You’ve just been promoted into management – Congratulations, you’ve made it, right? You can just sit back and let everyone else do the work.
Aside from the fact that very few people actually want to be in middle management – it is now about the possibility of using your influence to benefit the organization. And it really doesn’t matter whether you’re now CEO or the lowest tier of management possible – there are a few inevitable truths about your new role that I’ve learned along the way that I hope can help you.
And it all requires effort.
Truth No. 1: Every manager or leader is a middle manager
Truth No. 2: Punching down is not a long-lived philosophy
In comedy, there is this idea of “punching down,” which is to ridicule others with lesser status. I’ve posted an argument below around why that phrase may be problematic – it’s not one that I agree with. However, there are plenty of managers that regularly lift themselves by pushing others down in management. Please don’t do it. I’ve seen plenty of managers who have felt the temporary bump with this philosophy to be dumped out of the organization once the approach becomes known.
Truth No. 3: Management styles need to be flexible
Even the stodgiest of management jobs will require adjustments throughout your tenure. The reason is that jobs change as needs change. Your role as a leader manager is to be prepared for the tectonic plates of business operations always to shift. New leadership, pandemics, disgruntled employees, new opportunities, or grumpy customers will require constant change. Be flexible because things will change for you. Carol Dweck would call this having a Growth Mindset. Lead with openness, and you’ll not be surprised when everything changes on you – this will also allow you to support your team through the change.
Truth No. 4: It’s OK to fail
If you think of the management as a three-legged stool; Failure is one leg, forgiveness is another, and ambition is the remaining leg. Trying new things is critical to keeping the job interesting. That can lead to failure or success or anywhere in between. When you fail or your team stumbles, forgiveness and humility will allow you to bounce back and try again tomorrow.
A few years ago, I took over a team and came in hot. Super hot. Before I had a chance to get to know them or their challenges, I tried to fix them, and as you can imagine, the team immediately had an allergic reaction to my approach. It was obvious. I took a massive step back from that misstep and acknowledged my mistake. I asked for their forgiveness for my mistake, and we moved on — as a team. This team forgave me for my brief moment of insanity, and in that forgiveness, we built a team that excelled.
Truth No. 5: You just added more customers
As a manager, you have more customers than when you were an individual contributor. Whether you are customer-facing or not, once you join management, you have just added complexity to what success means to you. In addition to your customers, you’ll have leaders, peers, and politics to navigate. Success in middle management, even as you rise in the ranks of middle management, is being able to satisfy, nudge, collaborate, and ultimately win over all of these new customers.
Truth No. 6: Your team does not come to you with blank slates
Whether taking on a new team or leading your existing team, every single one of your employees will have baggage – good and bad. If you are taking on your existing team, some may be resistant to your leadership and may even feel jealous of your promotion. If you are building a new team, you’ll want to ensure that you know how to manage each team member and the best way to get at that is to ask them. Some managers would bristle at this, and I understand, but I’ve rarely found that being the alpha in a room commands the respect you’d want on day one. After day one, what you do after day one, how you support the team and the team goals, will respect you.
Lastly, in either case, new team or old, you’ll want to be aware that news things you try may not be new to the team. Everyone has vast experience, and pooling from your team’s collective experience will help you avoid common mistakes and establish a pattern of learning while leading.