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Advice for New Managers

Getting your first management position can be exciting, but you may be in for some surprises once you're hired. That's what Jill Nelsen found out when she broke into fast-food restaurant management in California nearly 15 years ago. With a collegiate background in accounting and bookkeeping, Nelsen thought she'd be hiring people and crunching numbers. Instead, she spent most of her time dealing with teenagers working their first job, calling employees to cover missed shifts and mopping the floor late at night after working 12- to 16-hour shifts.

"Management is something you have to work into, not something that can necessarily be taught," says Nelsen.

Another problem, says Connie Sitterly, founder of Fort Worth, Texas-based Management Training Specialists, is that most companies reward employees by promoting them into management, whether they're ready for it or not.

"The biggest mistake of upper management is promoting the wrong people," says Sitterly. "A computer programmer may be great technically but might not have people skills."

Like it or not, you're going to have to develop those skills and change the way you do your work if you want to succeed as a manager. Here are some tips that seasoned pros say they wish they'd known from the start.

It's Not Just About You

"As a manager, the key difference is you no longer are evaluated as an individual contributor in the organization," says Florence Stone, a spokeswoman for the American Management Association (AMA), which offers a three-day seminar on management skills for new managers. "You now must work with your staff to achieve your department and your organizational goals. Your role is to work with others, to help them be productive and effective."

Stone offers these tips for first-time managers:

  • Identify your department's goals and determine the resources needed to achieve them.
  • Get to know each individual's needs, and find out what drives them.
  • Observe each direct report's behavior to determine if there is sufficient knowledge, skill and motivation for the individual to complete the task.
  • Delegate tasks and responsibilities to meet the department's objectives.
  • Set clear expectations, understood by both you and your staff.
  • Coach the individual for improved performance and his own professional development.
  • Prepare for the unexpected.

Common Goals

Joni Wright has worked on both sides of the fence. She has been an employee trying to understand what her managers want from her, and is now a manager at a Twin Cities government agency trying to explain to her employees what she expects of them. First-time managers need to understand that, despite a difference in titles and responsibilities, the ultimate goal is the same.

"The two groups have more in common than they may realize," says Wright. "Though their job tasks are different, both want many of the same things. What is one of the biggest rewards for an employee? Being happy and successful in their work. What is probably the biggest reward for a supervisor? Seeing an employee happy and successful in their work."

But what it all comes down to, says Tom Cronin, New England-area manager for London-based Twinings and Company, is to remember that people are people, and even though they all have their little quirks and differences, the result is what matters.

"You have to understand everybody is different, and your job as a manager is to be able to cultivate ways for that person to succeed," says Cronin. "You're not always going to agree with them or the way they do things, but the end result is what matters. Treat people with respect, and provide the guidance and leadership they are looking for. People are people regardless of a title they hold. Remember that."

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