Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Continuing on my recent theme around supporting new team managers I was very disappointed to hear recently about a new manager who was receiving very little support from their senior line manager. There had been one meeting between the two following the new team manager’s promotion with the focus being on the new team manager’s role and objectives. To be fair this had been useful, and the new team manager got clarity on the role, the objectives, and the specific measures of success so all good from this perspective. However, there was no discussion on what sort of development support the new team manager was to get and certainly no discussion on how the two managers were going to work productively together. In their post meeting assessment, the new team manager did admit that they hadn’t been proactive in challenging the senior manager on a number of areas and with it being a small company with no dedicated training department there is a culture of individuals having to drive their own development. In some ways the new team manager missed several opportunities to establish themselves with the senior manager, so here are some key tips to ensure that new team managers can effectively ‘manage their manager’.
Tip 1: Be pro-active. Do not expect your senior line manager to always take the lead. Many senior managers are used to acting ‘one way’ and will think that simply outlining their expectations of you are enough to get things moving. Any discussions have to be ‘two-way’ and covers some basic essentials. These are covered in the tips below.
Tip 2: Learn about behavioural or personality styles and find out what your own is and your manager’s. Compare the two and if there are differences then work on these differences by matching your manager’s body language very discreetly. Match their tone and volume of voice, remembering not to mimic only discreetly match. Look at their eye movements and do similar. Again, do similar with body movements. When you start to discreetly match their body language you will be amazed that they start to match yours also. This is the start of the rapport building process and this goes a long way to start the building of trust.
Tip 3: Contract with your manager by getting agreement about how best the two of you are going to work together. Ask questions such as:
“What are your specific expectations of me?”
“What are my specific objectives and how am I going to be measured?”
“How best are we going to work together?”
“What behaviours annoy you?”
“What motivates and de-motivates you?”
“What reports do you want? When do you want them? What content?”
“How often will we meet up to review progress?”
Contracting is all about managing expectations. A good manager will always outline his or her expectations and will ask you about yours’. Once you both are clear about what each other’s expectations are, then this is another building block in the foundations of trust and respect.
One of the hardest lessons I learned was when I did not contract with a senior sales manager. We had completely opposite behavioural styles, which meant that we didn’t get off to the best start. He thought I was too energetic, flighty, and too much of a risk taker and I thought he was far too detailed, with no personality and constantly stuck in front of spreadsheets. We were in constant conflict because he asked me for reports that I could see no reason for, and I was frustrated when he ignored my ideas and pleas for more training budget. If we had properly
contracted and discussed our similarities and differences and how best to work with them, we may not have had the conflict that we did have. The result of this “personality clash” was that there was little trust and respect between us and very little communication. Meetings between the two of us were, to say the least, fraught!
Tip 4: Ask for regular feedback on your progress. Ask your manager to coach you. Be pro-active and do not wait for your manager to come to you. On the other hand, do not always be seen to be reliant on your manager and give them space. Agree this area of support in your contract and look to have regular coaching sessions placed in your diaries.
Tip 5: Be seen to be a support for your manager. Management can be lonely and stressful particularly if the senior manager isn’t managing their boss particularly well or if the company and/or team results are not doing as well as expected. Be supportive and offer to take on extra tasks where appropriate and where your input will add value. These tasks will not only make space for the manager to work more productively and strategically they will also enable you to develop your own managerial and project capabilities. Be careful to ensure you manage your management peers’ expectations here too. Being seen as supporting the senior manager can be taken the wrong way by some of your colleagues and on occasion, the less enlightened managers can see this behaviour as threatening.
Tip 6: Go with your instincts! If you feel that the relationship with your senior manager is starting to go sour, then immediately call a meeting and openly discuss your feelings. To make this easier than it may sound, build it into your contract right at the start of your working relationship. Say something along the lines of, “If I feel our relationship is not what it should be, can I address it immediately as opposed to letting it linger?” Be careful of discussing your feelings with all of your own team. You may find some team members very supportive and helpful, but you may also find that some may go out of their way to reinforce the feelings you already have thereby making it potentially more difficult to address with the manager. It is always best to tackle these feelings ‘head-on’ without referring to your own team or even your management peers unless you trust them 100%. If you have a coach, then they are often the best people to enable and support you to handle these situations.
Relationships between new managers and their senior manager usually deteriorate because there was no contracting and hence potentially little trust in the first place with the result that true openness is not usually achieved. Follow these six tips and you will go a long way to ensuring a lasting and productive relationship with your senior manager.