I shall never forget my first management job. It was 1976. I was promoted for my technical skills, but I was totally unprepared for management and therefore I committed every mistake a new supervisor can make. I literally guaranteed my failure after the 90-day honeymoon.
Ken Blanchard, author of “The One Minute Manager”, “The Power of Ethical Management”, “Whale Done!”, and other excellent management self-help books has come out with another winner that all prospective managers, new managers and especially tenured professorial 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 read novel is “S.E.R.V.E”, an acronym for 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 “Ordinances” are decrees or commands. 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 do not realize is that experience teaches its lessons in the school of fools. Experience is something you get – moments after you needed 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 you should read in “The Secret”.
The first lesson I learned is to spend as much time as possible studying the organization very 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 our 90-day honeymoon. Two good questions new managers should ask each person in their new team and act upon appropriately are: “What five things would you like to see me do?” “What two things are you pray that I will not do?
Those are good questions that seasoned managers ask their teams every 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 then let the team do their job in the present. Insidious micromanagers, spend their precious time focusing on the now and thus step on those who should be properly taking care of the present. Hence, no one is planning for tomorrow. Three good questions to ask yourself to determine if you are one of these awful micromanaging creatures are: “How many operational decisions do I chose to make?” verses “How many operational decisions do I chose to delegate?” and “How many of my supervisors’ decisions do I overrule?” One good question to ask your team, (and hope you get identical answers), is “what is the shared vision of this organization”?
Next, do I, as the leader, practice “MBWA”? (Management by Wandering Around), or am I spending most of my time with my boss, in meetings, and behind my desk? How leaders spend their time tells their team what and who is important to them.
Whether you run a large organization or small, illuminating questions to determine strength or weakness in this area are “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 the technical term for that is “bad thing”.
Finally, “Who do I have in my inner circle?” I have seen numerous new as well as 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 it is worthy of an entire column in and of itself.
If, as a new manager, you feel queasy about your answers to any of the above, 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.
Take it from me. Experience really is the best instructor – so long as it is someone else’s experience.
Charlie Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus at the UAF Community and Technical College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Department of Applied Business.