Setting Expectations Starts With You: The First Thing to Let Go of To Be A Great Manager

management development Nov 05, 2021

Setting Expectations Starts With You: The First Thing to Let Go of To Be A Great Manager

Remember life before you were a manager?

How many times did you leave the office thinking, “If they only did things my way, we wouldn’t have half the problems we do”? Or “when I’m in charge, things are going to be different.”

Do you feel the same way now that you are a manager or have a larger scope of responsibility?

I would bet that you don’t. And if you do, you won’t feel that way for long.

Newly-promoted managers often dream of stepping in and making an impact right away.

But moving into a leadership mindset is different.

Becoming a manager is much more than a title change and a salary bump. It’s a door into a completely new system or culture.

Whereas before you were responsible for you and only you and your deliverables, it’s a different story as a manager. It’s now up to you to ensure that your team is producing and not falling into the trap of becoming passive and indecisive—two of the biggest threats to anyone’s career and an organization’s overall success.

Now the trick is for you to create and maintain a positive work environment for your team and make sure they meet the company’s goals while also helping them meet their individual career aspirations.

New skills await you, but first, you need to shed the one notion that holds back most managers: The idea that “being fair” to your direct reports is what management is all about.

Managing well is about flexibility, not fairness.

One of the essential behaviors needed of a manager is to adapt and customize each situation to each individual. Every person operates differently, and to connect with the different behaviors and personalities, you must flex your approach. Your staff should feel respected, but they also don’t want to be treated or communicated in precisely the same way.

Fair does not mean equal.

You need to vary your leadership and communication styles to the person in the situation based on their goals, project work, and experience, as well as your personality and style. How are you individually managing each employee? Are you considering their:

  • Communication preferences?
  • Motivation?
  • Career aspirations?
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots?
  • Skills and abilities?

Think back again to when you were an individual contributor— back when you were a true newbie. If your boss emailed you a spreadsheet and told you, “Make these numbers work,” without any context, you’d want to ask questions, gain understanding, right?

And if your boss weren’t available or responded with, “Give it a shot, and I’ll let you know later,” you’d probably be frustrated.

The same goes for your team. You need to manage the message according to the recipient.

The trick to learning what makes each team member tick? Ask questions on Day One.

When I began leading an existing team after the manager left the organization, I sent out a list of questions to my new staff members, asking them about their preferences and perspectives on themselves and the work:

  • How’s it going in the department? What’s working well, and what isn’t?
  • How do you prefer to be recognized and rewarded?
  • What is an aspiration you have for your role in the organization or your career?
  • If you had a magic wand and could fix or improve one thing about your job, what would it be?”

Then really take in and understand what your team members have to say, and manage your communication with them with their answers to these questions in mind.

You may not be able to take charge of everything that impacts your team and their work, but you can choose the type of manager you will be, and it all starts with understanding the team you’re leading.

Setting expectations is my favorite topic to discuss with emerging leaders. Some of my students say that I am a Setting Expectations Evangelist. Stay tuned for more on how to set clear expectations for your team and follow through with them to foster success in your organization.

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