Many people are promoted to manager without knowing what it takes to be a manager. When companies cut budgets they often consider so-called “soft skills,” like management and communications training, to be expendable.
However, the truth is that this type of training could be more important to the success of a manager and his company than anything else.
Managers Must Learn to Communicate
Most new managers are more accustomed to receiving directions than to giving them. But managers need their direct reports to help them achieve their objectives.
As surprising as it sounds, many managers don’t have a clear understanding of their jobs. That’s why every manager needs to read his job description carefully. Then he needs to meet with his manager to discuss and agree on mutual expectations. After the meeting, the new manager should summarize that conversation in a memo that he shares with his boss and human resources.
Once managers know what needs to be done, they’ll be in a position to have conversations with the members of their team to identify the strengths they bring to specific projects.
Communications involves the interaction of two people in a continuous loop of exchanging ideas and information. Before you start giving a lot of orders, learn to listen and show sincere interest in the individuals on your staff. Discover their interests and what they believe they can contribute to the team.
Leave out “I” and focus on “you.” Ask, what do you need to do your job better? What challenges do you face? Your personal communication style may be to go for closure quickly when discussing an assignment. But your direct report may need more time to think through a situation to arrive at the best solution.
You’ll learn this by active listening, a term coined by the eminent psychologist Carl Rogers.
He said, “By consistently listening to a speaker, you are conveying the idea that I’m interested in you as a person, and I think that what you feel is important. I respect your thoughts, and even if I don’t agree with them, I know that they are valid for you. I feel sure that you have a contribution to make. I’m not trying to change you or evaluate you. I just want to understand you. I think you’re worth listening to, and I want you to know that I’m the kind of a person you can talk to.”
Instead of just hearing the sounds that someone is saying, actively listen to understand the meaning behind the words – picking up on the verbal and non-verbal cues. If you’re not actively listening, you’re just filtering a lot of noise.
Learning to be a Manager
Experience is the best teacher when you become a manager. You’ve already learned from the good managers you’ve had what worked and what didn’t work. You felt the indifference and experienced the lack of communication from a bad manager.
You respected and learned from a good manager. You weren’t afraid to say when something wasn’t going right because you knew she would listen, not to judge, but to understand the problem and offer positive feedback about what to do next.
You may feel like an imposter in a role that is new for you. That’s natural. But remember you were promoted, not someone else. Be decisive and act with confidence and believe that you can do the job well.
That’s advice a former manager of mine could have used. She was so insecure that she read a new management book every week. Then she scheduled a “kitchen cabinet” meeting for her staff in her apartment every Sunday evening to discuss her management plan for the following week.
She was totally insensitive to the personal needs of her staff. Come to the meeting or get fired. Despite all that preparation, the agency brought in a senior executive over her. She didn’t understand what it meant to be a manager.
If you feel you have more to learn, retain a professional coach or turn to a trusted internal advisor for help. Many organizations, such as the American Management Association, offer training courses. Many local colleges, like NYU, offer short courses in management and communications training.
It takes practice to become a skilled communicator. Learn to listen with your head AND your heart. Give clear, concise and consistent directions. Be sure you’re communicating with understanding.
Don’t be afraid of getting feedback. Ask for it. Remember how much you wanted feedback from your manager and how you wished she would listen to your concerns?
Listening, learning and giving constructive feedback are the keys to becoming a skilled communicator and ultimately a good manager.
Please share your own experience with good and bad managers in the comment box below.