How do you learn to think like a manager when you have never been one? An unfortunate incident led me to ponder this question and come up with an answer.
A few weeks ago I was sitting at lunch and suddenly lost the sight in my left eye.
It wasn’t as if everything went black on one side. It was more like I was, without any warning, looking at the world through a cracked mirror. I lost my sense of perspective. I knew where the stairs were but couldn’t judge the depth. I went to put a glass down and knew where the table was, but couldn’t judge where the edge was.
It was as if I still had the eye of knowledge, but had lost the eye of experience. And suddenly I understood what it must be like to be a new leader, or a student in management or leadership: You can have all the knowledge gleaned from your textbooks, webinars and video library, but without the eyes of experience, you can feel totally out of your depth.
Not even a month into the Diploma course you have to answer questions like where your team fits into the organisation; what you’d do if you had a bad apple in the team, or how you’d coach a member of your team to become more confident. How do you do this when you’ve had no experience of management or team leadership?
No wonder you’re freaked out. It’s exactly how I felt when I lost my “eye of experience”.
Luckily, with some clever laser surgery, my sight was restored and I began to wonder what it would be like if I could focus a laser, and with a few zaps give every student the insight that comes from 10, 15 or 20 years in management. What changes would take place? Would it be that students would have extra knowledge? Keener intuition? Better decision-making? More confidence? Stronger capability? Greater depth of understanding?
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that gaining a management perspective first and foremost is about changing the way you think.
Managers think differently from junior or front-line employees.
They think about situations differently. They think about priorities differently. And they think of themselves differently. (I can imagine some of you nodding your heads and laughing about that one!)
So how do you change your thinking?
While it may take a bit of practice, thinking like a manager really comes down to three simple steps:
Step 1: Stop Thinking "Me" and Start Thinking "We"
This doesn’t mean becoming a saint. (I have not known many managers who are particularly saintly.) However what it does mean is remembering that as a manager you are responsible for more than yourself and your own work. To think like a manager, in any given situation you have to ask yourself what is best for the team and the business.
As an example, if there is a bad apple on the team(let’s call her Mary) ignoring her may be OK if you are a fellow worker, but the wrong call for the manager who has to think of what is best for the team. “I” may be happy to ignore a difficult person, but thinking from the perspective of “we” means that this situation can’t be ignored because there is too much at stake. “We” have to consider staff morale, KPIs, customer satisfaction, meeting budgets and meeting the expectations of the directors.
Step 2: Start Thinking "Tomorrow", not just "Today"
A big part of a manager’s job is thinking ahead; seeing what might eventuate from any decision made today; assessing risks and planning for the future.
If we take the same example of managing Mary, our bad apple, a team member might think in terms of instant, if temporary, relief from the pain of working with a difficult person. (“Why don’t they move her to another department?”)
On the other hand, a manager would be thinking, “Mary has valuable skills but if I don’t take action now, what will this mean for the team in the future? How will this affect team morale? Will we meet our deadlines? What action would be best for the team and the business?”
Thinking “tomorrow” might also mean considering preventative measures such as tightening codes of conduct and talking to HR about improvements in recruitment and team inductions.
This leads us to the next step in thinking like a manager: focusing on finding a solution rather than focusing on the problem.
Step 3: Stop Thinking "Problems" and Start Thinking "Solutions"
You will often hear comments from team members along the lines of: “Can’t THEY see what is going on here? “ Or “Why don’t THEY do something about this?” The focus is entirely on the problem and it is someone else’s job to find the solution.
Each person on the team will also see this problem from their own perspective. So you may hear one person say, ‘I don’t mind Mary. I know she’s a bit lazy, but that doesn’t bother me. I don’t have much to do with her.” Whereas someone else will say, “She’s holding up my work. All she does is sit on Facebook all day. Meantime my customers are waiting for their orders to be finalised and I have to deal with the complaints. ”
So what happens when you are the “THEY” that has to do something about this problem?
Firstly, a manager will examine the problem from a number of angles, not just how it affects themselves. They will consider it from the team’s perspective; the customer’s perspective; Mary’s perspective, and that of the business.
To do this they will consult across the business and speak to Mary, the bad apple, herself.
They will try to come up with a few different solutions: counselling Mary; performance managing her; moving Mary to a different department where she might be more motivated; re-training her or starting a process to dismiss her.
Finally they will make a decision based firstly on what is possible (managers must follow company policy and act within the law) as well as what they believe is the best solution for everyone.
There are lots of other subtleties in thinking like a manager, but sticking with these three steps and practicing them daily is a sure way to gain a management perspective.
You might also consider finding a mentor to guide your new way of thinking. They don’t have to be able to give you the answers to the scenarios you face in your management course. They just need to check that you have the right perspective. (A bit like my husband checking that my lipstick was straight when I couldn’t see – though he could never do a lipstick job himself.)
With diligence, and the right guidance, pretty soon you will find thinking like a manager comes naturally; you will become more comfortable with your studies; and your results will improve along with your prospects for promotion.
This is the first of a series of guest posts from our industry leading trainers who will be bringing their particular knowledge and expertise to the SkillsTalk blog
In a corporate career spanning nearly 30 years, Pamela has worked in marketing, business development and senior management including roles as an executive and non-executive Director. Her areas of expertise are business administration, management, strategy, governance, marketing, HR management specialising in L&D, executive and organisational coaching and mentoring.