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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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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

15 Ways to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included)

15 Ways to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included)

It’s hard to describe the frustration you feel when your professional goals keep falling flat. You’re floundering and you’re not where you want to be professionally, which bleeds into your personal life and causes you to get upset and sad easily.

You need a system, a way to set goals that makes them attainable 100 percent of the time. When you establish your system, it takes the guesswork out of goal achievement and makes it a matter of completing specific steps.

Where would you be right now in your life if you had followed such a system from the beginning of your professional career and stuck with it? Would you be owning and running your own business, would you be working for a company you love, or would you be independently creating great work that keeps you in high demand?

This is where it gets good. The following tips will cover the most actionable ways to set professional goals (with professional goals examples included). If you follow these tips and do your absolute best each step of the way, you’ll have no choice but to launch into a new, exciting period in your professional life.

Start with tip number 1 — this tip is essential to any and all of the other tips on this list. Although you’re starting with 1, this is not a linear list. You can take each tip by itself and run with it, or you can implement as many as possible — the choice is yours. That said, the more action you take, the closer you are to making tip 1 a reality.

Ready to grasp the very essence of what it is to succeed? Keep reading.

1. Identify What You Love — and Make a Statement

This is it — the single most important word is not career, it’s love. Your primary, overarching, life-defining career goal must center around what you love.

You figured out what you love when you were young, and then somewhere along the way you lost it in the noise, the pressure, and the clutter of everyday life.

Billions of people exist on this Earth, and things aren’t what we wish they could be because we succumb to fear instead of doing what we love.

How can you take what you love and serve this love with your career?

  • Create a statement, a single sentence that encapsulates your overarching career goal. Make it specific.
  • Write the love-of your-life career goal sentence down and pin it to the wall where you’ll see it every day.
  • Make sure this sentence informs all your other objectives.
  • Make sure your primary career goal is the result of what you love to do.

Example:

“Be a successful nonfiction author: Write nonfiction content — books, poems, essays, blog posts — to help people realize the priceless importance of love and the imagination, and get your content published.”

2. Don’t Just Create SMART Objectives — Be Ultra-SMART

Now that you have your ultimate career goal nailed to the wall, it’s time to get SMART. That is, use the SMART acronym to create objectives:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timed

Your SMART objectives are micro-goals that fit all of the above criteria. They are not nebulous, vague, and tough to complete. They are daily objectives you know you can handle, and they’re necessary.

You have to complete SMART objectives in order to meet other, tougher goals, which ultimately contribute to your main goal.

So how do you make your SMART objectives ultra-SMART? Push yourself. Don’t settle for the same level of output every day. Don’t hold yourself to low standards. Think about quality and do your absolute best.

Example:

SMART: “Today I will write 500 words about the power of love between 10am and 2pm.”

Ultra-SMART: “Today I will write 500 words about the power of love between 10am and 2pm, and will find 3 accredited, scientific sources to backup my argument.”

Note that “Ultra-SMART” is not about writing more — more isn’t necessarily better, and if you’re just starting out, may not be achievable; rather, ultra-SMART is about focusing on quality within a reasonable framework.

3. Identify an Absolutely Essential Stepping Stone and Step to It

No one realizes their ultimate goal without finding a job that will push them in that direction. Jobs pay, and you need money to survive, but you don’t want a job that has nothing to do with your career goal. Pinpoint a job that is like an apprenticeship for what you ultimately want to do.

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Example:

When famous author Neil Gaiman delivered his commencement address[1] — which, by the way, is phenomenal — to University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he said something that makes perfect sense:

“I wanted to write comics and novels and stories and films, so I became a journalist, because journalists are allowed to ask questions, and to simply go and find out how the world works, and besides, to do those things I needed to write and to write well, and I was being paid to learn how to write economically, crisply, sometimes under adverse conditions, and on time.”

Note that Gaiman’s goal was to be a creative writer, but he took a position in journalism, which isn’t creative writing; it’s about facts, writing them well, and having discipline. For Gaiman, journalism was a stepping stone towards achieving his overarching goal.

4. Get Really, Really Good at Crafting Your Resume

You’re not going to settle, and there are multiple stepping stones towards your final destination. But here’s the clincher:

Crafting a great resume is about more than landing a job.

Crafting a great resume is about learning how to think from someone else’s perspective. If you can imagine what someone else wants to see in a great resume, you can view other things from their perspective too, and that’s important in the professional world.

