The Number 1 Thing I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a Manager

New BossI remember the first time I became a manager, close to 25 years ago. I had established myself as one of the top performers in a team of about a dozen people and was promoted into a supervisory position. Literally overnight I moved from being a peer with the rest of my team members to now being “the boss.” My training consisted of being briefed on the administrative aspects of my new role, like managing work schedules, processing forms, and managing team member workloads.

Being trained up, I was released into the wild to manage the team. Run free, new manager! Go lead your team!

But there was a problem, and it was a big one. My training lacked one critical component: how to actually manage people.

If you’re a manager, my experience probably rings true for you as well. Most new managers don’t receive adequate training when they move into their new roles. A study by CEB shows 60% of managers under-perform their first two years, resulting in increased performance gaps and employee turnover.

Beside wishing I had been provided training on how to manage people, I wish I had known what my #1 priority should have been as a new manager: building trust. If you have your team’s trust, you open the doors to all kinds of possibilities. Without it, you’re dead in the water.

But how do you actually go about building trust? Most people think it “just happens,” like some sort of relational osmosis. That’s not the case. It’s built through the use of specific behaviors that demonstrate your own trustworthiness as a leader. You are a trustworthy leader when you are:

Able—Being Able is about demonstrating competence. One way leaders demonstrate their competence is having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education, or credentials that establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their competence through achieving results. Consistently achieving goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in your ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable—A Believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, and not gossiping are ways to demonstrate integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that have been articulated to their direct reports and they behave consistently with those values—they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably are key components to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances, but it does mean that people are treated appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.

ConnectedConnected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps to create an engaging work environment. Leaders create a sense of connectedness by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a “people first” mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals and not just as nameless workers shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding the contributions of people and their work builds trust and goodwill.

Dependable—Being Dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trust. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they are able to follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.

Building trust is the first priority of new managers but it isn’t the only one. Managing takes place through conversations, minute by minute as the dialogue unfolds. As a new leader I wish I had learned the critical skills a first-time manager needs to master. I wish I had known how to have conversations with purpose and direction. I wish I had known how to set goals, give praise or redirection, or wrap up conversations in a way that reinforced clarity and commitment to action (all skills, by the way, addressed in our newly released First-Time Manager training program…where was that 25 years ago when I needed it?!).

Becoming a manager for the first time is a significant career milestone. It is both exciting and nerve-wracking stepping into a role where you are now responsible for others and not just yourself. If that’s you, a new manager, remember the number one priority: building trust. That’s the foundation upon which all your other managerial skills and abilities rest.

Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the fourth or last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.

4 thoughts on “The Number 1 Thing I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a Manager

  1. Pingback: The Number 1 Thing I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a Manager | Organizational Strategies

  2. Hi Randy,

    I agree with you that many people are made manager because of their stellar technical performance, but rarely are managers equipped with the people skills needed to lead a team. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. Pingback: The Top Thing I Wished I’d Known When I Became a Manager |

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