Meeting the Challenge of Being a First-Time Manager

Congratulations! You got that promotion you’ve been waiting for. You are a first-time manager!

My guess is that you earned your promotion by being a high achiever—and that’s fabulous. Keep in mind, though, that the skills that helped you succeed as an individual contributor are not necessarily the same ones you will need to achieve success as a manager. That’s why I’m so excited about our First-time Manager program, a new training program I’m working on with Linda Miller and Scott Blanchard that will help new managers master the skills they need to make it through this major transition.

In our research, we have found that first-time managers must deal with three new realities.

The first new reality: First-time managers must shift from being responsible only for their own work to managing the work of others, as well. As a manager, they need to work with their staff to set performance goals and then manage that performance along the way. This can be challenging when dealing with someone who is underperforming.

The second new reality: It can be emotionally challenging to manage a group of former peers who are now direct reports. Some new managers report suddenly being unfollowed on social media or not invited to lunches or other group activities. This can make a new manager feel as if they are alone in their new endeavor.

The third new reality: Managers have a greater level of impact than non-managers. Not only are they responsible for helping their own team succeed, they now play a role in the overall success of the organization. They must manage new relationships, both with their people and with other leaders in the company. And they now serve two groups—their direct reports as well as their own leader.

If this all sounds pretty daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Learning how to communicate effectively will set first-time managers up for success. I believe that leading is something you do with people, not to them. So knowing how to hold conversations that strengthen relationships and build trust will get your management career off to a great start.

Our new program focuses on four critical conversations new managers need to master: Goal Setting, Praising, Redirecting, and Wrapping Up. In the next few weeks, I’ll go into detail about how and why to hold these conversations and I’ll also show you four skills that will further improve the quality of your communication with others. You’ll learn how to Listen to Learn, Inquire for Insight, Tell Your Truth, and Express Confidence in each interaction. These tips will improve your relationships with your team, your colleagues, and your leaders.

In the meantime, celebrate your success in your new role—and be open to learning how you can make a positive and fulfilling transition to being a first-time manager!

2 Secrets to Keep on Track with Your New Year’s Resolutions

In my last blog I talked about three tips to help you stay on track to achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Now that you are a few weeks into the process, you might be struggling a little bit, so let me make another suggestion. Over the years, I’ve realized that the people who have the most trouble accomplishing goals and sticking with resolutions are the people who are the busiest. The problem with these people is that too often they go through the motions of day-to-day busy work instead of focusing on the most important things first.

You have probably heard the theory that we all have two selves—the external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting the job done, and the internal, thoughtful, reflective self that considers things before acting. The task-oriented self is the first to wake up in the morning, of course, and is only focused on task achievement. You read email while you are eating breakfast, then jump in the car, head to the office and start attacking your to-do list in order to get everything checked off before you go home. It’s so easy to get caught in this kind of activity trap—you’re so busy doing urgent but unimportant tasks you don’t have time to think about the important goals you may have set.

So how do you get out of this trap? How do you help yourself focus less on task achievement and more on goal achievement? I suggest that in the morning, instead of jumping out of bed and right into task achievement, you enter your day slowly and thoughtfully. Take 20 or 30 minutes to think through what you really need to accomplish for the day. Remember how I suggested you write down your New Year’s resolutions and read them every day? Now is the perfect time. Look at your resolutions to see where they can fit into the day’s plan. Entering your day slowly gives you the opportunity to plan your day out so that you can both accomplish your tasks and fit in time to work toward your resolutions.

Then, at the end of the day before you go to bed, jot down a few notes about your day in a journal. If you don’t want to take the time to write in a journal, at least give yourself the gift of thinking about your day for a few minutes. What did you do during the day that was consistent with your New Year’s resolutions, and what got in the way? Soon you’ll be able to spot both positive and negative patterns so that you can make changes in your schedule to get yourself back on track toward goal achievement.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to spend twenty minutes in the morning to plan and more time at night to reflect.” But I guarantee that if you take that little bit of time, you’ll set yourself up for success in achieving your goals—and your New Year’s resolutions. And you know what? You’re worth it!

3 Tips for Achieving Your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions

I read an article recently stating that 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions are not met. I wasn’t surprised by that figure because of two very common facts:

  • Accomplishing the goal is usually more difficult than we think it will be
  • We rarely ask for help from others who can support us

That’s why it makes so much sense to use the three principles of Situational Leadership® II—goal setting, diagnosis, and matching—to make your New Year’s resolutions stick. This highly successful model for setting and achieving work goals applies to reaching personal goals, as well.

For years, I’ve shared the benefits of writing SMART goals. I truly believe this acronym provides a powerful method for making sure your goals are Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. So I’m not going to go over the best way to write goal statements today. Instead, I’m going to strongly suggest, once the goal is determined, that you write it down. Sounds simple, right? In the working environment, writing goal statements are usually part of a performance planning process. However, many times when people are setting personal goals, they think about what they want to do but they don’t write anything down. If you can’t make the effort to write it down, you probably won’t be committed enough to actually change a behavior.

Write each goal on a separate sheet of paper and read each goal every day. It won’t do you any good to write something down and file it away. When you read your goal statements each day, you remind yourself of your priorities and match your behavior to meet the goals—or adjust your behavior if goals are not being met. This simple process will help you be accountable for your own goal achievement. I read my goals first thing in the morning, just to get my day off to the right start and get myself in the right frame of mind.

Next, it is important to diagnose your development level on each goal. What is your competence (your skills and experience) and what is your commitment (your motivation and confidence) to this goal? Once you determine your competence and commitment, you need to ask for help.

