"I'm not like a regular boss, I'm a cool boss." New manager seeks tips!
January 21, 2014 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I need some tips on how to be a good manager, but not so much the kind of tips I can find on various lists when I google it, i.e. "Give results oriented feedback." I am not great at socializing outside of work-related exchanges and I am an introvert. How can I inspire my team and make them like me and get the most out of them?

I am starting a new job as a manager at a new office this week and I am looking for some tips on how to be a good manager. I have managed people before, but I was generally with them from the beginning or hired them. This is a completely new situation where I will have a team in place already when I get there. The team members will have been there for a year or more, although I will also end up hiring a couple people, it seems.

I'm especially interested in tips for managing well in the social sense. I am aware and believe firmly in setting clear expectations, correcting mistakes immediately but also pointing out good work, etc. -- that's fine. But I don't know socially what I should do to make them feel comfortable or inspired, or just plain make them like me. I'm wondering how to balance getting to know them as employees and getting to know the office vs. getting to know them as people and setting a friendly tone. I want to figure out early what they think works at the office, what they think needs improving, what they want to be doing more of, what they don't don't, etc. so I can get the best out of them and make my department work better. And I want them to like me and see me as a good boss.

I am an introvert and I tend to avoid socializing with my co-workers outside of the office. Should I take each of my team members (about five) to lunch one-on-one and talk to them about work, or take them each to lunch and just have a friendly getting-to-know-you conversation, or not do the one-on-one lunches at all? Should I take them out as a group? What should I do early in the first couple weeks to connect with them?

Going forward, should I be meeting with them regularly one-on-one? I don't think they are used to having daily meetings, but I would like to implement morning meetings just to make sure we know what's going on for the day and as a built-in opportunity to discuss anything that's going on. I think people work better when they feel they are part of what is going on, and I know I worked in companies where I never knew what the company or my boss was doing and I hated it. Would that be redundant with carving out one-on-one time? And if I do meet with them, how often should I do it?

What else do people recommend? I want the lines of communication open, I want me to connect with them and them to connect with me, and so on, but I don't want to come across as being overbearing or too intense in anyway either. I just want them to feel like I am supportive, helping them do better and I want them to like me. I've met my team and I know some people in the company and I think they are really great -- I don't think I need to be a stern boss in anyway or change things a lot; it's just about helping them be even better and making sure I can fit in seamlessly and guide them along the path they are already on.

Sorry this was so long. Thanks for any help.
posted by AppleTurnover to Work & Money (32 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
What I appreciate most in a manager is clear expectations. What do you need me to do and when do you need it? And minimal waffling.

If you can pull that off, I will love you as my manager. Coolness not required.
posted by Kriesa at 12:38 PM on January 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

introvert boss for 14 years here

1 trust your people
2. make sure to give good feedback
3. listen
4. know what the hell is going on
5. know that in all systems there is some element of inefficiencies because people are basically inefficient
6. do not ever tolerate racism/sexism/agism/ablisim/etc
7. realize you are not your employees friend, do not hang out at the bar with them and if you end up in a social situation with them stay for a polite while then exit.
8. follow on to that, while you absolutely need to be fair and understanding, you also will have to fire someone because of good reasons from time to time. Most times this will come after a long documented chain of events, sometimes it has to happen quickly. Make sure you have the nerve to do so, and do it as professionally and quickly as able.
9. be as tactful as you can while also being honest. people too often equate rudeness with honesty
10 allow for variation of experience with your employees
11 humor
12 do your fair share
13 follow through with whatever you promise to do
14 delegate like hell, even things that may be nominally outside of your employees usual job.
posted by edgeways at 12:40 PM on January 21, 2014 [20 favorites]

You will definitely be a good boss because your head is already in the right place. Yay!

Every-day meetings seem waaay overkill to me. I have a once-weekly meeting with the intern I supervise at work, and my boss does the same with me. Twice-weekly meetings are probably fine, but not every day; you're taking away from the time when they could be working at that point in my opinion. But we can communicate other needs by email. It's also nice to have full team meetings at least once or twice a month and just catch up on what everyone is working on and how it all fits together.

