You’ve earned a promotion and are now in a position of leading others to collectively accomplish company objectives. The functional skills, tribal knowledge, professionalism and work ethic that got you there will no doubt serve you well in the new role, but it’s no longer just about personal accountability to be successful. You are going to lose some control over your outcomes, and it can be incredibly frustrating.
Believe me, when I was a new manager, I thought it was going to be easy. I had a track record of success as a hard-charging individual contributor and had no doubts that my team would run through walls and be one of the highest performing teams in the company. After some self-inflicted trials and tribulations, I found that wasn’t the case. What I have found over the years though, and what I’d got back and tell my new manager self, is getting all those unique personalities on a team to rally around your vision, especially in the beginning, takes having the right mindset, being realistic and picking the right battles.

You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers

I’ve had management roles since 1999. I’m still learning, but one aspect of my approach that has changed over the years is using ‘not knowing’ as an advantage. Earlier in my career I truly felt that to be viewed as a worthy member of the team or viewed as a good manager, I needed to have all the answers. If one of my colleagues came to me with a situation, I needed to solve it. Right then and there. That often put me in tough spots, and I’m sure led people to lose confidence in me. The best course of action almost always emerged after my impulsive decision – when a more complete understanding of the situation was gained and collaborating with others on the best way forward. Today I am quick to point out what I don’t know and enlisting the help of others to figure it out. Likewise, when I’m speaking with clients, I’m not afraid to state, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.”

Be Real with Goal Setting

Over the years I have been provided and given my share of unrealistic goals. While it may feel right to “dream big” and throw out lofty goals to your team, that is in essence what’s happening, you are just throwing. Now more than ever I realize the importance of arriving methodically at goals. Unrealistic goals can not only be bad for the overall business due to poor forecasting, but it can be demoralizing for all the individuals responsible for hitting them. I believe the pain is more acute for your best and most conscientious team members. The ones with a foot out the door typically are checked out anyway and don’t care what the levels of activity behind the unrealistic goals are. It’s your best team members who are breaking it down and figuring how or how they humanly CANNOT hit the goal. On the flip side, realistic goals drive teamwork, engagement, positive reinforcement and can lead to overall success. Whether you follow the SMARTSMARTERFAST or other goal-setting frameworks, just make sure they’re attainable. Basically, a goal should not be what sounds good, or what you think makes you look good to your superiors, but what makes logical sense after methodically reviewing and forecasting. 

Focus On High-Impact Course Corrections

Another mistake I have made and often see others making is finding and trying to address all the things wrong with an organization. A leader of mine once told me that this was the easiest thing to do and that anyone could do that. He taught me the importance of not uncovering and trying to tackle all that was wrong but figuring out a couple of things wrong that could be fixed, and when fixed, would make for the most positive and significant impact. Jonathan Kozol said it best, “Pick battles big enough that matter, small enough to win.” This approach has been not only relieving to me as a manager, but it has made the teams involved much more open to feedback and productive collaboration. After all, who wants to sit back and hear every single last thing that’s wrong? And how likely is it that solutions could be implemented for each wrongdoing? We should strive for excellence but realize that not everything is going to be perfect all the time.  

Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and start your managerial journey on a more solid footing than I did. If I were to give one more word of advice to a new (or experienced) manger it would be: never stop learning. A suggested read: “The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age,” by Douglas. Ready, Carol Cohen, David Kiron, and Benjamin Pring.  

Mike Walzl is our Chief Operating Officer at Clarus Group. Mike has over twenty years of experience in the staffing and consulting industry, beginning his career as a recruiter. His areas of focus throughout his career have been: Technology, Accounting, and Finance. As COO, Mike is responsible for corporate strategy, development and overall growth of Clarus Group.