I wouldn’t consider myself a “new” people manager anymore but in terms of career age, I’m still a toddler when it comes to management.
And because I’m leaning more towards introversion, I face quite a number of challenges even before I start managing a small team at my current workplace.
As with most companies, managers-in-the-making would have some opportunities to coach one or two junior peers before managing a small team – that happened for me too.
I was lost and I’m pretty certain I screwed up one too many times while “practising” as a junior manager – I’m experiencing the impacts of my “mistakes”.
Of course, that’s not to say it’s not reversible or I’m a failure. I just have to learn from it, I guess.
I’ll share a few key challenges I’ve faced, my thought process, and some lessons I’ve learned along the way that might help new people managers or managers-in-the-making.
Too hot or too cold
It’s hard to find that sweet spot, the “Goldilocks” zone where you’re not “too hot” or “too cold” towards the junior you’re coaching as a junior manager.
In my case, I felt that I was a little too hot in that I spoonfed most of the time, and the truth is, I still notice that I have that tendency even now.
I have this issue of wanting to feel like I’m the “protector” so whenever there’s an opportunity to help or save someone, I would jump at that chance.
Needless to say, it’s not only unsustainable but also quite damaging for junior peers who are capable enough to figure their way out of a sticky situation.
Even then, the less capable would benefit more from learning through committing (non-fatal) mistakes – basically, the hard way.
Being “too cold” is obviously just not giving a damn whether the junior is drowning or not, which is equivalent to not being a manager at all.
Guiding vs giving away
A manager’s role is to help the team members perform their best as much as possible by guiding them to find the answer, not give the answer to them.
And the reality is that guiding is a lot harder and more time-consuming than giving the answer.
Balancing between giving away too much and being frustratingly vague is both an art and science in itself – I can see how far away I am towards mastering that.
What works for me so far is asking a series of open-ended questions that slowly guide him or her towards the answer that I have in mind.
Best case scenario is we arrive at an answer that is even better than what’s in my head – it shows that he or she has the critical thinking skills and the potential to do well.
The real challenge is dealing with juniors who can’t connect the dots not because they’re not capable, but due to tunnel vision or stress.
Evaluating performance and giving feedback
What some experienced managers find natural and even easy is what junior managers find daunting, and one of them is performance reviews.
There’s a huge pool of resources on giving effective performance reviews to junior peers or other senior team members, but they’re often for C-Suite levels and directors. Not many are out there for junior managers.
I have to say Facebook’s VP of Product Design Julie Zhuo’s book Making Of A Manager is one book that really opened my eyes to management.
While not everything she wrote in the book is immediately applicable to me as a junior manager in a growing SME, the principles have helped me craft my own style.
I don’t have good advice for performance reviews, but I would say to go in with a servant-leader mindset.
I think starting off the performance review by saying that the main purpose of this “review” is to see how we can help you achieve your goals while fulfilling the company’s requirements and expectations of you.
It’s not to bring up your mistakes or your shortcomings, it’s to see what you’ve done well and how we can capitalise on that while not neglecting your potential areas of improvement.
I can’t say for sure this has worked because I’ve only just started giving some form of reviews for my team members, but it’s from my anecdotal experiences with satisfying reviews that actually helped me.
My journey as a manager
I’m not sure how helpful this article is for junior managers, but I know when I look back in the future, this piece would give me a reminder of what I’ve thought about right now.
I guess documenting down one’s journey is one way to learn, huh?
I hope to document more of these to help myself and hopefully, others learning the ropes of management too.