You don't need to socialize with them outside work all the time, and definitely not one on one, but a happy hour now and then with the whole team wouldn't hurt. I like the lunches during the first week idea. I think if you also relate to them as human beings they will feel comfortable around you - for instance, at your meetings, just asking them how they're doing and if they had a good weekend, etc.

Other things I like: be a good delegator and don't get wrapped up in making sure everyone's work is exactly the way you would personally have done it - just make sure what they are doing is quality work, and then sign off on it. Another part of this is making it clear who has which tasks so there isn't too much overlap.

Welcome their feedback, let them ask you questions, be constructive if you have to give criticism, and tell them if anything is going on at the administrative level that they should know about. Open dialogue across workplace is so awesome and makes me happy.

On preview, totally agree with Kriesa's comment - clear expectations, yes.
posted by capricorn at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2014

What a loaded question. As a worker who preceded the new manager I would want any new manager to lay back for a while. Listen to how we work. Watch and learn the ebb and flow of the office. Don't mess with my job unless it is seriously messed up. Coming in with grand ideas to change things is an easy ticket to resentment. Engage each person individually and ask them what they do, what they need to get the job done etc. Then after a week or two have a group meeting and listen some more. Hear us out on what we think could be done better. Then challenge us to make things better. Give us the tools to do it and as mentioned above don't waffle. Be consistent.
posted by Gungho at 12:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

Make a list (now and continually) of all of the annoying, grunt-work, unpleasant tasks that anyone working under you will have to do. Is there a way for you to do them instead or work with your employees on them sometimes? Seeing the boss working hard and doing unpleasant stuff can work wonders in gaining their respect.

Also, if you are going to do any sort of after work happy hour things with the staff, make sure that it's either explicitly optional or includes work-funded food. It's never cool to make staff spend money that they may not have on "social" events that feel mandatory.
posted by cheerwine at 12:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

To be a success as a manager, you have to learn to take a step back. The best way to ingratiate yourself at first is to keep your mouth shut, watch, and listen - it sounds like you will have experienced people working for you, so keep an eye on them for a while and observe how they do what they do. That applies both to the work tasks and the social-interaction part; don't go in guns blazing, saying I WANT YOU TO LIKE ME PLEASE LIKE ME. Act like you've got a lot to learn and you'll do well.

That said, though, I think taking your group out to lunch in the first couple weeks is a good idea - by then, since you will have watched them work and interact, you'll have a decent idea of how to talk to them, and you can use the lunch to help confirm your thoughts, and also let them know you're an OK person to reach out to.

As a manager, you have to keep a degree of distance between you and your charges; you're not there to be their friend, you are there to make sure they do good work. Don't micromanage, don't overcorrect, and don't try to be buddies; be collegial, but that's about as far as it needs to go.

Most importantly, have their backs. Let them know you'll fight for them if need be, and that you'll get them what they need to do their jobs well, and that will do more than any other thing you can do to prove you'll be a good boss.
posted by pdb at 12:45 PM on January 21, 2014

An ex of mine had a few white collar middle management jobs before he quit to go to grad school recently. He was really good at his job and his employees loved him. One person even cried when he left the company.

We talked about it a couple times and he told me the things he does...unfortunately I only remember a couple of them off the top of my head, but here goes:

-Within the confines of his workplace's dress code, he always dressed just a skosh more professionally than his employees. Not an order of magnitude nicer, just things like slacks instead of khakis and button ups instead of polos.

-As with the dress code, he held himself to a much higher standard of behavior than to what he held his employees. He got there earlier than they did and left either at the same time or after, he NEVER engaged in any office gossip, he never used bad language. (He did, once, during a really stressful day, and later after everything calmed down he apologized one on one to everyone who had been present.)

-He didn't try to be friends with any of his employees. He was always friendly, but made sure that the employees had their own space and he had his own space. He only went to happy hour type events with them when he was expressly invited by several people on his team. He wanted them to feel like their breaks and downtime were their own without having to be all buddy buddy awkward with the boss.

-He owned his team's problems and never tried to pass the buck. If someone in his department was slipping, it was his fault for not addressing it sooner. He apologized when appropriate.

