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Academic Insight: Additional Practical Advice for Nascent Managers and Supervisors

Shontarius D. Aikens
Shontarius D. Aikens, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Management at Offutt School of Business at Concordia College

In the May 2021 issue of Fargo, INC!, I posed the following question:

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? If you read that article, you will know that this question came from a conversation I had with a graduating student seeking advice in preparation for their first managerial job. And the result was me sharing five pieces of advice for new managers and supervisors. For this month’s article, I would like to provide some additional pieces of advice and resources that I wasn’t able to include in that first article. It is my hope that these additional pieces of advice would be of great benefit to nascent managers and supervisors, or perhaps a refresher to experienced managers and supervisors.

#1: Have a clear vision of the desired outcomes.

When I started my career in teaching, one of my mentors stressed to me the importance of developing learning outcomes for students. Why was this important? Because first knowing what I wanted my students to know, to be, and to do, it would shape the methods used in the classroom. Taking this concept and applying it to business, managers and supervisors should have a clear understanding of the goals that they want accomplished and to be able to articulate those goals to their direct reports. If any of you have read Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this falls in line with Habit.

#2: Begin with The End in Mind.

Some managers are good at making immediate short-term decisions. But what oftentimes gets overlooked is whether short-term decisions will cause bigger problems in the long run. The importance of this is detailed in Jenn Lofgren’s (2018) article in Forbes titled “Your Short-Term Decisions Could Unintentionally Create Long-Term Pain” which I highly recommend reading. Surround yourself with individuals who have natural talents and abilities to see the bigger picture in situations.

#3: Don’t be afraid to ask.

Consider the common phrase: “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.” While most of us have heard this phrase and agree with its meaning, how often do we fail to ask for things under the assumption that our request would be denied or rejected? One way to get over that is to change our mindset regarding the purpose of the ask. In other words, the mindset for asking is to gain clarity or to understand boundaries. As a new manager, make it a habit to ask and to be inquisitive.

#4: Learn to connect the dots.

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech to Stanford University. And during his speech, he talked about the importance of “connecting the dots.” To paraphrase, it’s the ability to think about one’s previous experiences (positive and negative), what can be learned from them, and how one might apply these experiences in new and uncertain situations. For new managers, I recommend keeping a journal regarding experiences and lessons learned, so that when future situations arise, you can refer back to what was learned to see if they can be applied.

#5: Focus on continuous improvement.

Think about the first time you did an activity (e.g., riding a bicycle, playing an instrument, etc.). Chances are that you weren’t as good the first time, but after multiple attempts, you improved. Becoming a good manager can feel like a trial-and-error period that includes lots of ups and downs. The advice here is to strive to become better each day. This would include reading books, attending workshops, or finding a coach/mentor to help one to improve their managerial skills

#6: Let your work speak for you.

Avoid getting involved in a back and forth with your critics and detractors in the workplace. I do realize that this is easier said than done. However, consider that the more energy, attention and time you devote to proving your naysayers wrong and gaining their approval is energy, attention and time taken away from your purpose. In most cases, if you work hard and produce desirable results, you will develop a track record of outcomes that will be too hard to be ignored or diminished by others.

#7: Be mindful of how you treat people.

My area of expertise is in LMX Leadership, which focuses on the quality of the relationship between a manager and the supervisees (for more explanation of the importance of this, please see my article in the April 2020 issue of Fargo, INC!). The type of relationships that you have with employees and even your colleagues make a huge difference in your work environment. How can this be? Because the types of relationships you have with your direct reports can affect their willingness to follow you as their leader. As a manager, the goal is to have direct reports that are committed rather than just being compliant.

Dr. Aikens can be reached at: saikens@cord.edu

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