Advice and Books for First Time Managers?
March 4, 2020 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I recently got a promotion (yay!) and I will be managing direct reports for the first time. I'm really looking forward to this and I want to do a good job of it. I know there are tons of great leaders here on Metafilter and I'd love to hear from you. What advice would you give a first time manager, especially a woman? Are there any books you found especially interesting or helpful?

I have had the good fortune of having fantastic mentor managers, as well as one that made my daily existence miserable. I have given a lot of thought to what makes someone a good or bad manager for me personally, but I would love to hear from some additional perspectives.

A good friend already recommended Managing Humans, which I'm reading now, but I'm eager to learn more! I've also read Creativity, Inc. which I really liked.
posted by chatongriffes to Work & Money (17 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Add Ask a Manager to your daily reading, and don't forget to read the comments. Ask a Manager has a really great comments section.
posted by Gray Duck at 9:24 AM on March 4, 2020 [10 favorites]

It really is a personal style at the end of the day. Having an organizational behavior background, I always start with a few things;

1. People are different and are motivated by different things. One person may not respond to the same things as another, so for a diverse team, having the same approach to reward, motivation, and how you interact (hands on/hands off) can vary widely, even in a small group may not always work and you have to be able to vary it.
2. Groupthink is a thing, and can be good or bad or a non-event. But being aware of how your group is perceived and how your group perceives others outside is important to manage
3. Your job is going to be developing them.. which can include needing to be willing to give them air cover and help manage up. Managing how they are perceived by your bosses, individually and as a group. Their role should be to help you look good, but your role should be to make sure they're insulated and they look good.
4. Don't shy away from conflict or issues. Being able to meet the hard situations head on is likely the hardest thing. Discipline, telling someone when they're wrong, but also giving them a path forward to guide them.
posted by rich at 9:24 AM on March 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

A lot of this will be industry-dependent.

When I was managing editors it was vastly different from managing people primarily in their first job (teens). In the first case I did a lot more air cover, because people generally understood what to do and how to do it, although I also had to check. In the second, I spend sooooo much time trying to make expectations clear and provide training.

Also, I am a humanist and believe in people-first thinking. At the end of the day though, as a manager your job is to figure out how to get the work done, in a way consistent with organizational goals and values. Everyone will be pulling you in various directions. But this is the job.

When in doubt, say nothing. Your words are magnified beyond you.

I will recommend Managing to Change the World by the same author as the Ask a Manager blog.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:29 AM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Culture Code was making the rounds recently where I work. There were some surprisingly good insights in there, and I go into most business reading kicking and screaming. If there are other books like that making the rounds in your C-suite, I'd recommend reading them too - they'll help you make sense of the higher-level decision making which, in turn, will help you contextualize things for your directs.

The best advice I got as a new manager was to cultivate the virtue of patience. Not every single problem that comes across your desk is an immediate fire to put it out, and some of the time it may not be your problem to solve. This was a hard transition for me, as I came out of an operational/sysadmin background where the situation was the exact opposite. Turns out you can't solve people problems like you would a network outage!
posted by jquinby at 9:53 AM on March 4, 2020

Brene Brown - Power of Vulnerability

I'm loving the work she's done!
posted by LansLeFleur at 9:58 AM on March 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

1) Your career is kind of starting over at this point. It's a new role that takes time to grow into and figure out. You'll make mistakes along the way and screw things up. Be kind to yourself about this.

2) It takes different things to motivate different people. Some are there for the paycheck, some are there because their job is interesting, some are there until the next thing comes along. Encourage them to be honest with you. Not everyone is necessarily interested in career progression when they excel in a current role, others love financial compensation but don't care too much about peer respect, etc.

3) As a manager, your words carry much more weight than they did before. What you might think is a suggestion is perceived as the new drop everything fire drill that everyone has to chase. Be direct, clear and consistent about priorities, since some people have trouble self managing and get hung up on the last thing you say.

5) Reach out to other managers you respect and have coffee occasionally. Things come up in casual chats that never come up in more structured environments. The same is true of employees. If you have 1:1s, occasionally do them over coffee or outside of the office. People tend to be much more open about everything when you're not in a conference room.

I've had The Situational Leader recommended to me a couple of times and found its advice fairly obvious, but it might be good for cementing some thoughts about management.
posted by mikesch at 10:16 AM on March 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Congratulations! The above advice is great, and Ask a Manager is wonderful.

I say this because I wish someone had told me: as a new female manager, I was completely unprepared for the gendered and sexist interactions I had with some of my male employees. These interactions or behaviors took many forms, from attempted manipulation to bullying to outright sexist comments. If you feel like it's gendered, it probably is. Set clear and firm boundaries, document as necessary, and be sure that your fantastic manager mentor team includes women who will believe you (and not say things like "I'm sure he didn't mean it like that") when you are trying to problem-solve a situation with an employee who is interacting with you in a gendered and unprofessional way!
posted by stellaluna at 10:31 AM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have been a manager for 26 years. The best guidance I received, and I pass on to managers with whom I work, is subscribing to and regularly listening to the Manager Tools podcast (Mark Horstman). It's free. Horstman also wrote the book "The Effective Manager" which distills some of the best advice from the podcasts. Links are available at the website. Start by listening to what they call "the Manager Tools Trinity" and expand from there. Best wishes and congratulations. May it be as rewarding for you as it has been for me.
posted by Carsey at 10:41 AM on March 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Linda Hill's "Being the Boss"
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:05 PM on March 4, 2020

Best answer: Management training is throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. There is not one piece of information or book that will have all the answers. Absorb as much as you can but find what works for you. Listening and being authentic to yourself is the absolute foundation of what you'll build on. You're already helped by having had good and bad managers yourself so use that experience.