-He tried to check in with each employee 3-5 times a day. Nothing formal, not a meeting, just some sort of face to face interaction with each person 3-5 times a day. Drop by to ask for an update on x or to say good job with y or whatever. He'd ask someone to explain how they were doing some particular part of their job if something came up that he didn't understand, and then thoughtfully listened to their process. He made himself both available and approachable. This made it easier for his employees to discuss any problems with him as they happened before they even really became problems rather than letting things fester. (I should note that he's pretty introverted so this didn't come naturally to him, it was just something he decided he needed to do to make his office environment what he wanted it to be.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:46 PM on January 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

When people say they like the idea of lunches with my team, is it as a group, or one-on-one lunches?

It may also be relevant for me to point out that this is a start-up style office situation. I will actually be sitting with my team together, so it's not like I need to make a point of leaving my cushy office and checking on the underlings. We'll all be in a pod together, essentially, and I will just be in charge of it, which is a department. So I imagine I will get to know them well and won't need to make a point of having face-time with all of them. One-on-one time with them outside of the earshot of the rest of the department would need to be something I implement.

posted by AppleTurnover at 12:52 PM on January 21, 2014

I would say a group lunch. And all of the comments about being a bit separate are even more important in a start-up style office; you'll need to make sure you don't act like you're one of them, because in a very fundamentally important way, you're not. Don't participate in the usual office banter, things like that. That doesn't mean you have to be aloof or standoffish; just know that you can't be "one of the guys/girls" when it comes to "normal" office stuff, even though it's going to be super-tempting in that close of proximity.
posted by pdb at 12:55 PM on January 21, 2014

If you're managing programmers, for the love of god, don't interrupt us. I'm all for group lunches and the like, that's a great way to break the ice, but don't just meander around trying to talk to us while we're working. I had a manager who would come up to me, say, "Whatcha workin' on?" in a friendly, folksy way, and bam. Half an hour wasted, even if he didn't stay to chat (which he usually did).
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:10 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in to say

1) group lunch to meet the team (1:1 is done more at the executive level so I've seen)
2) lay low for a while (month or more), get a feel for the office, the politics, the people in your specific group
3) in that month, have your regular 1:1 meetings to get to know people's views of the office, their aspirations and what they want to change, as well as general updates on their projects.
4) when enough time has passed then you can start to change the department

In addition - be honest, own up to your mistakes, but don't be sucking up and asking for their approval either (i.e. come with confidence). Don't see them as stepping stones for Your career; look for ways to grow them as people and as employees. Give them space and trust their judgment. Have their back.

Finally cus you asked so nicely, I will share my favorite tidbit: my favorite boss (having known us a while) did a questionnaire on how we liked to be rewarded at work. It was about 30 items and we had to pick our top 10. It was things like extra time off, a plaque, a special lunch, more rewarding projects, donation to our favorite charity, overtime pay etc etc. I picked my favorites, including "extra time off." One year later I was having a hard time with a project and bitching about it. My boss said "I'll tell you what. If you get it done early you can bugger off for the rest of the day on Friday." I was like Oh Hellz Yeah and I worked hard and got it done quickly... then I thought wait a minute. I realized he'd just used one of his motivating tactics on me but who cares I got Friday off bitches!!!

^^ Do not use this one as a new boss. It will come across as manipulative and condescending. Wait 1 year before doing that one.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:12 PM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

In the situation you're talking about, I'd do a group lunch, but I'd do it after I'd been there a few weeks and had more of a feel for how things work and the group dynamic of the people you are working with.

Keep yourself above gossip, and as suggested try and dress a smidge nicer than the people you are supervising if you can. The psychology of that is not to be underestimated.

It's way to easy in a shared "pod" environment for the boss be thought of as one of the guys on and while it's nice to be liked as a supervisor/boss it's better for you and the people who work under you for you to be respected because you are acting like a fair and reasonable boss.

