By: Shawna Laird-Brush, Business Manager
It’s a new year – and a new year can bring new opportunities. Did you recently receive a promotion? Or take a position in a new company or fleet organization?
Progress in your career is great, but can be a little intimidating, especially if the progress comes with direct reports for the first time. Whether you become a lead mechanic, crew supervisor, or a newly appointed fleet manager, a promotion comes with a new set of responsibilities and obstacles.
The first time I was promoted into a supervisory role, I had four direct reports. I was excited, terrified, hopeful, intimidated, and ready to go forth and make change! My ego got a great boost and my workload doubled and, in some cases, tripled (most of it my own fault).
Within three years, the number of people for whom I was responsible had multiplied to over 35. I read a lot of books and articles on leadership and management. It was a struggle and a journey. There were many growing pains. I learned that management can be a battlefield promotion.
I will never claim that I am (or was) the best or a perfect manager, but here are some insights that might help make your journey a little smoother.
Learn the Business
You may be tempted to overhaul and start fresh, especially if you moved up in your organization. Don’t assume you know the position or the department just because you have worked there for several years. There may be much that you were not privy to before your promotion. Take small steps of change to begin. Observe, listen, and learn in the first months.
Meet with Employees as a Team and Individually
Don’t judge anyone or anything immediately. Start this new journey with a clean slate. Meeting as a team in the early stages of your transition can help shape a team culture that can unlock tremendous talents on that team – from problem solving to ideas on efficiency and saving money. Getting buy in from the respected veterans on the team can smooth a lot of bumps.
Meet with each member individually. Learn their history and aspirations in the organization. Respect their time and don’t make snap judgments. Accept them for who they are and keep an open mind. Set boundaries and expectations but be flexible. Don’t micromanage unless they are not meeting those expectations. Ask questions and accept input (even if it is criticism). A private gesture, a kind word, or asking their advice can go a long way to winning them over.
Keep Emotion Out
There is always a price for leadership. Don’t take things personally and always be the better person. Don’t publicize your personal life or get too cozy. This can be especially hard if you worked side-by-side with these people before the promotion. Always keep your guard up because, eventually, you will be holding gut wrenching meetings on conduct or performance.
Recognize Your Limitations
Be patient. Realize that you don’t have a real track record in this position and you cannot be everything to everyone. There will be mistakes and you can’t do everything. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” but follow that up with “let me find out.” Pick your battles and pursue issues that you know you can win.
Be an Example
Your people will adopt your attitudes and anxieties. Convey confidence – not arrogance – and always stay composed. Learn their responsibilities and be willing to jump into the trenches. Establish credibility by owning up to your mistakes and following your own rules.
People should not guess how you will react – to an issue, failure, poor conduct, or an event. Provide a stable and safe place to share opinions and give honest feedback. Don’t let your conduct hamper you or your people when it’s time to secure funding, resources, or earning promotions.
Find a Mentor / Be a Mentor
Reach out to someone who has been there before – someone who can help pick you up when you need it. Keep in touch with them regularly and listen to their advice. They may be able to help champion one of your causes when needed.
Develop each of your people including yourself. Recognize their strengths and their areas of improvement. Help them set goals and provide opportunities where they can grow, learn, and contribute to the team and the organization.
Build Bridges to Other Departments
Whether you are becoming a shift supervisor or a Fleet Director, reach out to internal and/or external departments. You are not only a manager, but also an ambassador. If they won’t come to you, go to them. Meet with the Parts Manager or the Solid Waste Director to set new goals and expectations, yours and theirs.
Have a Plan and Set Objectives
All ideas are doomed to failure if you don’t have a plan. Hold yourself accountable and set targets and objectives early. Outline the vision with your team, both short and long term. Identify how everyone’s role contributes. Help them understand and achieve the goals. Without a plan and execution, the team will drift and lose sight of their potential value.
You don’t know all the answers and can hurt the team by pretending you do. Cultivate the strengths of your team – step back and let them lead. Check in regularly to monitor progress and provide counsel as needed. Don’t abuse your delegation powers though. This isn’t the time to hand off everything so you can catch that baseball game.
Silence in your department can be a threat. Reach out to your employees. Put “meet with team” on your calendar regularly. This will help keep everyone current on developments and maintain a dialogue with your people. Don’t just talk to them, talk with them.
Increase your Team’s Exposure
Look for opportunities to give them the spotlight – from leading a training session to leading a project or even a mention in a department newsletter. Recognize them publicly and praise generously. Bring in speakers, share articles, or send them to outside training classes, industry association meetings, and conferences to expose them to best practices.
Teach your people how to become the ambassadors, so that as you receive promotions, so can they. Ideally, you want to expand your people’s world, not narrow it.