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Expert Tips for First-Time Managers

Expert Tips for First-Time Managers

Some people fall into management positions, some people work their way up the ladder to get into management positions, and others are placed into management positions based on company need. It's a career path that varies like no other.

"All industries need managers," says Joyce LeMay, who has more than 20 years' experience as a manager and is department chair of the business and human resource programs at St. Paul College. "However, in the late '80s and early '90s, managers, in general, were downsized in large numbers. Today's managers must do more with less. Managers are managing more functions and employees than in the past."

According to LeMay, the key to thriving in each new position is to keep learning.

"New managers need to be patient as they build their skill level in all areas of management," she says. "Mentors are key to improving the success of new managers."

LeMay and two other veteran managers offer their advice on how stressed and time-strapped newbie managers can jump ahead on the learning curve and avoid costly mistakes.

LeMay's Top 10

LeMay offers these words of advice:

  • Take time to understand the business in which you are operating.
  • Develop time-management skills.  

  • Practice active listening skills.

  • Know how to motivate and lead employees.  

  • Continue your own training and development.  

  • Don't stay isolated in the office.

  • Don't pretend you know all the answers.  

  • Don't take all the credit.

  • Don't expect employees to be perfect.  

  • Learn to delegate effectively.

Manage in the Middle

"Management is a tricky topic," says Jim Lynch, director of the Association of Professional Office Managers. "What might work for one employee or one organization might not work for another. But by following basic guidelines, you can succeed."

Lynch, who has more than 25 years of managerial experience, says managers must remember they are the liaison between upper management and the employees. Managers hear both sides and must listen and adapt to both. How you handle those relationships goes a long way, Lynch says. He offers these 10 tips for first-time managers: 

  • Gain senior management's confidence and respect.  

  • Ensure your services are properly funded and budgeted.

  • Don't ignore problems -- identify and resolve.  

  • Create a sense of urgency.  

  • Question past practices. 

  • Identify and implement efficiencies.

  • Thoroughly research all sides of issues.  

  • Make decisions -- don't waver.

  • Guide others who use your services. Don't assume they know what to ask for. Learn about their programs so you know how to best assist.  

  • Take initiative. See what needs to be done, and do it. Don't wait for tasks to be assigned.

Rookies Beware

So now you know some of the things you should and shouldn't do, but what are some specific situations you need to watch out for? Florence Stone, a spokeswoman for the American Management Association, offers this list of typical rookie mistakes new managers should strive to avoid:

  • Giving vague assignments. Employees who are confused and frustrated may still do the work, but if it doesn't meet their manager's expectations, it will only further upset the employees.

  • Saving the most interesting work for themselves and giving routine tasks to their staff members. Since most of the work these managers retain could provide training opportunities for their employees, they lose this chance to grow their employees' abilities.  

  • Taking on work being done poorly by one of their staff members rather than sitting down, discussing the work further and following through.

  • Trying to impress their new boss by grabbing the glory away from both staff and peers.

  • Devoting their time to the wrong issues. They should be focused on those activities that support the organization's mission and strategic goals or, less important but still worthy of attention, those issues important to their boss. 

  • Failing to network with other managers. Colleagues represent a great information resource.

  • Avoiding confrontations with poor performers. They prefer to ignore substandard performance and infractions of rules rather than confront troublesome, troubled or troublemaking workers.  

  • Rewarding mediocrity. Rather than reward those workers who truly deserve recognition, they reward everyone equally.   

  • Failing to recognize good work.

  • Focusing on mistakes, not the learning opportunities they can represent.

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