If you are working in close proximity a few minute long stand up meeting every morning say a half hour or hour after everyone has gotten in, had coffee, caught up on emails and know where there day is headed is not a bad idea if that's how you like to work. Keep it short and sharp, bam what are you doing? Do you need so and so's report for that? How's that report going so and so. Great and next what are you doing? See me at 3 I have some more info on such and such you'll need to review, Bam next person. It should be new info every time, if everyone is reporting the same thing very day then you don't need daily meetings, this could also be accomplished by you going around and checking in with everyone at their desk every morning and checking in for a few minutes as you say you are in the same area as them.
posted by wwax at 1:13 PM on January 21, 2014

The point of keeping a professional distance in any working environment is the bit about being in a position where you will likely have to earn your $ and deal with unpleasant employee issues. If you are their friend this is going to be 10 billion times harder. If you are the friend of one or two of them and not all of them it can easily be seen as unequal treatment 9real or imagined) and be poison to the team dynamics.
posted by edgeways at 1:15 PM on January 21, 2014

There's a lot of really good advice here already.

The keys points for me are:
1) Don't change things for the sake of change, especially if you have experienced people who know their jobs and are good at them.

2) Trust people. Don't micromanage. If they tell you they were sick or late for a valid reason, believe them unless you have a VERY VERY SOLID reason not to. They are adults and need to be treated that way.

3) Be responsible. Don't pass the buck, if you're the boss it's your responsibility. If someone from outside the department comes in in attack mode, make sure they talk to you and not directly to your people.

4) Set expectations. Yes yes yes! A lot of times these conversations can be a bit awkward to have. But I have never once regretted having a frank conversation up front, even if it was slightly awkward. And I can't count how many times I've regretted *not* having one and assuming the person and I would just naturally "get" each other.

If you can do those things, the more superficial stuff like that how you dress and whether you "make eye contact" won't matter.

As for the check-in meetings, I have had had two bosses who did them weekly. With the first, who was my favorite boss ever, we would talk about work for about 3 minutes and, if there were no major issues, spend the rest of the time discussing football. With my current boss, these meetings are very awkward, because he's very earnest about wanting to make sure I'm "happy." But the reality is he is not someone I can comfortably be frank with, so I just try to say what he wants to hear and get out asap. If you don't have trust and mutual respect outside of meetings, no amount of meetings is going to make it appear.

Personally I'd be happier with once every two weeks, once a month, or "never unless there's an issue."
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:16 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

to follow on to what wwax said about stand up meetings - if you do decide to do them, they should be guided by three questions for each person:

1. What did you accomplish yesterday?
2. What do you hope to accomplish today?
3. What is getting in your way of accomplishing that today?

The third question is where you earn your manager paycheck, because that's where people tell you where you might be able to help them. These meetings should be no more than 10-15 minutes or so, and they can be really helpful if things are moving fast enough to warrant different answers to #1 every day.
posted by pdb at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

" And I want them to like me and see me as a good boss."
These two expectations can be mutually exclusive. You can be a good boss of people who don't necessarily want to be your friends.
For me, my first rule as a boss was "Never ask someone to do something I wouldn't do myself."
And my second was "By their deeds, you shall know them." Meaning judge people by their actions, not their words. You'll be able to just observe how they work, together and individually, at first, and a group lunch will show your some dynamics that might not be apparent in a work setting--like who's the big talker, who's the joke teller, who hangs back, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 1:27 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My (lady) boss just called me cute during a concall. Don't do that.
posted by mochapickle at 1:28 PM on January 21, 2014

to follow on to what wwax said about stand up meetings - if you do decide to do them, they should be guided by three questions for each person

And if there is someone on the team who tries to get argumentative with other team members during these standups, or goes on and on at great length, or otherwise tortures the rest of the team, do something about that. We had "fifteen minute standups" for a while that turned into hourlong painfests, because the manager wouldn't step in and stop the two argumentative team members from going at each other.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:29 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Promote a culture of promotion. Want to be the best boss possible? Reach slightly outside your comfort zone and promote and attribute the successes of your employees.

And in a different meaning of the same phrase - work on providing employees the skills to not have to work for you. If you are known as the manager who helps people succeed, that will return tenfold to you. I'm not saying you want everybody posting out of your department, but you want to make sure that your staff are getting exposure to new skills, and other parts of the company, such that they have options. Remember, one of the best compliments an employee can give you is gaining the skills and confidence to take another job but then decide they would still rather work for you. Also, you will win allies in other departments.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2014

Know your limits. Can you fire people? Can you hire people? Can you reward people with money, time off, anything else? Also, know who else can do these things -- even if you can, can anyone else also do them? Learn the processes in doing all these things. Corollary to this is to know who can fire and reward you.

