So, you’ve been appointed to a management position – well done! This is an opportunity for you to express yourself, use your initiative, contribute something worthwhile and exercise your leadership ability. Clearly, senior leadership have recognised your character traits and skillsets and have deemed them to be desirable for the growth of the business, so you’ve been promoted. Your career seems to be taking shape and there are possibilities for further growth steps within the firm. You are excited and want to do well. This is your moment.
As you prepare yourself for the challenges that lie ahead, however, you need to be aware that there are sometimes subtle political and power pitfalls that need to be navigated well in order for you to come out on top and be trusted by those around you and particularly by those who report in to you. These “positional pitfalls”, left unchecked, can derail the very best of efforts and intentions of the manager and result in suspicion and distance – the very opposite of what you want. All managers need to guard against the following:
- Feelings of superiority – with position comes authority and responsibility, not grandeur. Retaining a humble spirit is paramount to building trust and drawing people with you to achieve worthy objectives. Pride inhibits sensitivity to the needs of others.
- Being an “answer-giver” – there is a perception that managers need to know the answers to whatever dilemma may arise, that their opinion is the only right one. For the purpose of inclusivity, facilitate the answers to problems or challenges. You are paying the staff – give them the opportunity to exercise their minds and come up with solutions. Don’t earn their salaries – let them do their work.
- Withholding information – the old adage “knowledge is power” is only partly accurate – shared knowledge is much more powerful. Your team knowing and understanding the “big picture” creates a solid foundation for focus and energy applied appropriately. Being secretive engenders suspicion and ultimately false assumptions.
- Being absent – “hiding” behind your computer, no matter how busy you are, or spending too much time with other managers and not with your team, exhibits distance and a lack of care. Every member of the team needs to know fundamentally that you care for them, so be present and engage with them.
- Over-confidence – confidence exhibited through your leadership is important, but over-confidence is tied up with self-importance. A “know-it-all” attitude will push people away from you.
- Focusing on mistakes – errors need to be addressed, but should be balanced with recognition offered for great work. Search for things that are going well and recognise the same liberally.
- Ignoring emotion – positive and negative emotions are part of everyone’s experience of life – ignore emotion at your peril. The emotionally intelligent manager seeks to understand and empathise with emotional content appropriately, thus producing an environment of understanding and care.
- Siding with the “nicer” people – staff watch for fairness. Your evenness and friendliness with everyone should be self-evident. “No favourites” should be your motto. You need to be a servant to all.
- Political gamesmanship – getting involved in power struggles leaves your team in an allegiance quandary – do they just attempt to honour the company and its values or do they try to side with you? Visibly show your commitment to company values and objectives.
- Not keeping promises – follow through with what is promised. Do not cause frustration with assertions that cannot be met.
Being appointed to a management position is challenging – not only does this require careful navigation through a quagmire of political and power pitfalls, but also calls for servant leadership in approach. Your character, consistency and competence will be scrutinised, even judged, but you will likely succeed if you build your integrity and consequently, your reputation.