December 2, 2015

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08/21/06 A Message To First-Time Managers

The big empty desk was daunting, though I never would have admitted it. I had finally made manager, the keys to the radio station had just been turned over to me, and I had absolutely no idea what to do. Though I had been striving for the position, it in fact was foreign territory.

Because I wanted to make a difference immediately and because I wanted to let everyone know I was in charge and taking action, I instituted new policies. First was a dress code: People on my watch would dress in white shirts, blue suits and power ties. Secondly, I implemented security procedures and developed an employee sign-in/sign out sheet. Looking back, I'm not sure why - there were only a dozen employees, and there had never been a theft problem.

I'm reminded of these first-time management missteps as I watch another first-time manager at a station I know. The first day, the new manager implemented a dress code; the second day, security cameras were installed. It seemed a replay of my first days in management, as though it were in the manual for first-time managers.

Of course, there is no manual. Most of us flex our muscle with meaningless shows of power because we're not sure what else to do.

I look back on my early management days with regret. I was on a power trip because I thought good managers took control and bossed people around. I made no friends by barking orders and threatening employees who disobeyed. I probably fired people for all the wrong reasons, such as suggesting better ways to do things or questioning foolish policies that did not match the market and customers.

Another tendency is to micro-manage, though good managers are like an orchestra conductor. A manager makes a plan (the music), hires people best suited to do the job (the musicians), and lets them play the music. Hand signals guide volume, direction and rhythm, but he or she does not play the instruments.

It's human nature to want to manage - to show you are in control and to make your mark, but here's a message for first-time managers: Lighten up. I burned through a lot of good people before I realized that great managers don't push; they pull. It's the old advice that it's easier to attract bees with honey. There are times when you have to push, but if you do it all the time, you lose good people, and you operate in a vacuum because no one is willing to speak the truth or offer ideas. That makes managing a lot harder.

I've seen many first-time managers lose those positions because their people failed to perform to expectations when the managers pushed too hard. If you hire great people, let them do what they were hired to do. Don't belittle or embarrass them. Make them feel great about themselves, make them want to make you look good, and they will perform miracles. It's ironic that most new managers strive for these results, but for some reason, they think managing means showing who is boss. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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