Tell people what you want. Do it formally, in writing, one on one. Does your company have a performance review process? If so, adhere to it (and do it more often than you're required to); if not, set one up. Review your expectations with them regularly. Corollary to this is to make your boss do this for you.

Praise in public, punish in private. Always always always. Don't even jokingly rag on one of your subordinates when anyone else can hear you, even if it's that kind of office environment. No one will ever notice that you don't give people shit.

Take no credit, take all the blame. The latter of those is because it is your fault if something didn't happen. Internalize that. This does not mean that you cannot be mad at someone for fucking something up, but only in private (see above).

Solve the problem first. I refer to this as "Why vs. how" -- figuring out why something went wrong means you're looking to blame someone; figuring out how something went wrong means you're looking for how to correct it, or at least to avoid it going wrong next time. Cultivate a workspace where people know that they should be coming to you with a problem and their idea for a solution.

Write your processes. Imagine what you would want to know from Day One -- have that on hand so if you're out of the office for a week, your team won't lose a step.

Have a deputy. Even if it's not official, there will be someone on that team who's in charge when you're not around. Keep that person on your side. Try to make it official. Don't pick that person until you've had the chance to see who does it naturally. Meet with that person every now and then. Your deputy isn't your spy, but he or she can still be a good source of information that other people don't want to tell you.

Never complain down. Is your boss making you do something stupid? Too bad. He or she is the boss, and you do it. And don't tell your people that it's someone else's stupid idea -- you argue it with your boss (in private) and then the idea is yours. (One slight exception -- that deputy you figured out from the last paragraph? You can tell that person, in one of your regular meetings, if you know that he or she won't spread it around. But try not to do this.)

Have an outside friend. Spouse, significant other, whatever -- have someone that you can complain to "off campus" so you don't have to keep swallowing it.

Start off a little harsher than you're comfortable with. It's a lot easier to get nicer than to get meaner.

Don't have a meeting without a purpose. "Synchronizing" is a good purpose for once a week, not once a day. Less if you're actually working in the same place with these people every day.

Meetings are for everyone. If you're just talking to one person, take it off line and move the meeting along. If two people are just talking to each other, tell them to take it off line and move the meeting along.

Minimize preparation. Don't make people create or update slides for meetings -- if they need to do that, why not just have them email their slides to you, then you get back to them individually with your questions?
posted by Etrigan at 1:55 PM on January 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

My biggest learning was to manage through influence, not fear. Make people want to work for you, not fear to work for you.
posted by lstanley at 1:58 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think there are many ways for checking in (group lunches, individual lunches, informal drive-bus as long as they're not too long/frequent, etc.), and I imagine you will feel this out as you go. Not everyone enjoys chitchatting about non-work stuff. I'm actually super-duper extroverted, and I most appreciate meetings where we have a brief how-was-your-weekend 3 minutes, then dive right into work talk.

I think it's more important that you can cultivate that air of "I am knowledgeable, I am approachable, I have time for you, I want to inspire you to do your best work." Sounds like you are well on your way there!

Here's a tiny tip in the social realm:

The #1 thing that I treasure about my boss is that he's remarkably unflappable. When a curve ball comes, he acknowledges it, but doesn't waste any time complaining, panicking, or playing the blame game. Instead, he notes the learning for the future, redirects the plan immediately, and keeps moving. I can't tell you how valuable this approach is - keeps me calm, focused, and happy despite the many ups and downs of working at a really fast-paced company. As an employee, it helps me feel safe, relaxed, and supported. I know that I'm allowed to take risks, and occasionally fail--and then count on his help for a solution.
posted by red_rabbit at 2:42 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

-- separate emotion from your actions; you can still feel it, but don't have an unreasonable reaction to something just because it made you angrier than the time somebody else did the same thing but you were in a better mood. This also goes for 'favorites' in the office: if you're buddies with some people and not others, make sure you're not providing an imbalanced positive reaction in the other direction.

