It’s as predictable as a Spring leap forward, dyed water in the Chicago river, Girl Scout cookies, and shamrocks—St. Patrick’s Day, when the whole world becomes Irish for a week (or maybe even a few days more, depending on how long we’re cooking up reasons to throw back a few pints of Guinness). It’s a time to celebrate the driving out of snakes, all things green, and of course, the Luck o’ the Irish.
Luck is a funny thing. It happens to you. Much like being born with spectacular looks, a colossal trust fund, or a royal pedigree, luck is completely and utterly outside of your control.
Still, who could possibly object to the simple sentiment of wishing a newly hired first-time manager “good luck?”
The answer is “the new manager’s managers.” At least, that is, if they have realistic hopes for the fresh manager’s success in the role.
It’s Not Luck—It’s Skills
New managers receive training on all manner and sorts of the novel responsibilities they’ll be expected to assume when they take on a leadership role for the first time.
Never seen a Profit & Loss statement before? Completely unfamiliar with the inventory tracking system? Don’t know a thing about generally accepted accounting principles? Hazy on exactly how to make sense of the avalanche of reports crashing into your Inbox? Good news! You can be 100 percent sure your own boss—or somebody else—will take the time out of their own hectic schedule to get you up to speed. After all, he or she hired you and is invested in making sure you have the skills to succeed.
But when it comes to the “soft stuff”—the business of managing people—it’s astonishing how squishy new manager training can be in most organizations. If there’s any formal preparation at all, it’s usually from the HR and compliance side of things: “Don’t harass. Don’t discriminate. Don’t do anything illegal or unethical. Don’t let your people harass or discriminate against each other. Don’t let us get sued. Now get out there and manage your people!…Good luck.”
And what if the team you’re taking over already has a reputation for being difficult, or full of underachievers? At that point, “Good Luck” takes on an ominous note, because you can’t simply rely on the “luck” of the draw—your preexisting team—to determine whether you fly or fall.
You’re going to need more than “luck” to succeed as a manager.
Leadership isn’t a matter of luck. It’s a matter of skills.
And you know what? That’s great news—because skills, unlike luck, don’t reside at the end of a rainbow, in a pot o’ gold, or in a shamrock. People skills, in particular, aren’t magic or mystical.
A New Manager’s Skill Kit: The Basics
If you or somebody you know has recently taken the leap from highly skilled team member to unskilled team leader, the most important thing to acknowledge is this: You aren’t going to be perfect at every job responsibility from Day One. That includes your people skills—even if you’re naturally the most outgoing, supportive, reasonable, and encouraging “people person” on the planet.
That’s because managing people is hard.
But there are several skills that have been proven, time and time again, to make it easier, more rewarding, more productive, and less reliant on uncontrollable external factors like “luck.”
- • Active Listening: The cornerstone of all “soft skills,” Active Listening isn’t just sitting across from somebody, nodding your head, and saying “what I hear you saying is…” (although it’s frequently misunderstood and parodied this way). Active Listening is a discipline. Learning to listen to another—really listen—without letting your own thoughts and agenda race over the other person’s words can be as rigorous as getting a black-belt in a martial art. But it’s a prerequisite for the kind of leadership that recognizes collaborative, respectful, open communication produces better outcomes than abusive, top-down, power-mad management.
- • Problem Ownership recognition and conflict resolution: Once you’ve established mutual trust and strong relationships through the regular discipline of active listening, it’s a short step to the next step; recognizing problems, identifying who owns the problem, and when the problem belongs to you, taking a first step toward resolving the conflict in a way that meets both your own needs and the needs of the person with whom you have the conflict.
- • I-Messages: As a time-tested and nonthreatening tactic for confronting behavior with which you have a problem, the I-Message is a first step in a dialogue. It isn’t always the last step (these are skills, again, not magic), but it’s definitely an improvement on I-win-You-lose methods like “writing up” subordinates, which tends to boomerang and create emotional reactions like fear and resentment—neither of which will boost your department’s productivity or “luck” in the long run.
Leader Effectiveness Training is time-tested and can help new leaders transition into managing people—frequently cited as the most challenging duty of newly promoted managers. We never abandon new hires or freshly promoted leaders to learn to deal with the spreadsheets in their overflowing Inboxes through luck alone; it only makes sense to offer them structured, expert support when it comes to dealing with their people, too.