The First-Time Manager
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The First-Time Manager


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What’s a rookie manager to do? Faced with new responsibilities, and in need of quick, dependable guidance, novice managers can’t afford to learn by trial and error. The First-Time Manager is the answer, dispensing the bottom-line wisdom they need to succeed. A true management classic, the book covers essential topics such as hiring and firing, leadership,


What’s a rookie manager to do? Faced with new responsibilities, and in need of quick, dependable guidance, novice managers can’t afford to learn by trial and error. The First-Time Manager is the answer, dispensing the bottom-line wisdom they need to succeed. A true management classic, the book covers essential topics such as hiring and firing, leadership, motivation, managing time, dealing with superiors, and much more. Written in an inviting and accessible style, the revised sixth edition includes new material on increasing employee engagement, encouraging innovation and initiative, helping team members optimize their talents, improving outcomes, and distinguishing oneself as a leader. Packed with immediately usable insight on everything from building a team environment to conducting performance appraisals, The First-Time Manager remains the ultimate guide for anyone starting his or her career in management.

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By Loren B. Belker Jim McCormick Gary S. Topchik


Copyright © 2012 AMACOM, a division of American Management Association, New York
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-1784-3

Chapter One

The Road to Management

THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT WAYS that individuals become managers.

Unfortunately, many companies don't go through a very thorough process in choosing those who will be moved into a managerial position. Often the judgment is based solely on how well the person is performing in his or her current position. The best individual contributor doesn't always make the best manager, although many companies still make the choice on that basis. The theory is that successful past performance is the best indicator of future success. However, management skills are very different from the skills one needs to succeed as an individual contributor.

So the fact that an employee is a good performer, even though he or she demonstrates a pattern of success, doesn't necessarily mean the person will be a successful manager. Being a manager requires skills beyond those of being an excellent technician. Managers need to focus on people, not just tasks. They need to rely on others, not just be self-reliant. Managers are also team-oriented and have a broad focus, whereas nonmanagers succeed by having a narrow focus and being detail-oriented. In many ways, transitioning from the role of an individual contributor to a manager is similar to the difference between being a technician and being an artist. The manager is an artist because management is often nuanced and subjective. It involves a different mindset.

Management Is Not for Everyone

Some companies have management-training programs. These programs vary from excellent to horrible. Too often, the program is given to people who already have been in managerial positions for a number of years. Even experienced managers periodically should be given refresher courses in management style and techniques. If a training program has any merit, however, it should be given to individuals who are being considered for management positions. The training program will not only help them avoid mistakes, it also gives trainees the opportunity to see whether they will be comfortable leading others. A management training program that helps potential managers decide that they are not suited for management has done both the prospective managers and the organization they are a part of a great favor.

Unfortunately, far too many organizations still use the " sink or swim " method of management training. All employees who move into supervisory positions must figure it out on their own. This method assumes that everyone intuitively knows how to manage. They don't. Managing people is crucial to the success of any organization; but in too many cases, it is left to chance. Anyone who has worked for any length of time has observed situations where a promotion didn't work out and the person asked for the old job back. The well-known saying, "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it" comes to mind. In many companies, the opportunities for promotion are limited if you don't go into management. As a result, some people go into management who shouldn't be there—and they wouldn't want to be in management if other opportunities existed for salary increases and promotion.

A series of management seminars was conducted for one company that used an enlightened approach to the problem of moving the wrong people into management. Everyone under potential consideration for a first-line management position was invited to attend an all-day seminar on what is involved in the management of people. Included were some simple but typical management problems. When these candidates were invited to attend, they were told by the company, "If after attending this seminar you decide that the management of people is not something you want to do, just say so. That decision will in no way affect other nonmanagement promotion possibilities or future salary decisions in your current position."

Approximately five hundred people attended these seminars, and approximately twenty percent decided they did not want to move into management. After getting a brief taste of management, approximately one hundred people knew they would not make good managers, but they were still valuable employees. Far too many people accept management promotions because they feel (often rightly so) that they will be dead-ended if they reject the promotion.

The Omnipotent One

Some people believe that if you want something done right, you'd better do it yourself. People with this attitude rarely make good leaders or managers because they have difficulty delegating responsibility. Everyone has seen these people: They delegate only those trivial tasks that anyone could perform, and anything meaningful they keep for themselves. As a result, they work evenings and weekends and take a briefcase home as well. There is nothing wrong with working overtime. Most people occasionally must devote some extra time to the job, but those who follow this pattern as a way of life are poor managers. They have so little faith in their team members that they trust them with only trivial tasks. What they are really saying is that they don't know how to properly train their people.