--most offices love edible things. Food makes good rewards. A bag of Halloween-sized candy in the desk drawer, handed out for minor triumphs, goes a long way.

--The manager is 'big picture': don't get involved in little details unless they're affecting the big picture, employees are hired to take care of details.

--If expectations or rules change, tell everyone whom the change affects right away. Don't wait for them to notice, otherwise then you'll not only have to explain the change, but also why the change they didn't know about is there in the first place. I have worked for way too many people who manage this way, only waiting until after people notice to explain problems, to avoid the questions and complaints. Man up and do it right away.

--someone explained the 'shit umbrella' analogy somewhere, possibly even here on AskMe: when it comes to customers, upper management, shareholders, etc., your job is to prevent their complaints, changes, unreasonable demands and illogical responses from affecting your employees directly. You're the 'shit umbrella' that shields those under your watch from the shit fountain, making sure your employees are doing the best jobs they can, with the 'big picture' as the goal, without having to deal with a customer's sudden change of heart at the last minute.

--Regarding the social aspect: things are more likely to be quiet if everything is going well; don't feel like, if nobody makes an effort every day, that it's a sign of something wrong -- quite the opposite, especially if you're doing many of the things people are suggesting. Let things happen organically, like not hiding in your office all day, go get a glass of water from the break room or check the supplies in the bathroom or get paper from the copy room for all the printers: if you're participating, then nobody has to seek you out, it'll just happen.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some things that have worked for me:

- part of your job as the boss is to link "what my people do every day" to "what the company wants to achieve". You need to help create a clear line-of-sight between tasks and the company's vision/mission. If you can't do this, you team will slip quickly into the "why do we even bother no-one appreciates us" mindset and it's really hard to get them out of that.

- celebrate and acknowledge. I used to hold a team meeting once a week, and we always started off with a sharing session around "Milestones, achievements and lessons learnt" to acknowledge the little victories of the week, and to share things that had or hadn't worked. And go out for lunch after each major milestone.

- Sometimes the most effective way to exercise power is to give it away. This means you delegate well, you don't chair the team meeting, and you create an expectation that people come to you with solutions or options, not just problems.

- Build your people rather than defending your job. You'll know you're being a good manager if you unexpectedly fall sick and your team knows what needs to get done, knows who needs to do it, and gets on with it in your absence. One way to do this is to delegate all the crappy admin tasks to your team and call them "development opportunities". Does someone need experience in creating and managing budgets, for example?

- Set expectations, as a group, about how you interact with those outside your team. For example, "We always call people before we send them email requests, we explain why we want something, rather than demanding it, and we always return calls within 24 hours". This helps build a team culture.
posted by girlgenius at 2:51 PM on January 21, 2014

Know what is expected of you by your boss, both as a supervisor and as an individual contributor. Think of yourself more as your boss's subordinate, with a mission to achieve and a bonus to earn, than as some kind of abstract leader or authority figure, which is terrible posture from which to do anything. (By the way, knowing your individual contributor responsibilities is absolutely essential: nothing destroys a middle manager more quickly than being seen as an idle boss when she or he has personal work that is undone or shifted to someone else.)

As several people remarked, know what your power is, both on paper and in practice. What's your real authority to hire, fire, (re)assign duties and roles, award bonuses, grant raises, arrange or stymie transfers? As a subset of this question, know what power your predecessor had, and what s/he actually exercised. If you are going to have a bigger stick, or swing the same stick harder, you need to approach your first weeks and months with care.

Have a shared, verbalized understanding of job responsibilities, career goals (or absence thereof) and personal work-life balance priorities for each of your team members. You don't need it overnight, but you should have it fairly quickly.

If your team is big enough, there is someone who has the potential to be the best colleague you've ever had, and eventually the best and most supportive boss; there is someone who is failing or stalled out whose career you can save; there is someone who is a bad fit and needs to go for his own benefit and the team's, and there is someone who is just plain bad, and needs to become someone else's problem. Find each of these people and do what needs to be done.
posted by MattD at 3:30 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

New managers typically go through two big lightbulb moments. Some take longer than others, some never make it.

