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Tumblr developer Matthew Bischoff recently asked me, what’s your number once piece of advice for first time managers?

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Tumblr developer, long time friend and co-founder of PodcastPeople.com, Matthew Bischoff is giving a talk in Philadelphia to a group of iOS developers called Barely Managing. He asked me, what’s your number once piece of advice for first time managers? And, what can be hard or surprising when they say yes? This was my response:

First time managers (FTM’s) should listen more than speak. For the first 6-12 months there should be an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of time given to listening than speaking.

Many FTM’s lack confidence in themselves and are not sure if they can handle the new responsibilities that come with the promotion. Accordingly, many overcompensate as they try to demonstrate to their subordinates and to those they report to, that they’re qualified/capable/deserving of the new position. The FTM immediately begins to “manage and direct” when they should be listening and doing “nothing.” This will seem counterintuitive for many FTM’s.

What should FTM’s be listening for? They should be listening to what their teams are saying and more importantly, what they’re not saying. Good managers listen to what is being said by their rank and file. Great managers listen for what’s not being said by their rank and file! FTM’s should be looking for subtleties and cues that provide valuable insight into their team’s thinking, their challenges and stressors. FTM’s should watch their team’s actions and patterns and if visible holes are noticed then they should make note of it and move on. Reacting and making a snap judgement, thinking he/she is going to “fix” the issue could have far reaching negative effects on the company and their partners. FTM’s need to learn the art of acting and not reacting.

Now it’s time for the FTM to set, and maintain the Alpha frame. During the first couple of weeks after taking the new job, the FTM should schedule meetings with each member of their team to provide the FTM with an overview or “day in the life” look at the individual’s life at the company. What they like and don’t like about their jobs, etc. Next, the FTM should ask their team member for a wish list. This sends a strong signal to the subordinate that the FTM is the Alpha now, and is someone who posses the ability to “reward” the beta with a better schedule, a raise or other things. The FTM should leave the meeting at this point. They should run no longer than 20 minutes and the FTM must leave at 20 minutes or sooner. Reschedule if need be, but the FTM must leave.

Beta traps: The FTM should say very little during these meetings. If a team member starts with questions such as “what’s your position on X? or, what are your plans for Y? The subordinate (conscious of it or not) is attempting to retake the power frame by making the FTM qualify his/herself. The FTM should never let this happen but instead simply reply, “Those are great questions but I haven’t finalized my plans yet. When I do, you and the others will know as soon as I announce them.” The FTM has clearly let the subordinate know that the he/she will make an announcement about their future plans and intentions when THEY are ready, and the team members will all hear about it at the same time, not piecemeal here and there.

Note: Not falling into a Beta trap is usually very hard for most FTM’s because they don’t even recognize it as a trap.

What can be hard or surprising? Nothing should be hard if the FTM doesn’t “try to manage” too early on. Surprising? A FTM may be surprised at how well their team responds to them as their new manager with two major caveats. 1.) The FTM hasn’t played the “I’m the boss now” card. 2.) The FTM hasn’t taken away the feeling of autonomy from his subordinates.


By Doug Taylor 10/05/2015 10:50 AM

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