For example, let’s say you are excited about your goal but are not competent yet. You are an enthusiastic beginner and need to find a helper who can coach you—someone who can provide a lot of direction on how you can achieve this goal. If you lack competence and confidence on a goal, you are a disillusioned learner. In this case you need a coach to provide direction as well as a supporter to cheer you on. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the same person. If you know how to achieve your goal but your commitment varies, you are a capable but cautious performer. In this case, you need extra support to help you stay committed but you don’t need much direction. Finally, let’s say you have both high competence and high commitment to the goal. A self-reliant achiever, may not even need to write the goal down—you are well on your way to goal achievement.

The third step is called matching. This means finding the right person or group of people to help you reach your goals. You may have different helpers for different goals because you want to choose people who will offer the right combination of direction and support for you. For example, if you set a goal to exercise three times a week, find a friend who is already dedicated to exercising and is willing to join you at the gym instead of one who rarely laces up walking shoes.

Be systematic about checking in with your helpers. Set up a specific time each week to talk about how you are progressing. This can be as simple as a ten-minute phone call or even a quick text. Or use the check-in as a way to get face to face with your main supporters. How you get together doesn’t matter—what you talk about is the biggest factor that will keep you on track toward achieving your goals. I often ask people, “What is the best diet?” Of course, the answer is “The one you stick with.” Think of these check-in meetings as the way to stick to your plan.

So, don’t fall into that 92 percent failure group. Set yourself up for success by setting your goals, diagnosing your development level, and surrounding yourself with helpers who will provide the right amount of direction and support to help you flourish throughout the year!

Putting Servant Leadership into Action

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about servant leadership. I was recently reviewing Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert’s book The Serving Leader (Berrett-Koehler, 2003 and 2016) when I realized how much I like the term serving leader—it makes the point that leadership is about doing something, it’s not just a philosophy. When you are serving, you are taking action.

In my recent work on servant leadership, I’ve been focusing in on three actions every leader can take to serve their people more efficiently.

The first action is about Presence. Be present when you’re with your people. Focus directly on them—not on the next meeting, or the call you need to make, or the text message that just came in on your phone. Don’t let distractions take you away from a living person who is right in front of you. As a serving leader, you need to listen with the intent to learn, ask questions for clarity, and offer the support and direction your staff needs to be able to perform at their highest level. Each person has very different needs, and as a serving leader it takes your concentration and attention to be truly present with each individual. In this 24/7 world, this skill takes practice and commitment.

The second action is Acceptance. Serving leaders look for and build on the strengths each direct report brings to the job. And, realizing no one is perfect, they also identify weaknesses—areas where they might be able to help the person learn and grow. Helping someone develop new skills is perhaps the ultimate act of serving. Accepting people as they are and paying attention to both strengths and weaknesses allows serving leaders to set team members up for success, which serves not only the individual but the entire organization.

The third action is Creativity. Leaders work with teams made up of many different personalities and temperaments—and when you add the complexity of multiple generations in the workplace, the job of managing people can seem overwhelming. Some may see this as a challenge to be managed carefully, but the serving leader sees it as a chance to be creative and invite different perspectives to each project. Magical things can happen when different voices and opinions are shared in a trusting, collaborative environment. It brings about something I call one plus one thinking—where one plus one is actually greater than two. The job of the serving leader is to build a community where everyone feels they are part of the big picture.

I hope you think of yourself as a servant leader—but take it a step further and make sure you are taking the right actions to actively serve your people. Be present and focus on each person individually, accept people’s strengths and help them overcome weaknesses, and encourage creativity by inviting everyone to share their perspective. I guarantee that you’ll unleash talent and potential that will transform your direct reports, your team, and your organization.

Work Smarter, Not Harder, During the Holidays

The old saying Don’t work harder, work smarter might seem like common sense, but it isn’t common practice—especially during the hectic holiday season. In addition to the year-end push for revenue goals and project completion at work, everyone’s personal time is impacted with school vacations and holiday celebrations that can result in added pressure and frenzied activity. Many people approach this season with the mindset If I put in maximum time and effort 24/7, I should be able to get it all done.

I’d like to suggest something a little different. Although it’s very tempting to tell yourself “Don’t just sit there, do something,” please consider this: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” I know it sounds counterintuitive, but let me explain how this mindset can make things easier both at work and at home.

Someone once taught me the phrase Plan your work and then work your plan. When you jump into a project without proper planning, you often make decisions without all the necessary information—which can create extra work for both you and your team. But when you take the time to think, strategize, and prioritize, you’ll actually save time, have better focus, and avoid pitfalls along the way.

At work, it’s critical to take the time to create a project plan before taking action. This will allow you to be proactive at making continuous progress toward the end goal instead of being reactive when issues come up along the way and slow you down. Without a clear plan, you have no real focus. And without focus, you might be working hard—but not smart.

At home, it’s important to get the whole family involved in creating a plan for the holidays. There’s nothing sadder than ruining your own holiday spirit because you feel like you have to do it all. You might be surprised at how much everyone would pitch in on holiday preparations if you simply asked for help. So sit down as a group and decide who is going to be involved in which project. Doing projects together—whether it’s cooking, shopping, or entertaining—adds to the positive holiday spirit. And you’ll spend more time together as a family. What’s more important than that?

I encourage you to sit down and take a few minutes right now to plan your work and personal activities for the coming month. I guarantee it will be time well spent—and you’ll enjoy the benefits of working smarter, not harder.