In many cases, the skills that land you a job managing other people have nothing to do with actually managing. You may be a great employee, a sales leader, or some other kind of stand-out talent, but nothing in your past prepares you to lead other people.
That can result in even well-intentioned people becoming lousy bosses. If, however, you want to not just be in charge, but be great at it, there are simple rules you can follow. These won't solve every problem, but over time they will buy a manager credibility. That, along with hard work, should build a bank of credibility with your employees and your employer.
It may sound silly, but too many bad managers have a "my way or the highway" approach. Make a point of talking with as many people under you as possible. Ask them about their job and find out what might make it better.
For example, back in my newspaper days, our younger paginators ranked pretty low on the seniority totem pole and most of them had older computers. That slowed their work, led to more crashes, and sometimes caused deadline problems.
Those employees had no access to the paper's owner in order to lobby for better equipment and no previous manager had ever asked. I was not able to solve the problem quickly (money was very tight), but I could facilitate sharing the better machines, and advocate for improvements. It wasn't everything the employees wanted, but at least they knew someone understood their frustrations and was advocating for them.
2. Treat people as individuals
At some jobs hours are rigid and people have to work within those parameters. At most offices, however, that's not the case. If you work in a situation where strict rigidity is not required, it's important to be flexible when it comes to your employees.
That can be a challenge because you have to treat everyone fairly, but it can be done. For example, you may let one worker come in late because he or she has a dentist appointment, and that person then makes up the time by staying late. Another person may need to leave early for family reasons but covers the time by doing a weekend project.
Have parameters that apply to everyone, but recognize that every worker has different needs. Encourage people to work together (I'll cover for you by coming in early if you stay late for me tomorrow), and build an environment where everyone feels like their needs are being met.
3. Be willing to get your hands dirty
It always amazes me when I watch Undercover Boss and so many of the CEOs going undercover have no skills when it comes to doing the actual work. That makes sense, perhaps, at a giant company where there are many levels between the top boss and employees, but it's not true for most managers.
If your employees see you are willing to pitch in when things are busy, you will earn respect. Do the tough jobs -- the things they least like doing -- on occasion and it becomes much harder for anyone to shirk a similar task when it's their turn.
4. Be willing to be wrong
In most cases, when I have taken over as a manager or boss, I come into the situation with a pretty good idea of what to do. That's fine, even smart, but it's also important to solicit suggestions and be open to the idea that your plan is wrong.
Sometimes, even at an organization that needs a lot of change, some things aren't broken. It can be hard to sort out the difference between a lack of willingness to change or just fear of it, and someone pointing out where a change is a mistake. It's important, however, to at least consider the possibility that your idea may be wrong, and to let your employees succeed or fail on their own.
That doesn't mean the employee is always right. Instead, it's an acknowledgment that not every decision has to be top down and it's OK to try things in a way you may not have chosen.
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