FAIRBANKS - I’ll never forget my first management job. It was 1976. I was promoted for my technical skills, but I was unprepared for management, and therefore I committed every mistake a new supervisor can make. Usually new supervisors get a “honeymoon period” with their new staff, but usually no more than 90 days. Unfortunately for me, I guaranteed my failure after the 90-day honeymoon.
Ken Blanchard is the author of “The One Minute Manager,” “The Power of Ethical Management,” “Whale Done!” and other excellent management self-help books. Blachard also came out with another winner that all prospective managers, new managers and especially tenured managers need to read called “The Secret.”
In this book, he gives five secrets that I wish I had known before I took my first fatal management job. Ken Blanchard’s secret in his easy-to-read novel is “S.E.R.V.E,” an acronym of a five point launching pad for a successful management career which achieves victory for self, organization and team. I thought that management was all about command, control and being served by my subordinates. After all “sub” means “below,” and an “ordinance” is a decree or command. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I paid the price for my mistakes. After my first 90 days, I only lasted 27 more.
Everyone has heard that experience is the best instructor. What most don’t realize is that experience teaches its lessons in the school of fools and is usually something you receive moments after really needing it. So, let me save you some time and tuition by sharing a few lessons learned over the past 30 years — some via the hard way, but most, thank goodness, from watching other managers gain “experience.” These lessons are in addition to those five can be read in “The Secret.”
The first lesson I learned is to spend as much time as possible studying the organization carefully before assuming the management role. The more time spent preparing for the new role, the less chance of making mistakes that eat up that precious goodwill we get in the 90 day honeymoon. Two really good questions new managers should ask each member of their new team and act upon appropriately include: “What five things would you like to see me do?” and “What two things are you afraid that I might do?” In reality, those are excellent questions that seasoned managers ask their teams once a year or so.
Secondly, as leaders, it is our job to focus on the future, articulate a clear vision of where the organization is going and let the team do its job in the present. Insidious micromanagers spend their precious time focusing on the now, thus stepping on those who should be properly taking care of the present. Hence, no one is planning for tomorrow. Three questions to ask yourself when determining whether you are one of these awful micromanaging creatures include: “How many operational decisions do I chose to make?” verses “How many operational decisions do I chose to delegate?” and “How many of my supervisor’s decisions do I overrule?” Another question to ask your team (and hope you get identical answers) is “What is the shared vision of this organization?”
Next, question whether you, as the leader, practice MBWA (Management by Wandering Around), or are you spending most of your time with your boss in meetings and behind the desk? How leaders spend their time tells their team what and who is important to them. If you run a large organization, the illuminating questions that will determine strengths or weaknesses in this area include: “How often do I stop in to each office and visit with each of my team members?”, “How often do I solicit ideas and opinions from frontline staff?” and “Do I only listen to those in my inner circle?” If you don’t remember the last time that you visited an office or thanked a low level clerk for a good idea that you actually implemented, then that’s probably a bad thing.
Finally, ask: “Who do I have in my inner circle?” I have seen numerous new and seasoned managers fail because they listen to the wrong people while excluding valuable people from their all important inner circle. This concept is so important that it is worthy of an entire column in and of itself.
If, as new manager, you feel queasy about your answers to any of the above questions, and you are in your first 90 days, you have time to change without having lost all your honeymoon capital. If, as a seasoned manager, you feel queasy about your answers to any of the above, and you are past your first 90 days, then you have some fences to mend and you are going to have to work harder on the marriage.
To find out what Ken Blanchard’s acronym S.E.R.V.E. stands for — buy the book. Take it from me, experience really is the best instructor so long as it is someone else’s experience.
Charle Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus. He may be reached by email at cndexter@alaska. edu. This column is provided as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical Colleges.