To do a resume the right way, consider the mistakes you should avoid:[2]

  • Avoid disorganization: Provide your name, work experience and corresponding titles, education, relevant skills.
  • Avoid irrelevant information: Consider the position you’re applying for carefully and focus on information relevant to it.
  • Avoid length: A one page resume with just the right wording is a thing of wonder.
  • Avoid showy fonts and words: Be basic but let your personality shine through.
  • Avoid sloppiness: Check for typos, misspelling, and grammatical mistakes.

Example: Here’s a great resume example, courtesy of Shayanne Gal from Business Insider:[3]

    5. Ask Yourself the Most In-Depth Questions

    Throughout your educational career, you heard teachers say, “There are no bad questions” or something to that effect.

    It’s true; however, this mantra ignored the fact that some questions are better than others.

    Asking, “How can I do x in a unique and interesting way?” is better than asking “How can I do x?”

    You can set professional goals that you might accomplish, or you can set professional goals you’re highly likely to accomplish because you went in-depth with your questions. This goes very well with SMART goals. Specificity and detail are the hallmarks of achievable goals.

    Example:

    Say, for instance, you’re at the point where you feel you can start your own business from home. The Hartford offers pertinent questions you should ask before doing so:[4]

    • Will your house accommodate your business?
    • Can you find work-life balance?
    • When you interact with customers, how will you showcase a professional image?
    • Are there city zoning ordinances you need to consider?
    • Do you have the insurance and tax liabilities covered?

    6. Use a Digital Assistant to be Insanely Efficient

    Executives and bosses have personal assistants to help them with scheduling, organization, and other time-consuming tasks.

    You may not be at the point in your career where you can afford to hire somebody, which is why it helps to have a productivity assistant to help you be more efficient.

    Use an app to keep track of mundane scheduling and other minute details so you can free up your mind for creativity.

    Example:

    See this list of task management apps . Out of all of them, Any.do has one of the best interfaces, and it will give you the reminders you need to stay on task.

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      7. Create a Vivid Mental Picture

      Discouragement can and will happen — it’s a part of life, whether professional or personal. Don’t wait until you get discouraged to visualize yourself doing well.

      Practice your mental picture of success even at the times when everything is going so well it’s unbelievable, but you’re not quite at the end-point yet.

      When things aren’t going well, it’ll be the much easier to remain in a positive mind-state because you practiced being there.

      Example:

      Social scientist Frank Niles provides a perfect example of goal visualization:[5]

      “Former NBA great Jerry West is a great example of how this works. Known for hitting shots at the buzzer, he acquired the nickname ‘Mr. Clutch.’ When asked what accounted for his ability to make the big shots, West explained that he had rehearsed making those same shots countless times in his mind.”

      Note that West visualized sinking the exact shots; again, specificity matters.

      8. Express Your Professional Goals Positively

      This goes directly with the visualization process. Goals can seem like chores, which is why it’s important to use positive, proactive wording when you’re vocalizing or writing things down.

      Through positive expression, you’re training your brain to take a certain path whenever you think about your professional goals. This translates into forward, positive momentum whenever you take action.

      You’re more likely to take action if you associate that action with positive thoughts and feelings.

      Example:

      Instead of, “It isn’t that hard to type 500 words in 4 hours,” say, “I like taking advantage of the time I set aside to zone in and really have fun with what I’m doing.”

      Note that the specific goal — 500 words in 4 hours — is implied because you already know it.

      The point of this statement is to associate a feeling of enjoyment with commitment and focus.

      9. Build Your Network with Passion and Purpose

      A professional network will help you hit those stepping stones necessary to achieving your ultimate goal. But you don’t want to network with just anyone.

      Build a network with other people who share your passion, build it based around your specialty, but also look for people from outside your usual sphere who can help you gain a different perspective.

      Demonstrate your passion by helping other people, and listen more than you talk.

      Example:

      Find a mentor — it’s perhaps the most critical networking move you can make. MileIQ provides some examples of where to start:[6]

      • The SCORE Business Learning Center
      • Small Business Development Centers
      • Women’s Business Centers
      • Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers
      • Minority Business Development Agency
      • A trade association through your SBA district office

      10. Benchmark a Competitor Like a Boss

      If you’re freelancing or running your own business, this one is particularly applicable to you.

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      Is there an exemplary freelancer or small business owner with whom you’re impressed? Analyze what this person has done to get where they are, find a metric to serve as a benchmark of their success, and aim to do better.

      Example:

      Benchmark social metrics — say, for example, you’re writing an article on cryptocurrency for a finance website. Buzzsumo[7] provides a tool you can use to benchmark the number of social shares a competitor has earned for this topic:

        11. Master Time Management

        Here’s the thing about professional goals:

        You must master time management to accomplish them. Understand how much time to set aside for each objective; and when you’re working on objectives, use your time not just efficiently, but mindfully.

