When asked to write a blog, my first question was, “Do I have to write about manager stuff?” I’m one of those managers who never went to management school. I fell into it because I loved my job, the people I work with, and the company I work for. Plus, I was up for a new challenge.
When I interviewed for the manager position, my boss said, “Are you sure?” I knew he had confidence in me, but I also suspect he knew I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I looked him confidently in the eye and said, “Yes, I can do this!” I still hold on to that optimism most days, but little did I understand the journey ahead. That brings me back to my original concern. How can I, a manager of four years, write some wisdom about manager stuff?
When I went from being a peer to a manager, I noticed many of my relationships changed. I was a bit taken aback that some no longer viewed me as a safe confidant. But how could I blame them? I too was being careful about getting too personal. I figured things would get complicated if I ever had to hold a friend accountable, or demonstrate to the team that I was not playing favorites.
As a peer, I endeavored to be a team player, do my job well, voice my feelings, and never felt anyone was looking at me. As a new manager, I realized quickly my team had high hopes for me. How was I going to live up to their expectations? I worried they would not trust my decisions, or that I would lack the credibility to lead a very experienced team. So I tread lightly, not stomping in and demanding respect but, instead, trying to earn it. I took actions to establish credibility and, with time, demonstrate my style and philosophy as a manager. I emphasized how I value autonomy and did not intend to micromanage. I endorsed fairness and respect as key team values, while balancing that with accountability and growth.
Today, I have settled into my role in the organization. However, I continue to learn new things every day. Some of the lessons have been hard. With a diverse team of various mindsets and opinions, I cannot always please everyone, nor should I. This is hard for the people pleaser in me. I want my team to be happy in their jobs, confident in themselves and each other. I tend to take on personal responsibility for other’s successes and failures, happiness or discontentment. I know that is not realistic, but I am a counselor at heart and that’s our modus operandi. However, I know that a good manager motivates, praises, supports, guides, communicates, coaches, and holds her or his team accountable. I also understand the presence or absence of these behaviors will contribute to the team’s contentment, engagement and success. It is a tricky balance.
If you find yourself moving from peer to manager, seek feedback and guidance from competent and experienced mentors and take it to heart. Demonstrate respect, not power. Establish your own sources of support, and do not expect a pat on the back or empathy from your team. They are looking to you for guidance with their own challenges. Acknowledge the positives and how each team member contributes to the success of the work group and organization. Listen. Be real and lead by example, not just words. If you make a mistake, and you will, acknowledge it. Have a sense of humor and some fun. And at the end of day, remember there is no one right way to be a manager no matter how many books you read or classes you take. Trust yourself, learn from your mistakes, and never stop endeavoring to enhance a positive work experience for yourself and others.
Sara L. joined Empathia in 2007 as an EAP Counselor, then became Manager, Clinical Services in 2012. Sara has a Master’s degree in Education/Professional Counseling and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). She is also a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP).