New Managers – Play The Long Game

Overwhelm, excitement, pressure, optimism all swirl together when a new leader steps into their first people management role.

We often place additional pressure on ourselves to be great from the start, which is an impossible proposition. Playing the long game is vitally important for a new manager – it takes time to build leadership skills and adjust to the learning curve (a curve which never truly goes away). Start by focusing on the fundamentals (ex. creating trust; developing coaching skills) and build from there. This is not about overnight success, it’s about long lasting impact.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu

Roger Martin’s recent book, When More Is Not Better, speaks to why the US economy’s “helpful pursuit of efficiency has turned into an obsession.” When funnelled down to life as a new manager, sometimes you have to live in the now and learn by doing. Which takes time – there is no fast-track when it comes to leading people. Experience is your greatest teacher, and that’s ok.

For senior leaders, now is the time to throw away the “sink or swim” adage that many of us were exposed to. Patience is required when developing the next generation of managers. Talented people need opportunities to grow and someone to mentor/coach them. True leadership enables growth, and upper management who don’t have time to prioritize development (or value it enough to invest in external help) should rethink what their role truly is. A C-suite who “doesn’t have time to babysit” is a dangerous proposition downstream.

The ones who get it right leave lasting impact. I remember hearing the experience of a colleague who made a major blunder, and the brilliant response from their VP. My colleague, in the chaotic pace of a major HR issue involving someone on their team, inadvertently emailed their employee. Think about the time you almost hit send on an email to the worst possible person – that is what happened here. Her words to me were, “I felt like curling up in a ball and dying.” A tad dramatic yes, but we can all imagine the adrenaline rush and stress of putting yourself in such a situation. The VP’s response? “Welcome to the club.”

Pro move.

Not only did the VP acknowledge the error in a thoughtful way, they knew this mistake would likely never happen again. My colleague was a bright, driven, competent leader who made a simple mistake. They worked together to clean up the mess, and forged a stronger bond as a result. The essence of development.

If you’re a new manager, play the long game. If you’re a senior leader, be like the VP.