        That means immersing yourself in the activities that are essential to completing objectives. Focus on what works best to achieve your desired outcome.

        Example:

        Life and business strategist Tony Robbins recommends “chunking your goals,” otherwise known as compartmentalization:

        • Write down tasks you need to get done during the week.
        • Group different tasks together based on their categories, e.g. “Consult SCORE about a mentor” and “talk to Ted about job opportunities” would be categorized under “Networking.”
        • Set aside time for each category.
        • Work on the tasks for a single category during a specific chunk of time.

        12. Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses — and Get Strategic

        As you move toward accomplishing your primary career goal, you’ll note that different objectives fit into different categories, and you’re better at some categories than you are others.

        Once you know what you’re good at, focus on it. Spend as much time as you can concentrating on your strong-points.

        When it comes to your weaknesses, ask for help.

        Forbes contributor Elana Lynn Gross reveals that asking for help the right way can advance your career. “Ask targeted questions that will allow you to set your strategy,” Gross says.[8]

        Within any category, work on what you’re good at first, and then ask your network for help with blind spots.

        Example:

        Christine Wallace, VP of Branding and Marketing at Startup Institute, told Fast Company how she ended up dropping her first venture:[9]

        “I took a train from the Valley up to San Francisco and met with two mentors, who agreed that it was the end of the road for Quincy [Apparel]. After it was all over I spent three weeks straight in bed. Then after 21 days of sleeping, crying, I put on my big girl pants and rejoined the world.”

        In Wallace’s case, she needed to ask her mentors for help to understand when to move on.

        Don’t be afraid to ask for advice when something isn’t working.

        13. Take Advantage of Awesome Resources at Your Disposal

        When it comes to setting professional goals, tunnel-vision and short-sightedness are big problems for many of us.

        We think there’s only one way to complete an objective. The truth is there are multiple ways to approach any problem.

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        This implies taking a moment to step back, view your objective from a distance, and survey your options. Think differently, use your imagination, and do a thorough search — online and off — for resources.

        Example:

        Get a library card, scour the shelves, AND crowdsource ideas from social media — you may find something unexpected.

        14. Be a Brand That Stands Out

        Believe it or not, your brand is a very important part of your overall career goal. There are two aspects here:

        • How you appear via any published format
        • How you appear in person

        It’s more important to have a quality brand than it is to be prolific, so don’t publish anything — on social media or elsewhere — that you will regret.

        You will make mistakes in your endeavors, and in fact it’s important to take risks and make mistakes.

        There are good mistakes. Good mistakes are the screw-ups that show you’re striving toward your goal. Anytime you set an objective, think about how it aligns with brand and overall goal. In other words, know when to say “no” to projects that don’t compliment your brand and overall mission.

        Example:

        View yourself as a thought leader, be one, and make content that showcases your thought leadership:[10]

        • Videos: Post on YouTube, your website, and social media
        • Podcasts: Learn how to start podcasting.[11]
        • Workshops or meetups: Look for a community space and invite others to join you in discussion.
        • Blog posts and newspaper op-eds: Share your knowledge and opinions.

        15. Steal Ideas from Your Competitors

        This is the one truth that’s hard to stomach. Great ideas come to those who steal. You may not be sure of your next step, your next objective, and time is precious.

        Observe what other great professionals are doing, capture the core of their objectives, make them your own, and craft them into something new.

        Example:

        Steve Jobs, the visionary behind Apple, fully endorsed the Picasso quote, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”[12]

        In 1989, Xerox sued Apple for stealing ideas and incorporating them in the Macintosh and Lisa computers, but lost the lawsuit. That’s because Apple made something new.

        Here’s a simple way to go about this. Say you’re writing about freelancing, and the Freelancers Union blog is one of your top competitors. Pop the URL into Buzzsumo. You’ll see that the top articles are about taxes:

          In that case, you can write a “Definitive Guide to Taxes for Freelancers” or “Definitive Guide to Tax Breaks for Freelancers.”

          It’s About Passion and Practicality Combined

          Your primary career goal must be about what you love to do. Otherwise, why would you want to do it?

          To reach your goal, you must make small, practical steps. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly along the way, and don’t eschew hard work that isn’t exactly exciting.

          Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of the dream, and when the step-by-step isn’t nearly as exciting, we quit.

          Learn how to do the boring, rote tasks with joy because you’re doing them to achieve greatness.

          Always remember why you set out on a mission to begin with, and let your brain follow your heart.

          More Tips for Setting Professional Goals

          Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

          Reference

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