The Secret Sauce You Need to Know Before Becoming a Manager

I’ve often been approached and asked how a person can progress from an individual contributor role to a management role. How does one really prepare for that role? I see organizations struggling with newly promoted managers that often think that training, skill development, or mentoring are ways to optimize the new manager’s success. The truth is, most companies do not prepare their prospective managers enough on how to work with others or how to get things done through others. Often, new managers lack interpersonal skills.

Early in my career, I was hired by a company to participate in their management development training program. In this program, I learned about policies and procedures, how to read a financial statement, leverage marketing campaigns, and deliver customer service. At the end of the program, I was assigned to manage a team of 12 employees. Looking back, I was not well equipped with the interpersonal skills of being a manager. At that time, I didn’t really comprehend that how I interacted with others in the workplace and getting along with others while getting the job done was key to my success. Fast forward 20 years later and after several management roles, here’s what I wish I could tell my younger self before becoming a manager, “A manager’s success isn’t just about a solid training program. It also requires a good grasp on people skills.” Before becoming a manager, here’s the secret sauce I think you should know.

Have confidence in yourself

Having self-confidence and being comfortable in your own shoes is important in the workplace. Self-confidence can help people understand, see, and hear your opinions, thoughts, and ideas. It’s also how your co-workers see how you present yourself in times of ambiguity, stress, and success. When you are more confident in your abilities, you are more equipped to handle day-to-day challenges. Who wants to be on a team with a manager who easily comes unglued? Find ways to channel your freak-out mode and demonstrate composure. People in the workplace are more likely to listen to you, hear your opinion objectively, and understand you better.

  • Think, talk, and communicate positively
  • Demonstrate open and confident body language

Learn how to coach

As a manager, there’s a balance you need to strike between informing people what to do and provoking critical thinking in order to inspire action. Coaching begins with a foundation of trust. Building trust also means taking time to get to know your people and what motivates them. For coaching to be effective, you need to help employees understand what actions or behaviors need to be demonstrated.

  • Don’t tell, ask. Practice using open-ended questions to provoke thought and dialogue
  • Foster a sense of accountability and self-ownership

Motivate others

Naturally, each person is motivated by different things. While the company can do many things to spark employee engagement, you directly impact the motivation (or demotivation) of your employees. Foster genuine relationships with your team to understand what inspires them to take action. Get to know them on a personal level and show genuine interest. There are core elements to doing this, no matter your style.

  • Treat employees with human kindness; show respect and dignity
  • Demonstrate a sense of trust and walk your talk

Learn how to have the tough conversations

Sometimes, I see managers avoid having tough conversations. So, by the time it has to happen, the situation has manifested itself into stress for the manager, and likely, the employee. It’s important to know at what point the conversation needs to happen before it worsens, and how to deliver the conversation appropriately. Know that these conversations are never easy for both parties, but when done well and consistently, the outcome can be productive for everyone, and it can be done respectfully.

  • Practice what you’ll say. Stick to the facts or the behavior
  • Be compassionate and confident; avoid the crap sandwich

Listen. And listen deeply.

Active listening is an obvious skill that managers must demonstrate. But the ability to put any filters aside and process what you’re hearing is an essential component of listening. When listening, sometimes a manager eagerly wants to comment, or a thought or opinion is instantly formed. Process what’s heard and uncover more to discover more. You’ll likely learn something you didn’t know before.

Be patient; wait to say or ask anything until you’ve heard everything
Recycle back what you heard to check for understanding

Understand team dynamics

Keep an eye on how people interact with each other and how they demonstrate behaviors; this will help you better understand your team’s dynamic. It’s key to interpreting the effects behavior has on other team members, and on the team as a whole. Knowing this can be helpful in how you communicate and interact with others to get work done.

  • Know your team so that you can understand their workplace behavior
  • Focus on communicating with your team. Break down any roadblocks quickly

Know the cultural guardrails

While new managers want to express their management style, it’s important to know the guardrails within your organization. Take time to understand what culturally positive management behaviors look like and understand behaviors that are not tolerated in the organization. By understanding what the spectrum looks like in the organization, you’ll understand how managers demonstrate accountability and celebrate an employee’s success.

  • Look and listen to what behaviors are celebrated or discussed positively
  • Pay attention to why decisions may be considered difficult

I do not doubt that there are companies out there that are doing some great things to help new managers develop and be successful in their role. But some things aren’t easily taught through a training program or class. One of the secrets to success of being a manager is being skilled at how you interact and communicate with other people, both individually and in groups. If you get a good grasp on these aspects, you’ll hit the ground running when you become a manager.

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