Don't avoid doing the hard parts yourself. HR and your manager will offer but every time I've had the hard conversation with a staff member directly myself it has been appreciated either in the moment or in retrospect. It sucks but I believe it's a part of the job.

Finally, my ultimate goal as a manager and as a leader is to make myself redundant. When the only thing keeping your star staff member from being promoted is you being in the position, it's time to move on or help them do the same.

Managing people is hugely rewarding but it's also exhausting and challenging. Good luck and congrats!
posted by slimepuppy at 12:53 PM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I was suddenly put into a serious management position (leading a 40 person team) I read the Empowerment Manual by Starhawk. It's a fair bit of organizational principles, bit solid advice on managment styles. It's a good jumping off point to understand team dynamics. It saved my butt and I really recommend it.
posted by ananci at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2020

My (big organization) offers a leadership track. It started with a 2 day intensive session with a small group of other new management. Now we meet every 2 months for a few hours, with a facilitator on a topic. Last week was effective meetings, and having difficult conversations was another.

What I find helpful was gaining a peer group of managers from other units.

So, see if you can find your own group - through meetup, or other places.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 1:22 PM on March 4, 2020

I'd say it's both industry specific and very much your personal style.

Figure out what you view your role as first and foremost. To some people, managing is about directing work, for some encouraging growth, others a BS umbrella. For most it's a mix of all of that, so it helps to identify which things help your team the most and/or play to your strengths the most.

Managing Humans, Peopleware, The Managers Path, An Elegant Puzzle are all good engineering management books. In my opinion Peopleware is probably the most valuable and generally applicable of them.
posted by so fucking future at 1:25 PM on March 4, 2020

Best answer: It's a self-link, but I wrote a blog post about this a few years ago. It's oriented towards engineering managers because that's what I know, but I suspect most of the books there would serve any new manager to some degree.

As for advice... there's a lot I could say, but I'll focus on the most simple: 1:1s. They're the most valuable use of your time, full-stop. Hold them, every single week, and never miss them (unless you or your direct is out, of course). 1:1s are weird in that the value of any single meeting seems fairly low, but the aggregate effect of setting aside space for your direct every week is massive. I don't know any more effective way to build trust and create an effective team than the simple, humble, 1:1.
posted by jacobian at 7:47 PM on March 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I recommend Radical Candor, the book, podcast, and website. Also The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo. She is young, female, and Asian, and working in technology.
posted by apricot at 6:57 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm female, have been in management around 30 years now, in engineering. Lots of good advice -- I would echo Radical Candor and the Manager Tools site/podcast. I'm in the process of developing a management development program for engineering managers and directors in my new org and am using Scott Berkun's Making Things Happen as a reference -- it's focused at software engineering managers, but has a lot of good general management advice as well.

From my experience as a new manager and from having managed/mentored a lot of new managers, in my opinion, this is the hardest transition you will go through. Yes, stepping from managing individual contributors to managing managers is hard, but you are then building on skills you already have. You are moving from owning what you are responsible for to not owning the work, but still being responsible. That is hard. Furthermore, management is a new set of skills. Don't fall into the trap of spending a lot of time doing individual contributor work -- you will not be honing your management skills by doing that.

Finally, if you have a technical background, learning management is completely different from learning engineering (or some other technical skill). Learning derivative calculus is hard, but once you have worked a few problems, the N+1'th problem is not too much different or harder than the Nth problem. Management is completely different. Every problem/situation/challenge is different. My analogy is parallel skiing -- the concept is simple -- weight the ski, turn. But, if that is all you know and you go up to a double diamond slope and try to apply it, I think you will quickly realize that what seems simple when you read about it, is no where near as simple as it sounds in a book. Management is like that.

As I reflect on my management career, while I've learned a lot from books and classes, most of my learning has been an apprenticeship. I have benefited from working in large organizations where I could observe and learn from great managers and not-so-great managers. Whatever size org you are in, I would encourage you to seek out trusted and experienced managers inside or outside your org that you can talk to about situations you encounter.

Good luck & congratulations!
posted by elmay at 8:00 AM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I knew MeFites would have great answers to this! Thank you all so much--this is all great advice. I have a healthy reading list and lots to think about. I really appreciate everyone's feedback and I'm looking forward to starting this new phase!
posted by chatongriffes at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

« Older End-of-days comfort   |   Mid-divorce, ex just fired lawyer #3 – good or bad... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.