New Managers Should Focus on Helping Their Teams, Not Pleasing Their Bosses

The irony for most, newly appointed managers, is that the skills and qualities that earned them the promotion are very different from those that will serve them well as a leader, and they’re often left to figure it out on their own, and may not always be successful. Harvard Business School professor Francis Frei, who was recently recruited by Uber to help with the company’s leadership and sexual harassment scandals, points out that the instant conclusion might be that the transportation company has bad managers. But in reality, she told Marketplace, managers haven’t been given the guidance they need, “It turns out we have not been giving leadership training to our managers, so the managers haven’t been set up for success.’’

Stanford academic Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, says the challenges that new managers face have a lot to do with where they place their attention; “Your attention will naturally shift up & be directed the hierarchy. We tend to do the same when we’ve been promoted, constantly looking up to make sure our boss is seeing and approving of us, which means we’re paying less attention to the people we’re now leading. And our former peers, for their part, are watching us more than they ever did before. What do our mood and expression suggest? Are we getting up from our desk more often? What are we spending our time on? Are we more or less friendly than we used to be? Who’s in and who’s out in the new hierarchy? This ‘asymmetry’ of attention, Sutton explains, “is problematic for most new managers. You may be so eager to prove that you’re the right promotion (or hire) to your own higher-ups that you unintentionally neglect the people who report to you”.

So what should you do to counter this before you alienate your new charges and patterns that are destructive set in?

“It’s uncomfortable, to have the people who report to you watching you so closely,’’ explains Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill, author of ‘Becoming the Boss‘. “But it’s never been more important to pay attention to them. You need your new team to be on your side, giving you their best performance and trusting you to lead them. As you and your direct reports recalibrate your roles, they’ll be looking for evidence of three specific things in you”, says Hill

  • It’s likely that you were promoted because you were good at your previous job, but are you competent as a manager?
  • Do you want to do the right things as a new leader?
  • Will you have the right network, respect, and ability to get the job done?

“People will be collecting evidence from your verbal and nonverbal clues,’’ Hill says. “You need to pay attention not just to what you do but how you do it. Your words matter.’’ If a manager is  conscious of signalling he/she competence in these three areas, they will go a long way in quelling the team’s concerns. Some of it, Sutton advises, is simply changing ones mindset: Are you their ally? Are you concerned that they shine, not just you? Are you fair in how you make decisions?

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes that instead of trying to please the boss one should make an effort to help their respective team members adjust to their new role by demonstrating three things: trust, character and influence. Just because you were  terrific at your job before you were promoted doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a terrific boss. Recognize that you have a lot to learn; ask your own manager for help and guidance getting up to speed quickly. Experts recommend that a manger should focus to demonstrate ones vision, support & lead teamwork, and recognize those who make significant contributions.

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