Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a student in one of my upper-level business classes. I was asked to share some career advice that would help the student be successful in their new managerial role after graduation. Ever since that conversation, I’ve been thinking more about my personal work experiences, the experiences of others and various academic and practitioner resources that I’ve read over the years on this topic. I posed the following question to myself: If I could go back in time and give advice to my younger self on being a first-time manager and supervisor, what advice would I give?
Please be advised that there is not enough space in this article for me to share all of my thoughts. But what I’ve attempted is to identify five key takeaways. And while the target audience of this article is nascent managers and supervisors, perhaps there may be some useful information for individuals who are experienced managers and supervisors. So with that, let’s get started.
#1: Understand your talents and strengths.
Each person is born with natural talents that can be used in their professional careers. The key is to learn about them early on and to develop them into strengths. It wasn’t until later on in my career when I was introduced to (and became a believer in) self-assessments that helped me to learn about and to affirm my unique talents and strengths. This also helped me to understand the importance of surrounding myself with people who had talents and strengths in areas that I struggled. So, take the time to know and truly understand your talents and strengths. The Gallup Corporation’s Clifton StrengthsFinder and Strengths Based Leadership books are excellent resources to start with.
#2: Ask questions to understand the work environment.
In the book The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Bruce Tulgan indicated that new managers have a huge learning curve. The process of becoming accustomed to new organizational policies and procedures, the workplace culture, and the dynamics of organizational politics can be intimidating. My recommendation for new managers and supervisors is to be inquisitive during the first months on the job and to ask lots of questions. Become a master at posing the following statement: “I’m new here, and I’m still learning how things operate. Help me to understand how this process/procedure works.”
#3: Build strong relationships with your employees.
As an employee, you are evaluated and compensated primarily based on your individual performance. When becoming a manager, you are evaluated and compensated based on your individual performance as well as the collective performance of the employees you supervise. Building strong positive working relationships with your employees is important because academic research indicates that positive supervisor-supervisee relationships typically lead to better employee performance. In the April 2020 issue of Fargo INC!, I discussed in depth a framework that new managers could use to understand the complexity of manager- employee relationships and to be proactive in developing positive manager-employee working relationships.
#4: When communicating, understand the importance of channel richness.
Channel richness is defined as, “the amount of information that can be transmitted during a communication episode.” Some channels of communication (e.g. face-to-face communication, telephone) are considered to be high in channel richness, while other channels (e.g. reports, letters, emails) are considered to be lower in channel richness. The ability to communicate effectively and efficiently becomes even more important when one becomes a manager. Yes, the central message is important. But what is also important is the manner in which the message is communicated and received. As a manager, it is important to develop the ability to match the message with the best communication channel (according to the channel richness needed) to reduce instances of miscommunication and misunderstandings. To learn more about this, conduct an internet search using the terms “communication richness” or “media richness.” One can easily find illustrations and diagrams that list the different communication channels on a continuum of high to low channel richness and that discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using each. These resources can help managers learn to become more intentional about choosing the best method of communication in various situations.
#5: Establish personal ethical standards at the beginning of your career.
During an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio, comedian Dave Chappelle was asked about his decision to walk away from a multimillion-dollar deal to continue his popular sketch comedy show on Comedy Central. Chappelle’s decision was based on advice he received from his dad prior to pursuing a career in the entertainment industry: “My father told me ‘Name your price in the beginning. If it ever gets more expensive than the price you name, get out of there.” It is important to understand your core values and to establish your personal ethical standards at the beginning of your career. Having a strong foundation in this area is needed to stay grounded when faced with various moral temptations and ethical dilemmas. It will also help you to determine when it may be necessary for you to leave an organization. This is extremely important for managers, since the decisions that managers make can affect the reputation and success of the organization and subsequently the livelihood of the employees.