For decades, I’ve been talking to new managers about their biggest challenges. One thing I still hear over and over is how hard it is to balance being the tough boss and being the nice boss. I think this feat is especially difficult for the new manager who started as a high performing individual contributor, was promoted, and is now managing former colleagues and friends.
This common first-time manager dilemma reminds me of my longtime friend and coauthor Don Shula, legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins. In our book Everyone’s a Coach, he says it is more important to be respected than to be popular.
I offer two pieces of advice. First, think back to a leader who inspired you to great performance. More than likely it was someone who combined toughness with compassion. You knew that person cared about you, but also that they would not let up on you in the quest for excellence. To achieve this balance you need to set high standards to make sure each person on your team is adding value to the organization. You also need to be present for them to offer support and direction along the way. You must be willing to set stretch goals with your people, pushing them beyond their comfort level—and then you need to help them achieve those goals.
This is where the art of communication comes into play. Having honest and open conversations with your people when setting goals, providing feedback, and giving direction will pave the way to building mutually respectful relationships with them.
My second suggestion is to ask for training. Our research shows that more than 40 percent of new managers go years without receiving any training in their new role! That’s incredible. Is it any wonder that 60 percent of new managers underperform or fail in the first two years? Without proper managerial training, you are likely to develop poor habits that will prevent you from being as effective as you need to be. And those poor habits you developed early can become the familiar, comfortable behaviors that will be more difficult to change as time goes by.
For example, as a new manager you might find it hard to delegate—especially if you were a successful individual achiever who was promoted into a management role. But even though it might be easier and faster to do some tasks yourself, you must learn how to get work accomplished through others. If you don’t delegate, your direct reports might see you as a nice boss, but if you show each person you care about their development enough to require them to carry their own weight, they will respect you as their leader. This relates back to Coach Shula preferring respect to popularity.
Are you ready to ask for training to learn the skills you need to get your management career off to a great start? And are you ready to push your people to find the greatness within themselves? I guarantee if you focus on both of these issues, you’ll set yourself and your team up for success.