There is often a staff turnover problem in a team with this kind of manager. The employees are usually more qualified than the "omnipotent one" believes and they soon tire of handling only trivia.

You probably know of an omnipotent one in your own organization. It is a problem if you're working for one, because you'll have a difficult time being promoted. Caught up in your impossible situation, you're not given anything important to do. As a result, you never get a chance to demonstrate your abilities. Omnipotent ones seldom give out recommendations for promotion. They are convinced that the reason they must do all the work is that their staff doesn't accept responsibility. They can never admit that it is because they refuse to delegate. The trap of becoming an omnipotent one is being emphasized because you don't want to allow yourself to fall into this mode of behavior.

One other unvarying trait of omnipotent ones is that they seldom take their vacations all at once. They take only a couple days off at a time because they are certain the company can't function longer than that without them. Before going on vacation, they will leave specific instructions as to what work is to be saved until their return. In some situations, they'll leave a phone number where they can be reached in an emergency. Of course, they define what the emergency might be. The omnipotent one even complains to family and friends, "I can't even get away from the problems at work for a few days without being bothered." What omnipotent ones don't say is that this is exactly the way they want it because it makes them feel important. For some omnipotent managers, their retirement years are demolished because retirement means an end to their dedication to the job, their perceived indispensability, and possibly their reason for living.

The Chosen Few

Sometimes, people are chosen to head a function because they're related to or have an "in" with the boss. Consider yourself fortunate if you do not work for this type of company. Even if you are related to the boss, it's very difficult to assume additional responsibility under these circumstances. You doubtless have the authority, but today's businesses aren't dictatorships and people won't perform well for you just because you've been anointed by upper management. So, if you're the boss's son or daughter or friend, you really need to prove yourself. You'll get surface respect or positional respect, but let's face it—it's what people really think of you, not what they say to you, that matters—and that affects how they perform.

In the best organizations, you're not chosen for a managerial position because of your technical knowledge, but because someone has seen the spark of leadership in you. That is the spark you must start developing. Leadership is difficult to define. A leader is a person others look to for direction, someone whose judgment is respected because it is usually sound. As you exercise your judgment and develop the capacity to make sound decisions, it becomes a self-perpetuating characteristic. Your faith in your own decision-making power is fortified. That feeds your self-confidence, and with more self-confidence, you become less reluctant to make difficult decisions.

Leaders are people who can see into the future and visualize the results of their decision making. Leaders can also set aside matters of personality and make decisions based on fact. This doesn't mean you ignore the human element—you never ignore it—but you always deal with the facts themselves, not with people's emotional perception of those facts.

People are chosen to be managers for a variety of reasons. If you're chosen for sound reasons, acceptance by your new staff will, for the most part, be much easier to gain.

Chapter Two

Starting Out

YOUR FIRST WEEK on the job as a manager will be unusual, to say the least. If you're a student of human behavior, you'll observe some surprising developments.

Settling In

Don't believe that everyone is happy about your promotion. Some of your coworkers will feel they should have been chosen. They may be jealous of your new position and secretly hope you fail.

Others, the office "yes people," will immediately start playing up to you. As the chosen one, you can be their ticket to success. Their objective isn't all bad, but their approach is unfortunate.

Some coworkers will put you to the test early. They may ask you questions to see if you know the answers. If you don't, they'll want to see if you'll admit it or if you'll try to bluff your way through it. Some may ask you questions you cannot possibly know the answers to, just for the sheer delight of embarrassing you.

Most—you hope the majority—will adopt a wait-and-see attitude. They're not going to condemn or praise you until they see how you perform. This attitude is healthy and all you really have a right to expect.

Initially you will be measured against your predecessor in the position. If that person's performance was miserable, yours will look great by comparison even if you're mediocre. If you follow a highly capable performer, your adjustment will be tougher. Before you begin thinking it's best to follow a miserable performer, consider the load of tough problems you'd be inheriting from your inept predecessor, which is why he's no longer there. It will be difficult but potentially quite rewarding, if you're up to the challenge. The highly capable predecessor is probably gone because she was promoted. In either case, you have a big job ahead of you.

One of your first decisions should be to refrain from immediately instituting changes in the method of operation. (In some situations, top management may have instructed you to go in and make certain immediate changes because of the seriousness of the situation. In such cases, however, it is usually announced that changes will be forthcoming.) Above all, be patient. Keep in mind that most people find change threatening. Sudden change often results in a fear response that will work against you.