The first one is the "I am not just another technician with more collateral duties" realization. Being the boss is a different job. Do not step in and work beside them except in dire emergencies. You can't be an effective second checker of your own work. You need the luxury of being able to look at the situation from the outside, looking for improvement opportunities and thinking ahead. You have personnel/HR type stuff to do which is your primary job, not an extra task. If you need to hire another worker, hire another worker; it's not you. I know that feels like you think you're some high-and-mighty fraud at first, but you get used to it, and the workers prefer it that way.

The second is, "I am not the expert any more. They are." Don't let them ask you what they should do. Your answer to that is, "What do you want to do?" Do not let a situation develop where they are complaining about your stupid plan. They present the plan, you try to poke holes in it if there are any, and when it's good, you say "Ok, do that." It's not "I want to do X this way now," it's "What if we did X this way, would that help [thing] any?" Listen to the answer. You will probably learn something (or re-learn something you've forgotten) on a regular basis. Again, they are the experts, you are just their workload leveler, planner, and rep to the rest of the company. It should be rare that you have to enforce your will on people that don't want it, and by the time it comes to that they should at least be able to see and understand your side, even if they disagree.
posted by ctmf at 3:56 PM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm an introvert who's now a manager. I've spent a lot of time finding good sources of information on how to work with people and "road testing" the ideas in my own work. As it happens, I've just posted a video summarising what I've learned, here http://www.agilekiwi.com/peopleskills/the-video.

The video is not specifically about management, but I have found the material extremely helpful in my job.

You might also like to check out the book "Why should anyone be led by you?", written by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, and Bob Sutton's blog here ">http://bobsutton.typepad.com
posted by John Rusk at 1:34 AM on January 22, 2014

> Most importantly, have their backs.

I haven't seen anyone else mention this, and it is what I came here to say, so I want to pull it out and feature it. There's a lot of good advice here, but really, lunches and stuff are pretty marginal; the most important thing about the only boss I remember with real affection (in fact, he's still a friend twenty years later) is that he consistently had our backs. It's hard running a proofreading/editing department, because every asshole in the company thinks it's basically a simple job and takes it for granted when things come out perfect, but if a mistake gets through, it's Katy bar the door: someone should get fired for this!! My boss pulled no punches; he said "I have the best goddam proofreaders in New York and if you think you can go find a better team, you're welcome to try. If these guys go, I go." And we loved him for it and worked our asses off for him.
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you've already got a pretty good outlook on the job. However, I'm sorry if this comes across as negative, but you can't expect the people who work for you to be your friends or to like you. You're eventually going to have to make a decision that people don't like, or you won't make that decision because you don't want anyone to dislike you. I think it's unrealistic to go in with the hope or expectation that you can make people like you. Not that you have to be disliked, but:

1. Being a manager
2. Being effective
3. Being liked

Pick two.
posted by cnc at 12:55 PM on January 22, 2014

Just one more thing I thought of because it just came up in my life. Don't make people unnecessarily nervous.

In the past few days I've been treated to:

BOSS (to other boss): "Hey we need to meet with CEO about... [awkward pause] that one thing."

Followed by my co-worker being summoned for lunch with the CEO with no reason given.

If your workplace is like mine (and pretty much every other modern workplace), everyone has witnessed at least one friend be fired for utterly arbitrary reasons, and it started with a scenario just like one of the above.

Of course you can't just yell out, "Let's fire Joe!," but if there's any way to avoid letting people overhear or witness stuff like the above, it will do wonders for their peace of mind. Same goes for not sending ominous meeting invites like "IMPORTANT TEAM MEETING" without any clue what the subject is.

I know it's sometimes unavoidable, and I know some people aren't bothered or don't even notice this stuff. But a lot of people do, and it can really hurt their productivity and just plain ruin their day.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:12 PM on January 22, 2014

Thanks all for taking the time to respond. I think some responses were a bit more philosophical and conceptual than I was looking for -- I think I did make it clear that I am going into this job with a certain philosophy of how I want things to work -- but I was looking for more action items and specifics. But overall, a helpful thread. Thank you everyone.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:49 PM on January 22, 2014

Picard Tips
posted by zengargoyle at 6:26 PM on January 27, 2014

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