Presence for New Managers
You know, Steven, you’re a little like a terrier nipping at my ankles. Sometimes you just grab hold and don’t let go. Once I know what’s expected of me, I’d like a little more space to just do it.
Ask new managers what their biggest challenge is and they’re likely to say: “I never imagined how hard it would be to communicate clearly and effectively, to motivate and engage my team.” They might also respond, “It’s interesting; I have to think of myself differently – and need “my people” to think about me in a new way, too.”
At one point in my career, I was a new manager (hired from the outside) to an existing team. Eager to impress everyone, I was very hands-on, demonstrating (I thought) my natural “player-coach” sensibilities. I thought I was doing a mighty fine job too–until I had one-on-one meetings with each one of my new staff members.
In one, I asked, “So, how’s it going? Since I’m relatively new to the team, I’d like to know if my style is working for you – what’s working well and what could be going even better.” To my horror (truly), one direct report said, “You know, Steven, you’re a little like a terrier nipping at my ankles. Sometimes you just grab hold and don’t let go. Once I know what’s expected of me, I’d like a little more space to just do it.”
Having read the right books on receiving feedback, I said, “Thank you for telling me.” And then I went back to my office to think about it.
What could I have done to get this new working relationship off to a better start? Here’s what I would tell myself now with years more knowledge and the clarity of hindsight:
- Be more present. I could have been far more aware of and attentive to the needs, interests, concerns, skill level, preferred work styles and aspirations of my team members.
- Reach out. I could have checked in with team members earlier and created more opportunities for questions. Not imposing my style “on” them, but figuring out how we could work best together, knowing as I do know that it might not be the same with each member of the team.
- Be expressive. I could have been clearer in communicating my hopes for the team– not just with my words (or carefully constructed “content”), but with the way I comported myself including voice, facial expressions, body language. Figuring out not only what I wanted to communicate out, but also what I hoped my new team members would think, feel, and do as a result of my communication.
- Be more self-knowing. With a little more self-awareness I could have changed my perspective from one of “how can I look good” at this transition, to “How can I make my team look good?” How can I remove stumbling blocks and barriers from their path? How can I motivate, engage, and even inspire my team to give their best?
And just to close the loop on the “terrier nipping” story, when that same woman made a big promotion jump (after I had left the company), she sent me a note to thank me for listening to her feedback un-defensively and acting on her request by changing my behavior. Clipped to her note was a bumper sticker that read, “Wag more, bark less.”
I can honestly say, I’ve taken that to heart and try to live in the spirit of more acknowledgement, appreciation, endorsement, and support than only noticing the gaps between my own version of “now” and “ideal.” Try it out. See if it helps contribute to your own success.
What was your greatest learning moment as a new manager?
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