When you do need to make changes, whether soon after your promotion or later, be as forthcoming as possible in explaining what will be taking place and why. This does not mean that you disclose every detail. Determining what to disclose and what to keep to yourself is part of the judgment you need to have as a manager. But the more forthcoming you can be, the more you will help your team get past the resistance to change that is a normal part of human nature.

In all settings, but particularly when implementing changes, answer questions as honestly as possible. If you are new to the position, don't be afraid to say "I don't know" if you don't. Your people don't expect you to know everything. They may just be probing to see if they can trust you. Trying to fabricate an answer to a question you don't know the answer to is always a bad idea, and will very likely cost you credibility and trust.

If you make changes immediately, you'll be resented. In addition to being disquieting to your team, your actions can be construed as being arrogant and an insult to your predecessor. Many young new leaders make their own lives more difficult by assuming they have to use all their newfound power immediately. The key word should be restraint. It is vital to remember that you're the one who is on trial with your subordinates, not they with you.

This is a good time to make an important point about your own attitude. Many new managers communicate rather well upward to their superiors, but poorly downward to their direct reports, but they will have more to say about your future than your superiors. You are going to be judged by how well your team functions, so the people who now work for you are the most important in your business life. Believe it or not, they're more important even than the president of your company. This bit of knowledge has always seemed obvious, yet many new managers spend almost all their time planning their upward communication and give only a passing glance to the people who really control their future.

Using Your New Authority

If there is one area that many new managers blunder into, it is the use of authority. This is particularly true of new managers navigating their way through a self-directed "sink or swim" method of on-the-job training. This is the flawed belief that because you now have the authority of management, you have to start using it—and you must use and display it in a big way. This may be the biggest mistake that new managers make.

View the authority of the new position as you would a limited inventory. The fewer times you draw on the inventory, the greater is the supply that remains for when it is really needed.

The newly appointed manager who starts acting like "the boss" and begins issuing orders and other directives is off to a bad start. While you may not hear the remarks directly, the typical comments made behind the back of such a misguided manager might be, "Boy, is she drunk with power," or "This job has really gone to his head," or "He sure is fond of himself since he was promoted." You don't need this kind of problem.

If you don't draw down your inventory of authority too often, the authority you may have to use in an emergency is more effective because it is infrequently displayed. The people you lead know that you are the manager. They know that the requests you make carry the authority of your position. The vast majority of the time, it is unnecessary to use that authority.

There is a term in the creative arts called understatement. For the most part, it means that what is left unsaid may be as important as what is said. This is true with the use of authority. A direction given as a request is a managerial type of understatement. If the response is not forthcoming, you can always clarify or add a bit of authority. On the other hand, if you use all your authority to achieve a task, and then discover by the reaction that you have used too much, the damage is done. It is difficult, if not impossible, to de-escalate the overuse of authority.

In short, do not assume that you need to use the authority of your position. Perhaps the greatest by-product of this softer approach is that you are not building a negative image that may be nearly impossible to erase later.

Having the Personal Touch

Sometime during the first sixty days on the job, you should plan on having a personal conversation with each of the people in your area of responsibility. Don't do this the first week or so. Give your people a chance to get used to the idea that you're there. If you try to do it immediately, you risk overwhelming or intimidating your team members. When it comes time to talk, ask them into your office for an unhurried discussion about anything that is on their minds. Do no more talking than necessary. This first discussion is not designed for outward communication with your team members; it is designed to open lines of communication from them to you. (Have you ever noticed that the more you allow the other person to talk, the higher you'll be rated as a brilliant conversationalist?)

Although the employee's personal concerns are important, it is preferable to restrict the discussion to work-related topics. Sometimes it is difficult to define these limits because problems at home may be troubling the employee more than anything else, but at all times you must avoid getting into a situation where you're giving personal advice. Just because you've been selected as the boss, it doesn't make you an expert on all the personal problems confronting your people. Listen to them; often that's what they need more than anything else—someone to listen to them.


Excerpted from THE FIRST-TIME MANAGER by Loren B. Belker Jim McCormick Gary S. Topchik Copyright © 2012 by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association, New York. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

LOREN B. BELKER was an executive in a major midwestern insurance company for nearly 30 years, and the author of previous editions of The First-Time Manager.
JIM McCORMICK is the former Chief Operating Officer of the fifth largest architectural firm in the United States. A full time speaker and organizational consultant, his clients include Accenture, Bank of America, FedEx, Hewlett-Packard, PepsiCo, and Verizon.

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