How To Be Good At Managing People

How to be a good manager when you’ve never managed people before (Part 1)

Some people take to managing people like a duck to water – for others it’s a lot more of a complex process – have you ever wondered why that might be?

Some of us have no problems telling or persuading other people what to do and can delegate both authority and detail with aplomb – others of us struggle to tell or to even ask others to do stuff for us ……and find delegation to be a tortuous process… why is that?

It’s a lot to do with the type of person you are, who you are looking to manage – and of course where you are on you career trajectory.

Before we complicate things let’s accept that everybody has managed somebody at some point in their life and is in fact quite likely to be doing so at some point today.

They might not realise they have done it ………but they have – whether that’s trying to get your preferred cereal for breakfast, getting your children to clean their teeth, managing relationships in a school playground or getting a delivery of a purchase at a time that suits you.

At some point we’ve all interacted with people in this way; managing people is about understanding them and your relationship with them – making sure that you get from them what you want, and helping them understand what they want… so the point is, we can all do it!

However, we all do it differently and with different degrees of enthusiasm – and this is where the type of person you are will make a difference.

For some individuals managing others is easy (it doesn’t mean they are effective at it) for others it’s a bigger issue (it doesn’t mean that they can’t be highly effective at it).

Lets think of the formal/ informal dichotomy…

Some of us are naturally more formal in our approach to getting things done – we think things through – we “analyse” … this of course brings its own special gifts but it’s often the case that whatever we do naturally can have a potential downside.

We might sometimes of course go too deep – we ‘overly analyse’ and we ‘worry’. Some of us also are concerned with not failing and with doing everything ‘right’ and ‘properly’……… and in order to do this, we need to know that we know what we are talking about.

Our confidence comes with feeling our competence… so in the beginning we need to be “taught’ or ‘trained’ or at least feel that through experience that we are speaking from the vantage point of a full knowledge base.

If we are someone who needs to think things through thoroughly and who is always concerned with not failing – until we feel that we know what we are talking about then inevitably managing people is going to be complex.

It’s true that we are likely to be inherently “respectful”…of things like age, tradition and authority – so managing older people or those who have been around longer – or who have more qualifications will bring its own challenges.

We will find delegation to be complex because it means trusting – and for some of us, the bestowal of “trust” is not straightforward …. It has to be earned.

We are also likely to have perfectionistic tendencies which means we often don’t meet our own high standards – so what hope does someone else have?!!!

If, on the other hand we are more informal in our approach – and have an outgoing, optimistic, naturally trusting approach with an easier ability to give people the benefit of the doubt … and we accept that sometimes things going wrong and that “failure” is simply an essential part of the learning process – then managing others is likely to be a far more straightforward process.

To my point earlier – there’s a potential downside here too! We may not always think things through and by talking a lot we may lose the point of what we are aiming for.

Since we are more informal in our approach we may not have the process and procedures in place. We may delegate easily but do we always follow up?

This formal/informal dichotomy can be a significant factor in the ease with which people take to managing others.

Let’s say I am an independent, assertive, goal oriented, self-confident individual with a focus on strategy and the “big picture” who does things with urgency – this will be heavily affected by how formal or informal I am.

If I am ‘informal’ – that is to say I am outgoing, overtly enthusiastic and persuasive with a natural people orientation and a need to work flexibly and find easier and simpler ways of doing things, then I will manage people easily.

If, however, I am more formal, life (and managing others) will be a great deal more complex… you may be my boss and hopeless at what you do – but I am still going to respect you because of the position you occupy.

So for some people, the question of how to manage others is incredibly complex to answer and for others ………. they don’t understand why the question is relevant!

Knowing ourselves is key to managing others…

This may also help explain why, generally speaking, people find it easier to work with others that are fairly like-minded.

If for example, a manager possesses natural initiative and drive and can multitask easily and gets things done “quickly”, then inevitably they will enjoy working with people who share those characteristics.

If on the other hand, they are naturally inclined to an approach that is dutiful, thorough, meticulous and conscientious with a concern for always delivering work of high quality and allocating time appropriately to ensure that it happens, then they are more likely to respect that in other people and consequently may find it easier to mange like minded individuals.

“Birds of a feather will often flock together” ……. People will more easily gravitate towards people who work in a similar fashion to them, who share similar drives and motivations.

This of course adds additional complexity to the issue of managing people, as inevitably we will need to manage people who are quite different to us.

Recognising that not everyone is like us (thank goodness) is the key to managing others successfully.

It may be the case for example that I (as your manager) don’t “do detail” – and that you have a natural orientation here (driven as you are by your need to deliver high quality work) – so my delegation of detail to you should be very straightforward!… as long as I am delegating and not dumping the work.

The difference in this instance between ‘dumping’ and ‘delegating’ will be the “how” – and that’s where the manager needs to understand their own natural behaviours and those of their employee.

I may very well be glad to offload the detailed work but I do need to recognise that you have clear needs that should be met too.

The matter doesn’t end there – so when you bring me the detailed outputs I have requested – I need to recognise the effort that you have put into it, I need to recognise your technical competence and that you will be watching and analysing my reaction……… all the time watching for any criticism or perceived criticism.

Knowing and understanding the drives and motivations of the people we are managing is essential…whether they are like us – or different.

It’s also of course not uncommon that line managers get promoted into positions because of their length of service and their specialism in their field. The reality may be that the ‘promotion’ has nothing to do with their skills as a people manager.

It’s is entirely possible that the attraction is the job title and salary as well as recognition of technical competence – and the fact that ‘me having this job is just the right thing to have happened!’……sometimes and for some people, the “managing people bit” is the necessary evil that comes with the role and is not the point of the role itself.

In summary, we need to recognise that people management is ‘easier’ for certain personality types than others, and to maximise their chances of being a good manager, understanding self and others is a critical step in inducting new managers.

Yet ‘easier’ doesn’t mean ‘good at it’.  All managers need development to become the best managers they can be.

For some, managing people comes instinctively and as a consequence of training and experience, there are the opportunities to maximise that instinct and learn how to manage well.

For others, it doesn’t matter how they are trained or how much the experience that they have, they are just not motivated by people management and it’s just not their thing….. and that’s fine too – as long as they are not in a role that calls for them to manage people – in which case ………. It’s not!!!!

We’d love to hear about your own experience as a new manager. Share your thoughts with us below.

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