First-Time Managers: "It’s Not Me, It’s You"
Have you ever been dumped before? If so, what was the excuse? Whether you want to admit it or not, the answers to these two questions are more than likely:
- “It’s not you, it’s me”
Rearrange a couple of those words from that excuse, and you just might have an effective philosophy of leadership: “It’s not me, it’s you.”
Think about it. Many people have felt this way before their first managerial job:
I have been rewarded since I was a little kid on my own individual contributions (my grades in school, my blue ribbons, my awards). The first job I got was probably based entirely on my own skills. And in fact, I probably got promoted from an individual contributor role to my first managerial role because of the technical skills I have and the amount of work I can do. It’s all about me.
But, many first-time managers struggle with their new managerial role because the individual skills and work that got them promoted to manager are not what brings future success as a manager. “It’s all about me” doesn’t work anymore. Instead, new managers must focus their energies not on doing the work, but on leading the work of others. They must rely on others, trust others and motivate others. They have to focus less on themselves. They must shine less of the spotlight on themselves, and more on their direct reports. In short, “It’s not me, it’s you.”
To be effective in their current and future leadership roles, first-time managers need to focus on the competencies and skills explored below:
- Influence: People tend to influence others the way they like to be influenced. If they use facts, figures and data to gain your commitment, then you will tend to use facts, figures and data when influencing others. It’s only natural. Yet, if people working for you are swayed less “through the head” and more “through the heart” with how a decision will affect their own life or work, their own values, their own beliefs, or the people around them, then all the data in the world will not convince them. You as a manager have to think “I have to influence you not based on my preferences, but on the way you like and want to be influenced … It’s not me, it’s you.”
- Communication: People communicate with others the way they like others to communicate with them. If you’re a fan of the old TV series “Dragnet” and want “just the facts” and want to hear only the bare minimum, then you will probably tend to have those same, straight-to-the-point conversations with your direct reports. Yet, so many others out there (perhaps especially, the people you manage) want to hear more, want to be engaged in conversations and decisions, and want to be heard. So you have to talk with them and be aware of the verbal and nonverbal messages they are sending. You as a manager have to think “I have to talk with you the way you want to be communicated with … It’s not me, it’s you.”
- Coaching and Developing Others: A major portion of your time as a manager should be spent leading your team, not doing the actual work that you used to do, even if you think you can do it quicker, faster and better. If you don’t give your direct reports the opportunity to shine, you not only are adding more to your plate (that you are not being rewarded for anymore in the first place), you are implicitly telling them “I don’t trust you to do the work.” Research has shown that managers who actually mentor, coach and develop their own direct reports are seen as better performers, and more promotable. Managers who operate this way are focusing less on themselves, and more on their own followers, helping them be the best they can be. You as a manager have to think “I have to step away from doing the work, and help you, mentor you, coach you and develop you to do the work. I have to do what I can to make you successful … It’s not me, it’s you.”
So, all you first-time managers out there, take the pain from being dumped (or, the excuse you might have given the last person you dumped), and rearrange those five little words. Adopting the mindset of “It’s not me, it’s you” will help first-time managers be more effective and successful – now and in the long run.
William “Bill” Gentry, Ph.D., is a research scientist and enterprise associate at the Center for Creative Leadership. He has more than 40 published articles and 70 conference presentations on leadership and organizational psychology. He trains, coaches, and works with many first-time managers in CCL’s Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program. Follow Bill on Twitter: @Lead_Better.
Written for TrainingIndustry.com