Seven Surprises for New Managers

Common Management Misconceptions

Seven Surprises for New Managers - Common Management Misconceptions

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Seven opportunities for growth.

Most new managers and leaders know that things will change once they're the boss, and that they'll have to apply a different set of skills to be successful in their new role.

However, despite being prepared for the challenges ahead, new managers can come unstuck in unexpected ways.

Michael Porter, Jay Lorsch, and Nitin Nohria explored common misconceptions about management in a 2004 Harvard Business Review article titled, "Seven Surprises for New CEOs." Although they based their article on their observations from workshops for new CEOs, you can apply their findings to other management roles as well.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at each of the seven surprises, and we'll help you to be more prepared for them in your role, whether you're managing an organization, a department, or a small team.

Surprise One: You Can't Run the Company or Department

As a new manager, you first need to realize that you can't be directly involved in every project that your team is working on, and that you can't have a direct influence on everything that happens within it.

So your perspective has to shift from getting things done yourself, to getting things done through other people. (This sounds obvious – but many new managers struggle with this!)

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Use delegation effectively.
  • Only attend meetings that you really need to attend.
  • Question whether you need to participate in tasks, or simply be informed of their outcomes.
  • Be careful not to make too many decisions for people; when people come to you with a question, ask them what they recommend.
  • Give people the guidance and resources that they need to do their jobs themselves. This frees you up to do the job of managing and leading your team.

Surprise Two: Giving Orders Is Costly

As a manager, you need to try to reach a situation where you don't need to tell people what to do, and can instead trust them to make the right decisions.

Some people may doubt their ability to make decisions. When this happens, they're more likely to come to you for approval of everything. This creates "manager dependency," and can make you a decision-making bottleneck, potentially stalling your team's progress.

Also, making last minute changes, or overruling decisions, can waste a great deal of time and resources, and undermines your people's confidence.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Communicate your organization's vision and values, keep people informed, and train and mentor them so that they have the knowledge and confidence to make decisions, based on what's best for the organization.
  • Create systems and structures so that your people understand what needs to get done, and how to do it.
  • Endorse effective decision making tools, and demonstrate how to use them.
  • Let people know that mistakes are part of the development process, and that you'd rather they take some risks than risk indecision. (Clearly, this may not be suitable in all types of work, so use your best judgment.)
  • Recognize how placing trust in people impacts your team's performance.

Surprise Three: It's Hard to Know What's Really Going On

No one wants to give his or her boss bad news. So the reality is, that by the time you get information, it may have had a few glossy touches added, and it won't necessarily be reliable.

However, you need accurate information to manage effectively, so you'll have to gather information from as many sources as possible.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Use management by wandering around. This keeps you in contact with people throughout the organization, and allows you to see and hear first-hand what's going on.
  • Talk to customers and suppliers on a regular basis, and build strong relationships with these people.
  • Analyze all of your stakeholders, and communicate with them often to ensure that you know what they're thinking.

Surprise Four: You're Always Sending a Message

As a manager, your words and your actions hold a lot of weight. People will speculate about why you said or did something; and they'll try to interpret whether your words or actions contained any hidden messages. Your mood will also affect your team, and everything that you say will be analyzed.

Managers lead by example whether they want to or not. You need to be careful of the example that you're setting, and be much more aware of the messages you're sending – deliberate or not.

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To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Use simple and clear language when communicating with people.
  • Ask for clarification, and don't assume that people understand the real meaning of what you're communicating.
  • Think about your body language, and use it to convey the right message.
  • Use storytelling to communicate the key messages that you want people to hear.
  • Be a good role model for your people, and lead by example.

Surprise Five: You Aren't the Boss

While you might be the boss of your team, you aren't the ultimate boss. (Even a business owner is ultimately accountable to his or her customers.) There will always be someone else that you need to report to, so you can't allow yourself to get caught up in your own importance.

As a manager, you should know who you need to keep informed, and you should work hard to gain the support of people around you. You will also need to manage upward, and be aware of how you stand with the people you report to.

You also can't let the flow of information stop with you, just because you're the manager.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Learn how to develop effective relationships with powerful people in your organization.
  • Find ways to collaborate with people that you report to, and to gain their trust.
  • Remember to share information and resources on a regular basis – both with your team, and with others.

Surprise Six: Pleasing Shareholders Is Not Always the Goal

Shareholders, whether these are traditional shareholders or other stakeholders in your department or organization, typically have a short-term perspective, and may be profit or performance oriented.

However, there are other longer-term considerations that are more important than the goals of shareholders, and you need to be aware of these as a manager.

For instance, should company profits outweigh safety concerns you have for your team? Do you push your team to finish a project unfeasibly early, because your boss is putting pressure on you? If an executive is behaving inappropriately with some of your people, when do you decide that enough is enough?

Making these types of decisions requires knowing who you are ultimately accountable to.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Take some time to understand your personal values, and how they fit with company values.
  • Understand the vision of the company and what it stands for. Make decisions based on that vision and those values. Reward team behavior that promotes these values.
  • Develop a clear strategy for your team, and ensure that it's aligned with corporate strategy.
  • Attract and recruit people in your team who fit the vision and values of your organization.
  • Understand value-based management – the idea that you should be chasing the best long-term value of your business, not sacrificing the future just to boost this quarter's earnings.

Surprise Seven: You're Still Only Human

As a manager you must remember that your position doesn't make you better or more capable than anyone else. You'll continue to make mistakes, and people around you will still have opinions that are different from yours.

However, being a manager does make you more responsible, and you need to demonstrate this responsibility.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Be humble and thankful, and reward the people around you who make you and your team look good.
  • Be accountable to yourself.
  • Use your emotional intelligence to remain connected with colleagues, family and friends.
  • Create your Wheel of Life, and remind yourself to find the balance you need to be the best you can be.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review. From "Seven Surprises for New CEOs" by Michael E. Porter, Jay W. Lorsch, Nitin Nohria, October 2004. Copyright © 2004 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.

Key Points

The seven surprises for new managers were first identified by Michael Porter, Jay Lorsch, and Nitin Nohria. The surprises highlight seven misconceptions that people have when they start out in a management or leadership role.

The seven surprises are:

  1. You can't run the company or department.
  2. Giving orders is costly.
  3. It's hard to know what's really going on.
  4. You're always sending a message.
  5. You aren't the boss.
  6. Pleasing shareholders is not always the goal.
  7. You're still only human.

The transition to manager can be a challenge. But by being aware of these common misconceptions and the issues associated with them, you'll increase your chances of being successful.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (5)
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi plymouth_fastback,

    There is a lot of pressure to establish yourself as a manager early on, mostly to demonstrate that their promotion was well deserved. I've observed it and experienced it myself. The key is to carefully weigh the importance of the decisions one makes with the potential impact. As for your second point about some employees choosing to sit back and have the manager make all the decisions, this is true as well. There will always be a percentage of employees who are "doers" and wait to be told.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago plymouth_fastback wrote
    In my experience, some new managers feel the need to make lots of decisions early on. This is underpinned by issuing a load of instructions to go with them.

    It is all about making a mark early.

    This sets the tone.

    Also, I've had several colleagues over the years who are very happy to be told what to do. "You're paid to make the decisions... so make them!!"
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi darlic,

    This would be a great topic for the Forums. Why not drop by there and start a thread. Perhaps include the link to this page as a reference point?

    Mind Tools Team
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