Advice for New Managers: Take Time to Listen (and Talk)

Written by Matthew Rock Tuesday 05 September 2017
Taking up a management position for the first time is a whole new ball game. The expectations are heightened – all eyes are on you. Above all, you’ll need to get the communication right
Two men talking

Dan Wagner is an uber-successful entrepreneur who’s made millions from a string of technology ventures, but he didn’t make a great impression on his first major business outing.

Just before he took his first company, MAID, public on the stockmarket, Wagner turned up for a photo shoot dressed in an extravagant Donald Duck waistcoat. The analysts were appalled, and it’s said that the young chief executive’s behaviour knocked one-tenth off the company’s share price.

As a new boss, you should think hard about how to make the right first impression.

You only have a short window in which to convey who you are, what you stand for, what you’ll tolerate and what standards you expect. If you strike the right notes in that crucial first period, you could foster a sense of shared values that’ll endure the inevitable rocky patches.

New leaders arrive in many different circumstances: some will be internal promotions; others will come from outside the organisation. For some, this will be their first foray into line management; others will have had experience and may wish to impose their own style. Others will want to observe the team’s dynamics and personalities before they begin to stamp their mark.

Whether you like it or not, your new team will be analysing your every word, assessing your attitude, and hunting for clues even in your throwaway remarks. It is absolutely essential that you get this early communication right; otherwise you may never be able to retrieve the situation.

David Dumeresque, a partner at executive search firm Tyzack, says that a new leader needs to take time to understand the organisation. This can happen before they even take up the role.

“They need to understand what makes the organisation tick and how to bring together disparate parts to make a strong whole,” he says.

Too often, however, managers use methods and modes of behaviour that have been successful previously, imposing them on their new organisation, warns Dumeresque: “Experienced leaders know that, in order to succeed, they need to draw on the successes of the past but adjust them for the new environment.”

Kelly Odell, author of The Human Way: The Ten Commandments for (Im)Perfect Leaders, says there’s a tendency for incoming managers to believe that they’ve suddenly acquired superhuman powers. Those around them can encourage power to go to their heads.

“Where once they would have been greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm at best, now your ideas are good, even brilliant,” she says. Overconfidence can quickly become an issue.

“As a manager and leader, you must remind yourself frequently that you are exactly the same as everyone else, neither better nor worse,” says Odell.

How to succeed as a new manager is a popular query at CMI’s ManagementDirect, and one of the best resources is The New Manager’s Handbook: 24 Lessons for Mastering Your New Role. Here are a few choice extracts about how to get those early communications right.

The best managers don’t say much, says the author, Morey Stettner. “Silence enhances your power. By keeping quiet, listening well, and expressing your points in the fewest words possible, you gain a persuasive edge. Your employees will know that every word counts – and they’ll give you their undivided attention as a result.”

Unfortunately, too many new managers nervously babble out words, instructions and orders. As a result, your team may miss the important bit in what you said or, just as bad, become bored.

This advice, to “muzzle your mouth”, is also helpful when you’re posing a question or when things get fraught.

As Stettner puts it, don’t rush to answer your own question and, “when someone’s angry or agitated and needs to blow o steam, keep quiet”.

Finally, speak with power and purpose. You have earned this new position, so don’t throw it away with a wishy-washy manner. “Even if you’re bashful or self-effacing, speak in bold, unambiguous terms,” advises Stettner. “Don’t drop subtle hints when the situation calls for you to speak up and be specific.”