Wisdom//

An Essential Guide for First-Time Managers (Who Never Got the Rulebook on Managing)

The sooner you learn these five tips, the more successful you’ll be.

GoodStudio / Shutterstock
GoodStudio / Shutterstock

Next time you’re out to dinner, or riding up a company elevator, pay attention and you’ll likely hear someone within earshot complaining about their boss. There are two reasons we can say this with confidence: First, people like to complain, and second, bosses can be a pain. This isn’t subjective: 82 percent of companies fail to put the right person in managerial roles, according to Gallup research. 

But to be fair, it’s not always the manager’s fault that they fall short. Twenty-five percent of managers report never having received any sort of managerial training, according to a 2019 survey of 500 managers. Not only does a lack of training leave managers unprepared, it also leaves their teams susceptible to poor, self-determined practices. Consider the Hippocratic oath for doctors, which establishes a code of conduct that all members of the profession embrace. Such explicit guiding principles don’t get handed out to managers, Ethan Burris, Ph.D., a professor of management and Director for the Center for Leadership Ethics at the University of Texas at Austin, tells Thrive. While business schools around the country teach management techniques, there aren’t any guidelines for managers that the professional community has agreed on unanimously. 

Poor management skills carry effects for both employees and companies. Employees with bad managers are more susceptible to low engagement with their work — and research has shown that disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year. Retention is another fallout, as one out of two employees surveyed in a Gallup report said they had quit a job to “get away” from their boss. What’s more, in some cases, being a weak leader incapable of managing can impact the mental health of direct reports.

Now, for the good news: Whether you’re a first-time manager or you’ve been in the business for years, the power is in your hands to improve your managerial style. And sometimes all it takes is small tweaks in your management m.o. — or recognizing certain biases and blind spots — to make a substantial (positive) impact on your team and organization. Consider this your essential guide to managing:

Seek constant feedback 

There’s a reason this lesson comes first. The best managers not only provide a steady stream of feedback to the people who work for them, they also seek upward feedback for themselves — but so few actually do. A recent study published in Harvard Business Review found that 80 percent of 1,335 respondents said their boss has a “significant weakness that everyone knows and discusses covertly with each other, but not directly with their manager.” Perhaps the reason that bosses don’t ask for feedback is because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear. Still, it’s especially important for managers to seek feedback on a regular basis, Joey Hubbard, the Chief Training Officer at Thrive Global says. When leaders don’t ask for feedback, morale sinks. 

Collecting feedback means getting curious about your performance (i.e. “How do you think that meeting went?”) but also about how your behavior and attitude is impacting those you work with, (“Is there anything I’m doing that doesn’t feel supportive to you? How can I be better?”), Julie Zhuo, Vice President at Facebook and author of The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You, tells Thrive. By asking these questions — and then welcoming the range of responses you may receive — your employees will know that you care about your relationship and your role as a people manager. “Employees see things that aren’t working and become disengaged when there’s no acceptable way to say so,” Arianna Huffington, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, writes. Your job is to make it acceptable for workers to share their viewpoint with you, even if you don’t agree with it.

Develop your EQ and LQ

When a person is promoted to manager, it’s often because they’ve excelled at the individual level and have displayed a high intellectual quotient (IQ). But when you become a manager, interpersonal skills, like emotional intelligence (EQ), are as important as technical ones. People with a high EQ have a greater propensity to respond to co-workers with empathy, keep their cool under pressure, resolve conflict effectively. And managers will inevitably need to tap into these traits.  

Adjacent to EQ is LQ: the love quotient. Managers with a strong love quotient “demonstrate true care and love for the people that they’re managing,” Hubbard says. When people feel that their manager doesn’t “see them as a resource but as a person,” they’re more likely to feel a deep connection to their work, and will perform at a higher level. 

We all have the ability to develop EQ and IQ, and “the people who do will always be better managers,” Hubbard says. To bring out these parts of yourself, Hubbard says self-awareness is key. Ask yourself questions like: “Was I as sensitive as I could have been today?”… “Why was I unable to show empathy at that moment?”…“How can I address conflict in a way where people feel cared for and respected?” When you regularly practice self-awareness, your emotional and love quotients will naturally strengthen. 

Build trust with your team

You can’t be an effective leader without the trust of the people you manage. When a relationship between an employee and their manager is built on trust, it leads to a host of benefits. “Employees tend to go well above and beyond the call of duty: they help out more often, they stay late when necessary, they show a willingness to take on new projects,” Burris says. Research also shows that employees are more inclined to find new jobs rather than staying loyal to one company if they don’t trust their leaders.

But trust isn’t granted by others; it’s earned through consistency, follow-through, and authenticity. Building trust also requires a willingness to admit when you don’t have all the answers. This is often very challenging for employees who have moved up the ranks and are now managing their peers, Hubbard says. People think, “Now that I’ve been made a manager, I need to know everything and I need to decide everything by myself.” But that’s a fallacy. An effective, trustworthy manager is transparent about what they know and what they don’t, and leans on other team members for support, Hubbard explains. 

Be a human buffer

“Buffer” probably isn’t a word in your job description, but it’s a role managers should get comfortable playing, experts say. “The idea of protecting — providing a buffer between what the employee needs and what some of the demands are from the rest of the organization — is important for managers to grasp,” Burris explains. As Robert Sutton wrote in the Harvard Business Review, the best bosses “take take pride in being human shields, absorbing or deflecting heat from inside and outside the company, doing all manner of boring and silly tasks, and battling idiots and slights that make life harder than necessary on their people.” According to Burris, being a shield or a buffer for your team can make a big impact on your direct reports — “it leads to that feeling that managers are on your side and are looking out for you, your goals, your career.”

Model healthy work-life integration 

Many employees look to their managers to get a sense of what “model behavior” looks like at work — so as a supervisor, you have the power to encourage (or discourage) healthy working patterns on your team. The decisions you make on a macro level (for instance, do you take advantage of your company’s parental leave policy?) and micro level (i.e. do you stay late at work every day?) can have a big impact on your employees own work-life. If you’re most productive in the evening hours after everyone else has gone home, that’s totally fine — but it’s important to have a conversation with your reports so they know they’re not expected to mirror your working style. What’s more, Hubbard says that effective managers care more about their team’s output than they do about how often their team works overtime. “In reality, the people sitting at their desk from nine to six could be getting a whole lot more done than the people sitting at their desk from eight to eight,” he adds. 

At Thrive, one of the ways we ensure that managers know what’s important to their direct reports outside of work is via the entry interview. Ideally, it happens during an employee’s first week on the job — but it’s never too late to have one. During this discussion, Hubbard says, effective managers will ask their reports about their personal “non-negotiables,” which include certain days or times during the week where work will need to stop. Perhaps they’ve recently become a caregiver to a sick parent, or started seeing a therapist once a week, and have a hard “out” time. Even if someone says, “I leave on Wednesdays by 6 PM so that I have time to get groceries for the week ahead,” Hubbard says it’s important to be non-judgmental about what people’s individual priorities are. By showing your team that you understand the myriad needs of life, you’ll be paving the road for a more trusting and productive working relationship. In fact, you’ll be the manager you always wish you had yourself. 

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