The new boss classes

Innovate, motivate and learn which jobs to delegate - and to hell with being liked. Matt Seaton gathers advice for first-time bosses
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Indy Lifestyle Online
One day, things are normal. The next, everything has subtly altered. You go into work, and people you know quite well suddenly treat you like a foreign dignitary. At the end of the day, they all seem to leave at once ... without you. It's official: you are now a manager; you are someone else's boss.

Of course, it's just what you've been angling for. But once the initial euphoria has worn off, it is quite common to feel disoriented and intimidated. David Rees, a lecturer for the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD), says: "There is a moment of elation, when you're thrilled with the promotion, but then the self-doubt creeps in, reaching a pitch of anxiety after about four to six months; then most people begin to plan their way out of the crisis."

If you've been promoted from within, the people you'll be managing will certainly have been your colleagues and, in some cases, your friends. Barry Healey, who runs an introductory course on management for the Institute of Management and meets scores of first time managers, maintains that "the mistake is to try to still be 'one of the lads', or 'one of the lasses'"

This was very much the dilemma for Jenny Dee, a founding member of a theatre-in-education company. To begin with, it worked more or less as a co op, but in 1993 she found herself running the company as sole director with three new employees. The change meant that she was their boss although she was still "on the shopfloor", an actor like them. "I was very good at being nice to them," she remembers, "but I couldn't tell them off." She now employees 14 people full time. Time and experience have altered her perspective: "Then, I wanted them to be my friend... but I couldn't give a damnwhat they think of me now," she laughs, "although people usually seem to like working for us."

These days, the distinction between the boss and the staff is becoming blurred anyway, as the fashion for "flat management" spreads. Lack of clearly defined patterns of authority leave it much more to the discretion of the new manager to establish his or her own.

First, says Alan Fowler, a columnist for People Management and writer for the IPD, "You need to do one or two things that are symbolic, like not joining your friends on the Friday afternoon visit to the pub. Something has changed, so you might as well demonstrate it. It's a mixture of symbolism and starting to do managerial-type things."

Many first-time bosses are not helped in finding their feet by the circumstances of their elevation. Michael's experience seems typical. Despite his well- plotted career path (he started as a management trainee in a systems analysis department) his promotion was mishandled. "It was done in such a bad way, I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be managing somebody or not. It was all a bit strange." Eventually, Michael was given his own team to recruit. "I remember being very serious and conscientious, but I quite enjoyed setting goals and objectives, and doing it right. In retrospect, I was completely naive - I expect I still am"

Michael knew just what he wanted to avoid - "the managers I hate are distant and dictatorial" - and in this he was unconsciously recognising what Alan Fowler regards as one of the most important aspects of management. "You must remember that as a manager, you are in effect training people. Your staff are assessing you. You are a role model."

In fact, what so many new managers find difficult to handle - delegating responsibility - came quite naturally to Michael. "Some delegating was easy," he says. "But it was the necessary-but-boring bits that were hard to pass on. I ended up doing too much of the crap stuff myself because I was embarrassed about handing it over."

This, of course, is the other legacy of "flat management": most companies can no longer employ juniors to make tea and do bits of photocopying; everyone wants team players. But there are still some islands of tradition in the stream. When Kate, who had been working for herself, took a job running a course in a college, she found the formality of having a secretary quite bizarre.

"I'll say, 'Do you mind sending this fax this afternoon?' as if I'm asking her a favour," she reflects. "Getting the balance right is tricky - it's a new category of relationship: they're not a friend, but you're quite dependent on them."

Ultimately, the trick of being a boss is to learn to sit comfortably in the boss's chair.


Don't throw your weight around: try to change too much too soon, and you will get everyone's backs up.

Avoid office politics: unless you can play and win, then it's best to stay out of it.

Use your initiative: adopt the "Jesuit approach" to management - it's easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission, so if you're sure of something, just do it.

Be consistent: the manager from hell is the one who is all sweetness and light one minute, and sour-faced the next. "If your natural behaviour is to be a bastard," says Alan Fowler, "then for God's sake, be a bastard all the time."

Learn to delegate: the best way to motivate your team is to give them autonomy, control over their work, the freedom to make decisions themselves.

Promote your staff as well as yourself: the juiciest carrot you can offer to your team is, whenever appropriate, to be seen to be furthering their careers.

Manage thyself: management is all about strategic thinking and planning ahead, so beware of getting too wrapped up in the day-to-day.

Count to 10 and calm down: whatever the pressures for instant decision making, don't rush to judge. Make sure you know the facts and try to be dispassionate.

Labour with love: do take an interest in the people who work for you; they are far more likely then to respond to the expectations you have of them.