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Dr. Mac Powell Shares Tips to Help First-Time Managers Succeed

You’ve just been hired as a manager. It doesn’t matter what business sector you are in – anything from the manager of a fast-food restaurant overseeing a workforce of teenagers to the manager of a research and development team filled with Millennials for a multimillion-dollar corporation – the skills you need are the same.

According to Forbes magazine, there are nine skills that every manager needs – but 90% of manager’s lack - here are the nine skills:

1.    Knowing not only your department but also how the rest of the organization works

2.    Asking for feedback from employees and responding to it appropriately rather than ignoring it

3.    See things from an employee’s point of view, and in return sharing the employer’s point of view as well

4.    The ability to “know yourself” – know your “fear reactions” to better empathize with the fear reactions of their subordinates.

5.    Ability to acknowledge and reinforce employees

6.    Ability to stand up for one’s team or subordinates when higher management makes unrealistic demands

7.    Communicate with people of different ages, backgrounds and personality types

8.    Ability to build trust with one’s team, with other teams, and with upper and lower management

9.    Be “human” – eschew fear-based tactics for positive, reinforcement-based tactics

That’s all very well, but how are you supposed to acquire these skills?

Many individuals are promoted into management not based on their “people” skills but rather because of their extensive knowledge of their particular domain within the company. The people skills are expected to develop “naturally.”

But managers don’t have the leisure time to develop such skills – their subordinates expect them to come with all of those intact, and early failures can lead to a snowballing of failures that can derail a team and a career.

If you take a good look at those nine skills above listed by Forbes – and they are all necessary skills - you will see that they are all permutations of the most essential skill – good communication.

So, rather than having to spend time learning nine separate skills under the pressure of a new position, I recommend focusing on the most important – communication. 

And, you develop your communication skills the same way you develop any other skill, by practicing and acquiring knowledge.

If your company doesn’t offer management or leadership seminars, seek them out online. Some of my favorite resources on good communication are Crucial Conversations and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Some of the important takeaways from these seminal works are to focus on the areas of agreement, make the dialogue safe and do what it takes to keep it going, find a mutual purpose, and most importantly lead with empathy and a heartfelt and genuinely appreciative approach for the perspectives of those around you. Communication is a critical skill that cuts across all aspects of life, but a first-time manager absolutely must acquire and practice these skills from day one.

Leadership Skills

You may be good at communicating, but are you good at leading?

For example, if one of your subordinates comes to you complaining about the behavior of another employee, what do you do? The company itself will doubtless have procedures in place to handle such complaints, but it is up to you to implement them. Understanding the culture and way in which organizations resolve conflict is critical, and being proactive and leading from the front, rather than procrastinating or leading from the rear is essential.

Leadership also means that you are in a new role. Once you were a fellow team member, working in concert with the people you are now in a different position of organizational responsibility. It’s crucial that your team members recognize that you have different expectations being applied to you by the structure of the organization, which may prevent you from being “one of the gang.”

One of the best ways to make this transition is to seek out a mentor within your organization to help you avoid the minefield of poor transitions.

Develop Your Leadership Plan

What had you always wished your leadership would do when you were a member of a team without the authority that you now have?

Make a list of those concerns, and address them now that you have the authority to do something about the things on the list. Be clear about what your priorities are, and that you understand concerns from multiple perspectives. This may include holding team-building meetings or developing programs that reward team members for innovation and problem-solving.

In all things, it’s important to remember that everyone is doing the best job they can with the knowledge and skills they have. Be empathic and meet people where they are – and always offer those around you the time and support that they need to help achieve their career goals. You never know, they might be leading you some day. 

About: Dr. Mac Powell is an innovator and educator passionate for leading change. He has been in numerous leadership roles, including as the President of three universities, including John F. Kennedy University. Dr. Mac Powell has written over 100 articles on the importance of higher-education and performance and has dedicated his life to improving the community around him.

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