Oh No! I Woke Up a Manager

20By Alice Waagen, PhD
Workforce Learning
Photo by Sebastian Bergmann, www.flickr.com

This article was published in the Loundounclear, January 2003, a publication of the Loundoun County Chamber of Commerce

One minute you are confidently and competently managing projects, tasks and assignments, and the next minute your are rewarded with a promotion into management. Congratulations are in order. Right?

You may think so, but are you prepared to handle your job plus the measurement and management of the work of other people?

In corporate America, the vast majority of first-time managers are given little training and guidance to ease their transition into this new role of people management. Indeed, the road to successful business leadership is littered with countless failures.

There is no guarantee that a person who excels in managing “things,” like projects, programs or physical resources, can successfully manage people. So what should you do if you aspire to be a manager, or indeed have been promoted into leading others?

The importance of mentoring

First, and perhaps most important, you need to build a strong network of mentors. Along with mentor-based learning, investigate the theories of good management practices through books and classes.

Why do I emphasize a network of mentors? Because you will learn more from others who are living this role than you will from abstract theories. Every time you read a book or take a class, you have to ask, “How does this apply to me and my world?” But when you learn from the people who surround you, that application leap has already been made.

What makes a good mentor?

A mentor is anyone who can give you sound guidance, advice and feedback on your actions. And note that I keep saying a “network” of mentors. Don’t limit yourself to one person’s advice; use as many people as it takes to get a full range of input.

For instance, a new manager certainly wants to identify someone who has been in a similar job for a good many years, to use as a sounding board for ideas on how to manage people. You would use an experienced manager to help you with questions such as, “How do I deal with performance problems?” and “Where is the best place to find new hires?” Someone who’s “been there, done that” can save you countless hours and missteps.

You also can lean a lot from a peer mentor, someone who has close to your level of experience. Think of a peer mentor as more of a workplace buddy, someone to share the learning curve and who will collaborate with you to share successes as well as things to do better next time.

If you think about it, good mentors are all around us. They are the people next to you at an association meeting; they could be your neighbor or even a family member. But the key to getting good advice and feedback is your willingness to listen, learn and apply what you hear.

The bottom line

Managing people is challenging, because people can be so unpredictable. When we form mentor networks, we expand our experience universe from one to many, and exponentially increase our experience pool so we can handle a greater range of demands. That’s how you can learn to do your job and manage the work of other people, too.

ABOUT Alice Waagen’s Workforce Learning

Workforce Learning LLC is a leadership development company that provides managers and C-level executives with the skills and knowledge they need to build a more productive work environment. Since founding the company in 1997, owner Alice Waagen, PhD, has developed highly effective leadership programs and coaching workshops that teach people in charge how to motivate and inspire employees. “Research shows that the single reason most organizations fail to thrive is a lack of strong people skills among those at the top,” Alice says. “We work to ensure organizations are healthy from the top down, and ultimately if an organization has happy, energized, effective employees they find it reflected in the bottom line.” For more information, visit www.workforcelearning.com.