|Traffic | Weather | Your account||Movies | Restaurants | Today's events|
Meet the new boss, better than the old boss
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
After years of toiling away in cubicle obscurity, you've finally caught the eye of the big kahunas in management: You're the new boss of your unit.
Your colleagues are now looking to you for direction and leadership. They're counting on you to come up with the big ideas. Some may even expect you to fail.
Now what are you supposed to do?
Here's the good news: Nobody expects you to know everything right away, and you will turn people off if you act like you do. Instead, you should consider this your golden opportunity to listen and learn.
You know how the first 100 days of a new president's administration sets the tone for the rest of his term? Well, that's how you should treat your first three months in office, said Leslie Yerkes, president of Catalyst Consulting Group of Cleveland and author of "They Just Don't Get It! Changing Resistance Into Understanding."
What you say and how you act in your first days can make the difference between hearing, "Uh-oh, this doesn't look good," and "Wow, this is going to be cool."
Dos and Don'ts for the new leader
• Be humble.
• Ask lots of questions.
• Meet one-on-one with everyone you'll be supervising.
• Use plural nouns whenever possible.
• Create an enthusiastic, upbeat, inspiring atmosphere.
• Seek out mentors, both inside and outside your company.
• Keep your ears open to new ideas and your office door open to feedback.
• Be bossy.
• Go around barking orders.
• Bully or belittle the people who report to you.
• Be afraid to admit you don't know something.
• Assume you know more than your colleagues about how to do their jobs.
• Forget to praise your staff members in public and criticize them in private.
• Stop learning about your company, your industry and your competition.
"You shouldn't enter like a Sherman tank," she said. "How you behave and use your power will set a tone and a tenor for the rest of your time with these people. And it's really hard to undo a poor first impression."
The three major mistakes new bosses make are:
No. 1: Acting bossy, said Liz Ryan, chief executive and founder of WorldWIT (www.worldwit.org), a global online network based in Boulder, Colo., of more than 40,000 professional women worldwide.
For some people, getting promoted gives them the overwhelming urge to turn to their perfectly capable colleagues and tell them what to do. Instead, Ryan said, new bosses should start with the assumption that their staff members are more than qualified to get the work done. A better approach might be: "I am assuming you know way more about your job than I do, but I don't know what you're working on."
"Ease your way into it," she said.
No. 2: Thinking they're supposed to have all the answers. They wrongly assume that if they don't start barking orders, people will think they don't know what they're doing and they will look foolish. But in reality, admitting you don't know makes you more approachable and builds credibility, especially if you're willing to learn.
No. 3: Disrespecting people. Instead of trying to understand why something went wrong, they bulldoze over their underlings, publicly berate them for their errors and tell them how they should have done it.
That destroys any goodwill the person might have had before being promoted and costs him the respect of his staff. It could also underscore how ill-prepared the person was for her new role.
This is the time for building bridges, not burning them. Ryan suggests opening the dialogue with: "Tell me about what you guys do over here in accounting," and letting them talk. "You want to learn. You will never have the chance again with that fresh insight, those newbie eyes."
Start off on right foot
Becoming the boss doesn't mean you automatically acquire great people-management skills. In fact, chances are you didn't get any training before assuming your new role.
Start off on the right foot with the people you work with by emphasizing that this is a joint effort and that you can't succeed without them, said Diana Bilimoria, associate professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University.
"Talk about how excited you are about the new opportunity, how you're counting on them to help you be successful as a team, emphasizing the excitement of working together and how much you're looking forward to jointly producing new things," she said.
Creating a positive, upbeat tone early will do wonders for morale. Speak in the plural: "We" instead of "I," "us" instead of "me."
Just because you've been promoted doesn't mean everyone suddenly wants to do things your way.
"Do lead, not in a show of power or domination, but in a sense of inspiring 'How can we get things done?' " Bilimoria said.
Be aware that some of the people you supervise may be older than you are, some may have been with the company longer than you have, and a few may even be wondering why they didn't get the job.
"Coming in on the first day with a brand-new vision or a brand-new idea of 'This is how we're going to do it now' can come across as a little arrogant."
Lawler Kang, chief executive of LK Ventures, a consulting firm in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., and author of "Passion at Work: How to Find Work You Love and Live the Time of Your Life," recommends meeting with everyone who reports to you, both one-on-one and as a group. "Find out what they're passionate about, why they like working for the company" and what's the best part of their jobs, he said. Use the opportunity to convey your enthusiasm and align their passions with yours.
"If you can really tap into people's passions and what they want out of life, then your work can be much more successful" and your job much smoother, he said. One of the obvious advantages of having just come up from the ranks is that you probably already have a good sense of what they are passionate about.
Ask team members to define success, both personally and professionally. Then ask them the same question in a broader context: "How do you want to define success for this group?"
"When I took over the customer-service department of a manufacturer, we developed a tagline: 'Whatever you need, consider it done.' It became a rallying point for the group," he said.
Whatever your industry, whatever it is your workers do, you want them to be engaged and enthusiastic about it, not merely consider it a job.
Keep your ears open to new ideas and your office door open to feedback.
"When Ed Koch was mayor of New York City, he won applause for asking crowds of New Yorkers at every opportunity, 'How'm I doin'?' You should do the same. As a new manager, humility is key," Ryan said.
"Every time you sit down for a one-on-one with one of your subordinates, ask: What could I be doing to help you in your job? How could I be a better manager for you?' After five or six repetitions, people will begin to believe that you truly want feedback, and they'll give it to you."
Take the time to cultivate relationships, to learn people's names and remember what they do. Spend more time asking questions than talking about yourself.
Praise your staff for a job well done, Ryan said. "When someone steps up, say so: 'Jane, amazing job on that presentation. Thanks.' 'Mark, you're the expert on this program. You rock!' If it's sincere, you can't overdo it. Don't compare your employees to one another, but let them know when they've saved the day, or just the half-hour."
Your new job changes more than your title, Kang said. It also changes the dynamics of your workplace friendships. You can't hang out with people the same way you did before you became boss.
"Don't try to maintain the same 'Hey, buddy' relationships with people — unless they invite you in," he said.
In addition to having a general mistrust of management, your employees need to have some space.
One day you're complaining about management, the next day you are management. No wonder they feel awkward or resentful around you.
Treat your staff members with respect, keep them informed and ask them for their ideas, even if you already know what you want to do.
"Asking for opinions doesn't mean that you're giving up the right to make the final call; it just helps you make a better decision," Ryan said.
In the same way, celebrate successes.
"Send a group e-mail and let people know when you've hit a milestone. Take them to lunch when you knock the cover off the ball. Even on small budgets, there are ways to let people know they're moving in the right direction, and that you're paying attention."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company