Not all managers are born with the ability to be great leaders. Some of the best only excel once they're taught the skills they need to oversee a complex and dynamic workforce. Supervisory roles can be particularly daunting for new managers, who feel tremendous pressure to perform well but lack the experience to make that feasible.
Understanding the ingredients of how to become an effective leader is important to new managers seeking to improve their skills, notes Dr. Michael Crant, the Mary Jo and Richard M. Kovacevich Professor of Excellence in Leadership Instruction at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.
“I believe there are predictable and correctable common mistakes that new or inexperienced supervisors make,” says Crant, who is internationally known for his research on proactive behavior in the workplace and field of management. “Thinking about them early on in your career is of great value.”
Key to the success of a new manager is to understand what is expected from employees and senior managers alike. Expectations are different, depending on whether it’s based on the perspectives of those you supervise or the executives you answer to.
Managers can become better at their jobs by learning about the successes and failures of other leaders who work in their organization, similar fields of interest or society in general.
What do they do that less effective managers fail to accomplish?
In his research on effective management, Crant has identified a series of guidelines he believes are necessary to help new and inexperienced managers accomplish their objectives. Among them:
“To be successful in the world of work, it requires being good at both technical and the soft skills,” Crant says. “Great supervisors are able to reach people. They are able to get things done through people.”
A good starting point for any new manager is to understand how to meet the expectations of others. Crant outlines a set of nine traits other people want in a manager:
1. Use Power Wisely – It is important for new managers to determine how to use their power, to what extent it should be used, and how to use it wisely. Power is all about the ability to influence others. It is good to have, but can be dangerous if used inappropriately. Crant warns against bragging about having power. Also, it’s wise not to use it if you don’t have to. It is better to gain compliance from others through credibility rather than by threats and power plays.
2. Being Involved – Effective supervisors know when to get involved and what issues require their attention. They confront difficult situations head-on. “Quality supervisors are active not passive or reactive,” Crant says. “They are involved because they want to make a difference.”
3. Generate Ideas – Effective managers are innovative, forward thinking and generate ideas. Crant described innovation and ideas as “the lifeblood of improvement.” People who come up with ideas on the job “get promoted more quickly than those who don’t,” Crant says.
4. Collaboration – Good managers are willing to collaborate with others. They share credit and accept blame, when appropriate. They don’t let interpersonal issues affect their work. “You don’t have to like someone to work well with them, but you do have to have respect,” Crant reasons.
5. Lead Initiatives – The best managers step up to the plate before they are asked. They are risk-takers, in the best sense. The careers of many supervisors have been accelerated because they were willing to take a chance on an important project. “Great supervisors don’t hide. They don’t do the bare minimum,” Crant says.
6. Develop the Talent of Others – A supervisor who cares as much about an employee’s career development as his or her own is likely to have a bright future. Managers are encouraged to spend time working with the people they supervise and help them improve their skills and seek new opportunities. Giving workers high-quality performance appraisals is of great value.
7. Anticipate Trends – An effective manager is expected to be good at predicting trends in the marketplace and being able to forecast what will happen next. They stay current on what is in the news, what their competitors are doing and what is happening in their industry. They anticipate key moves to be ready to respond quickly and avoid being caught by surprise.
8. Give Regular Feedback – It is extremely important that new hires, particularly those right out of school and those new to the organization or department, receive frequent, specific and immediate feedback. All employees benefit when a supervisor provides regular updates on workplace matters or important personnel issues.
9. Be Accessible – The best managers have an open-door policy. They also get out of the office and spend time talking and working with employees on the floor. Crant described “managing by walking around” as a skill that works on a number of levels. “It’s respectful. It develops relationship,” Crant says. “It builds credibility. It’s an expectation of the people who work for you.”
It is common for new and inexperienced managers to struggle and make mistakes. Workers, who accelerated their careers by focusing on personal achievements, now must come to grips with the idea of investing their time and energy to insure the people they supervise improve their skills and reach their professional goals.
In his research, Crant pinpoints some of the common mistakes likely to be made by an inexperienced manager.
Like Crant, Stephen Johnston is a faculty member at Notre Dame’s Stayer Center for Executive Education and a proponent of creating better managers through learning.
According to Johnston, an effective manager is typically someone who has been coached on how to perform at her or his best. The responsibilities of a manager include efficiency, using the least amount of time and resources to get the job done and striving to be effective. The role of an effective manager is to meet the goals of the organization.
“As a coach, you want to get the job done through people,” Johnston said. “You want to make sure you are effective in that it moves you toward your goals.”
Johnston’s approach to effective management responsibilities is based in part on Robert Allen’s theory of “Performance as a Formula.” Allen’s theory spotlights performance as a function of ability, motivation, clarity of expectations and opportunities.
Coaching as a management tool requires getting personnel in the right position to be as effective as possible.