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8 Things I Wish I’d Known In My First Management Job

8 Things I Wish I’d Known In My First Management Job

Having started out my career as a building site engineer, then a software programmer, all I really wanted was to become a manager. Managers have status. Managers get big pay packages with company cars. I took some time off, and enrolled onto an MBA. The MBA was intellectually stimulating and full of fascinating case studies about how supreme managers had steered their organisations to fabulous success. So I applied for, and got my first management job working for a large pharmaceutical company.

It was not a complete success.

Here are some of things I wish I’d known before starting that first management job.

1. Theory isn’t the same as practice

My MBA taught me a cartload of theoretical techniques for managing people, most of which turned out to be a load of rubbish when I tried to implement them! It’s one of the reasons that people with MBA’s have a bad reputation in some quarters. I think my team were really confused by all the theory I tried out on them. One or two ideas worked well, and I still use them today.

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I learned to be a bit more skeptical and a bit more selective about which theories I should use, and I learned to discuss my ideas with someone else in the team before trying them out.

2. Don’t pretend to know more than you actually do

If you do this, the team will smell a rat very quickly. They will also lose any respect for what you DO know because they can never be confident that you actually know anything really. While you your bosses clearly think highly of your potential as a manager, it is unlikely that they will expect you to know everything immediately. Even if you suddenly realize several weeks into the job that you don’t understand something, don’t soldier on if help is available. Don’t feel bad about asking questions, especially at the beginning. Nothing will sound too silly, and the relief of knowing the correct answer will be enormous.

It’s a funny thing, but I learned that your team will respect you more for being human and asking for their help, than they will for lying to them about what you don’t know.

3. Delegate but don’t abdicate

Another mistake I made, was to try to do everything myself. I was used to being the expert, and found it hard to take a step back. I forgot that I was now the manager and my role was to guide the members of my team into learning how to do things themselves. I soon found myself working nights and weekends, because I didn’t empower my team and delegate work to them. But when I tried to give them chunks of work, I couldn’t understand why it didn’t get done.

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I learned that delegating will give your life back, but only if you train, inform and support your team members – not just dump tasks on them. Think ‘trust but verify’.

4. Focus on the outcomes, not on the process

One reason I didn’t delegate well is that I expected everyone to do thing the way I would do them. Well they didn’t. Sometimes they did it differently, sometimes they did it better and sometimes worse. I learned to focus on the outcomes and just give support to anyone who is clearly struggling. Otherwise, leave them alone. I always hated being micro managed and, guess what, so does everyone else.

5. Think like a facilitator

Although I had an excellent team, who were well trained and experienced, I didn’t take the time to get to know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. I forgot that my job was to facilitate them to deliver the goods according to their abilities. In these modern times, teams are increasingly made up of well-trained and experienced individuals.  As a new manager, your role is to facilitate overall goal achievement, not to tell the team how they should do every task.

6. The buck stops on your desk

When I was an expert, I always knew that my boss was there to catch any problems in the rest of team. I somehow forgot that as a manager, I now had responsibility for the whole team. If they didn’t get it right, it wasn’t just their responsibility, it was now mine too.

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As a manager this means that you have to be aware of the problems, and make sure someone takes responsibility for resolving it. Ensure they have the necessary resources to resolve the problem, trust them but don’t forget to follow up. A good way to do this is to walk around your workplace and ask open questions of your team.

7. Say No sometimes

On the other hand, don’t feel you have to bend over backwards in solving everyone’s problems for them. If you do, you will soon have a desk full of ‘sick monkeys’ – problems your team has delegated to you! If you are conscientious, this will probably be difficult.

But I found that a team will learn better if they at least try and identify some possible solutions to the problem first.

8. Share your plan

I like planning. You decide on a goal and then determine a series of steps necessary to get there. My boss usually gave me my goal, but if not, I would ask him for one. If you’re familiar with project management, you’ll know that the best plans have milestones. Milestones are markers and measures of progress on your plan e.g. all outstanding customers queries now answered within 2 days, 2 new customers on board this month, team training plans agreed etc.

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I actually did all this. But I forgot that my team needed to contribute to the plan and understand what their role is delivering the plan was.

I like that think I eventually got better at managing people. At least other people tell me I did! But coming from an intensely technical role, where I was the expert, it was a complete culture change to having to manage other people. By sharing the mistakes I made in my first management job, I hope to spare you the pain of making the same mistakes.

Featured photo credit: business men/Markus Spiske via imcreator.com

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Published on October 8, 2019

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

The late writer William S. Burroughs once said that “When you stop growing, you start dying.” It might have a morbid undertone, but it’s one hundred percent true in terms of one’s career.

The days of finding a job with one company that you can stick with for 30 years, and simply relax as you move up its company escalator are few and far between in today’s world. This isn’t necessarily bad news. On the contrary, it means that you’re the one in charge of shaping your career advancement.

By putting these principles and behaviors into practice, you’ll begin to see how to advance your career quickly. Ready? Let’s get started…

1. Define What Success Is for You

There’s no right or wrong definition of what success in your career looks like. The important thing is to figure out what success looks like for YOU. It might, and probably will, change along the way, but if you don’t have some sort of milestone on the horizon, then you won’t know which direction to go in.

Think about success in your career in terms of one year, five years, and 10 years. Once you have that, it’s time to lace up your boots and get to work.

2. Learn How to Develop and Follow a Plan

Nobody just stumbles upon success accidentally. Sure, they may stumble upon breakthroughs or new methods accidentally, but all success stories have one thing in common — a plan.

Establish a timeline for the things that you want to achieve in your career in the next year, five years, 10 years, and so on. Consider the skills that you’ll need to learn to make these things happen and work on acquiring them.

3. Surround Yourself With Those Better Than You

It’s a rule of thumb among musicians that if you want to get better, then you need to get out of the bedroom and play with people who are better than you.

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By surrounding yourself with people who are better than you and where you want to be, you’ll not only see how these people climbed to where they are in their respective fields, but you’ll learn from them and naturally want to push yourself to be better in your own job as well.

4. Seek Out a Mentor(s)

A mentor will not only be able to help you refine and reach your career goals, but will be invaluable in landing promotions and finding unadvertised job openings.

One unique approach is to work on fostering a relationship with a mentor both within and outside of your company. This will help in giving you different perspectives as you rise up through the ranks in your company and career overall.

5. Stop Wasting Your Mornings

You may not think you’re a morning person, but if you can learn to be one, you’ll thank yourself 10 years down the road.

Prepare a to-do list of tasks that you want to accomplish the day before and work on knocking them out for at least one hour before you respond to morning emails. The problem with responding to emails first, is you’re giving your attention to somebody else’s agenda, instead of plotting your own course for the day.

6. Arrange or Attend a Networking Party

If you’re attending networking events simply because you might get a few free drinks, you’re doing them wrong. These events are great for meeting new people and forming relationships. Your goal shouldn’t be to get hired by the end of the night, but to simply make a good impression by being friendly and authentic. So what’s next?

Reach out a few days later via email or on social media to follow up and connect!

7. Pick Up Some New Skills

Nobody wants to be the old dog that can’t learn any new tricks. To move up in your career, you’re going to likely need to pick up new skills along the way. Maybe your company offers on-the-job training or you have the option of taking online classes at night.

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By learning new skills, you’ll not only be able to expand upon what you can already do, but you’ll make yourself more valuable to your employer and future employers.

8. Exploit the Benefits Already at Your Disposal

Remember what we just said about the possibility of your company providing on-the-job training? Take advantage of these sorts of benefits!

If you’re working for a company that allows you to job shadow other employees or has company mixers, you should attend these. They not only allow you to develop your skills within the company, but show seasoned executives within your field that you’re interested in more than just clocking in for a paycheck.

9. Make Yourself Indispensable

Good help is hard to find and employers want to retain outstanding employees. If you can learn to make yourself indispensable to your company, you’ll not only communicate that you’re successful, but will have a lot more job security. What’s this entail though?

It’s actually not all that difficult. By being reliable, adapting to new challenges, and holding your own work and performance to a high standard, you’ll stand out among your peers and others will take notice. Easy enough, right?

10. Get Off the Fence

People who advance in their careers are those who don’t shy away from voicing their opinion and stand up with authority when the opportunity arises.

If a problem arises in your company and you think you might have a solution or are willing to work to find one, then let others know. Employers value and promote problem solvers. Start off with something small and work your way up towards tackling more difficult tasks and projects.

11. Don’t Wait for More Responsibility, Ask for It

If you want more responsibility in your job, then be open about it with your manager. Your manager may be so busy with their own work that they weren’t aware you were looking for more challenges.

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Just make sure you can handle it and that you already show strong performance in your current duties. And if your manager doesn’t seem supportive about offering you more responsibility, well, then it could be time to look for new employment.

12. Stop Wasting Time on What You Don’t Want

If your career goals start with “I should do this…” there could be a problem. This kind of language in referring to goals can doom them to failure because the want isn’t there.

Consider using the RUMBA method (Reasonable, Understandable, Measurable, Behavioral and Agreed) when setting your goals. That “agreed” part should really be “want.” By going after career goals that you actually want to accomplish, you’re much more likely to achieve them.

13. Seek Out Feedback and Apply It

Simply doing your job might not always push you up in your career advancement. Too often, employees just assume that their bosses will notice their performance strides and reach out when the time is right to advance.

Don’t be afraid to regularly seek out feedback and ask for constructive criticism. It not only shows that you value your manager’s opinion but demonstrates that you care about your job and want to become better in your chosen field.

14. Pick Your Bosses Wisely

Advancing in your career can move a lot quicker if you’re working for the right people. If your boss isn’t any good at their job or doesn’t value you, then moving up could become difficult.

A great boss though, will be able to help you capitalize on your strengths and be an advocate for your success. If there aren’t any strong developers of talent in your management chain already, then look around for some and seek them out as mentors.

15. Learn to Develop Your Sense of Timing

The odds of asking for a promotion or raise are in your favor with over 70 percent of respondents to a survey from PayScale reporting some success. One thing to keep in mind that can make all the difference is when you ask.

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Some corporate cultures may prefer that employees reach out about advancement during their annual review, but maybe you work for a more free-spirited startup. The best approach may be to take note of when others advance and ask about how the organization handles employee development.

16. Work Hard and Promote Yourself

Working hard and delivering a solid job performance are the keys to advancing in your career no matter what field you’re in. This doesn’t mean you need to be completely humble about your accomplishments either.

Keep a record of your positive impact within the organization and let others both within your company and your field know that you’re enthusiastic about your role and work.

17. Don’t Just Build Your Network… Cultivate It

It’s way too easy to add new people to your LinkedIn network and then forget about them for all eternity. Rather than just collecting business cards or social media contacts, you should be cultivating relationships with the ones you already have.

Follow up with people that you haven’t spoken to in a while, offer to connect them with somebody you know in their field, or ask about a new job title they may have taken on. Doing so could be the spark that leads to a potential job referral.

18. Join a Professional Organization

The National Association of (insert your industry here) and other professional organizations can still offer a great wealth of advantages from networking to industry insights, and skill development.

Even outside of professional organizations dedicated to particular job fields, civic organizations can also be fantastic for making new contacts. After all, so much about career advancement is who you know, and you never know who you’ll meet who knows somebody else who is looking for someone with your skills and experience.

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Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

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