By Allison McWilliams (’95), Ph.D., Assistant VP, Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
Taking on the role of a new manager can be one of the loneliest positions you ever occupy. Either you have come in from the outside, new to the organization or the department, and haven’t yet been able to develop connections. Or, you’ve been promoted up, and the people who not so long ago were your friends suddenly look at you as “management,” which more often than not translates into “enemy.” It can feel supremely isolating, disorienting, out-of-balance. No matter where you are in the organizational chart, you need allies and people you can trust. And, at the same time, it’s important to honor and recognize that you have entered into a new role, that you are, indeed, “management,” with everything that implies.
No one can be successful in a vacuum. One of the most important things that you can do to ensure your success as a new manager is to work to develop relationships. You need to find your people, and develop a supportive network who can give you honest feedback, open doors, and lift you up when you need it. Who should be in your new manager network?
Your manager. Your manager sets the tone for your ability to be successful. One of your most important roles as a new manager is to make your manager look good and to be successful (just as you want your own team to do for you). Before you do anything else, you need to work to develop a trusting relationship with this person, and that means getting clear on their goals, their work style, their communication style, and their expectations for and of you. You don’t have to like them or be friends with them, or see them as a mentor. You do need to understand their expectations and work style and how best to support both their and larger organizational goals.
At least one mentor. Your manager doesn’t need to be your mentor, and in fact probably should not be. At the end of the day, your manager has to write your performance review, and it’s the rare individual who can do that and mentor effectively. But you do need at least one mentor, and chances are this may not be the same mentor that you needed before you moved into management. Think about your goals. What skills or knowledge gaps do you have? Who is best suited to help you to develop in those areas? Seek those people out, and work to create effective relationships with them. Great mentors don’t shy away from providing honest feedback. Look for those people. You want them in your corner.
Peers. You enter into a new peer group as a manager, and you need to develop good working relationships with these people. You will serve on committees together, work on projects together, and have the benefit of going through a shared experience together. And, some of these people will not be an asset to you. Take some time to get to know your peers, learn about their interests and motivations, and watch them carefully to determine which ones are the right ones to include in your network. You need to be able to work effectively with all of your peers. But they don’t all get the privilege of being in your network.
Your team. Don’t forget about the people you are managing! These people will make or break your success as a manager. You are in a new role with them, and they need some time to get to know you. If you were promoted up, they will need some time to adjust to this new reality. Set clear expectations upfront. Take the time to get to know them as individuals and learn about what motivates them and what they need to be successful. Be fair and work with integrity. Just like with your own manager, they aren’t all going to like you, or want to be friends with you, or see you as a mentor, and that’s ok. What’s important is that they see you as someone they can trust, who has their backs and is ready to do the work with them. Think about what you want from your own manager. That’s likely what they would like from you, too.
People outside the organization. Finally, everyone needs someone outside of the organization they can talk to, vent to, and debrief with. This doesn’t mean that you should go airing your or the organization’s dirty laundry every chance you get. You need to uphold confidences and confidentiality. But it’s not healthy to keep everything in, all the time. Having a trusted friend you can talk to, who can provide an outsider’s perspective, is another source of valuable feedback and support that’s important in any new manager’s network.
One final note: YOU have to do the work to build these relationships. Don’t wait for any of these people to do that work for you. Take ownership of your career by creating the support systems that you need.