes necessary. While wanting to mentor people and help them grow isn't a waste of time, there is a point when it gets in the way of the work. It's kind of like being in a bad romantic relationship: keeping them there is just keeping them from finding a better fit elsewhere. And while of course once in a while you come across an oblivious person, most people who are having performance issues and aren't getting any better at their job know it, but are too scared or unable to leave. When you eventually come up against this, you can't have enough documentation: take notes at every meeting or after a conversation; follow up in email for key deliverables/deadlines, and keep your own record of these things. Copy relevant email trails.

Finally, be quick to admit your own mistakes and apologize for them, publicly when necessary.
posted by smirkette at 8:03 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a manager, your job by and large is no longer the doing of things, it's helping the things get done. Your job is to be a shield--protect your team from the rest of the company's bullshit--and to be a sword--cut through the bullshit and get them what they need to get the job done--not to be one of the guys on the line (literal or metaphorical). One of the best examples I know is: Sure, you may be able to just do it yourself faster than you could show someone, but the showing someone how to do it is the major part of your job, and will also give you more time to fight for your team.

Second thing: Clear expectations and deliverables as much as possible.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:04 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm fortunate that the one truly great boss I had was also my mentor.

More than any other boss I've ever worked for, he always made sure to give the credit to the people who earned it, even when he was talking to his own boss (in this case, our board.) Your job is to manage people; great employees are not a threat, they are a reflection of you. I started as the assistant and left as the vice president. I made him look good, and he gave me every possible chance to do it.

Also, the fish stinks from the head down.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:25 PM on December 11, 2012

Manager Tools podcasts- start with the basics linked here.
posted by JaneL at 1:24 AM on December 12, 2012

Instead of The No Asshole Rule (which is good), I would recommend Good Boss, Bad Boss by the same author.

I also recommend The Servant, but be aware that (in my opinion) it comes with a Christian slant. I found it somewhat disconcerting, but the concepts still valuable.
posted by elmay at 3:26 AM on December 12, 2012

In addition to being a shield, a good manager is also a filter. He or she does NOT pass down every bit of crazy and stress that is happening above. A manager tells the team what they need to know in generous helpings (no withholding information), but doesn't pass on either their own stress or the stress above. I've had managers who were emotional chameleons - they have a stressful meeting with their boss and suddenly, everything is on fire. This happens especially often when the manager isn't sure if their real priorities, so they're are easily swayed by outside influences. It is very stressful for staff if it feels like tasks or timelines are changing all of the time.

Good managers also makes sure that when they negotiate deadlines or assignments with other business units, they are not over-committing their teams. They push back when necessary to ensure that the more important work has time to get done.

They also foster strong connections around the organization so they know what's coming and can reach out to important people if necessary. I've worked for large-ish, disorganized/ dysfunctional organizations where good managers were able to secure resources and keep their staff informed and bad ones were left in the dark. If that sounds anything like where you'll be working, start networking hard. Even if it doesn't, playing the political game will help your staff get the recognition they deserve and the resources they neet.
posted by oryelle at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

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