Managing (Right) For The First Time

By: David Baker



What happens when we don’t get the managing thing right?

Normally, the results are simply grouchy managers, disgruntled employees, and unremarkable business results. 

We’re humans, after all, and at its core managing is essentially a human activity. 

So how do we become good managers?

In his book, “Managing Right for The First Time”, David C Baker suggests good management comes primarily from who you are as a person and the experiences you’ve had being managed.  If you’ve made the right choices as you’ve responded to the circumstances you’ve encountered, there is a higher likelihood that you’ll be a good manager. Baker then goes on to give us key tips on how we should build on this foundation to become proficient: giving us a “handbook for doing it well”.

Lesson 1: Starting Out

Many of us experience a management position as a consequence of promotion.  The first thing we will notice is our promotion will be polarising.  Our supporters will be invigorated and love us even more than they did before. For our detractors, however, it will be a different story.  They’ll be even more firm in their stance against us, though they’ll likely take it underground.  

How do you win these folks over?  Baker tells us not to overreact.

First, we should acknowledge that we have detractors.

Second, we should avoid actions that give our detractors too much power. No fuel, no fire. 

Third, we should not insult detractors by using our new position of power and patronise them. 

Fourth, we should concentrate on doing the right thing. We are here to manage after all and that should be out focus. 

Baker suggests we keep a log of your first impressions - from the very first day. These can be used as reference and indeed used to help future managers we might appoint.

Baker suggests when we become a manager, people are looking for two things.

They want the real us and not some version of what we think “we” should be.

They want to see our confidence.  They don’t expect us to be right all the time but they don’t want to see us hesitate before every move.

They want us to be collaborative.  Not too collaborative, where everyone holds equal sway, but collaborative because of an understanding that the people in the trenches usually do have the answers and are thus genuinely worth listening to. 

They want us to chart a direction for the department with just enough detail that they can see the outline of a goal but without so much detail that it looks  like we need their acceptance of every little component. 

They want, finally, for us to be hopeful. Hopeful people are facing the challenges and moving forward eagerly. 


Lesson 2: Early Discoveries

Baker suggests, one of the first early discoveries we’ll make is that some of our earlier commentary as an employee (not a manager) was unfair whining.  Like all employees do, we gave our opinion about management decisions without really knowing all the facts. We failed to give our managers the same sort of benefit of the doubt that we now crave.

Good managers will always be misunderstood, but that should not be used as a license to accept misunderstanding. If most of the employees “misunderstand” us, that’s a sure sign that we’re the problem and not them.

The second early discovery Baker says we’ll make is that management can be lonely. To feel that loneliness, Baker says we’ll be doing several things.   The first is making decisions. The second is observing the impact of those decisions.  The third is being sufficiently honest and self-aware to freely admit that loneliness. So loneliness is actually a good sign — all three of these things are exactly what we should be doing. 

The third early discovery: there is virtually no connection between “doing” and “managing” something. Some of the most successful companies on the planet are run by people who don’t know how to do the work. They hire well, train well, manage well, and the net result is an expert manager who is managing a group of valued experts. 

The fourth early discovery we’ll make is that the pressures we faced up to now are nothing. Now pressure will come from many angles and we’ll have to become adept at balancing all these competing demands. Pressure will come from the heightened expectation that we are ultimately responsible for things being done well. Pressure will come from those we are managing, each with an individual agenda about their hours, their pay, their duties, their workspace, their benefits, their training, their clients, and on and on. 


Lesson 3: 5 Areas of Management Focus

Baker breaks down the fundamentals of management into five focus areas.

No 1: Minding the Financial Performance.  Your first priority as a principal or manager is to pilot the ship. That means ensuring accurate tracking of your firm or department’s financial performance against industry benchmarks, useful forecasting, and prudent decisions about the source and use of money. 

No 2: Hiring/Molding Key Staff. It’s actually more difficult to find the right people than the right clients.  It follows, of course, that there’s more at stake when we make a mistake with employees than with clients.  Our task then is to find and develop the best.

No 3: Positioning/Closing Opportunity. In other words we must make sure our firm or department has a very clear and differentiated positioning in the marketplace, built around deep expertise that’s different from nearly every one of our peer firms or departments. 

No 4: Strategising for Clients.  Baker says, the best way to be involved with clients without being their daily go-to person is to bounce in and out of the relationship while we help them formulate the strategic portion of the marketing plan for their product or service. 

No 5: Implementing for Clients. Baker suggests if we’re managing the first four priorities like we should, there’s virtually no chance that we’ll have time for client implementation work.  But if we do, he states we’ll probably be doing the same things that got us into the field in the first place.  He warns us however - never dip our toes in those waters again unless we’re doing a terrific job with the first four priorities. 


Lesson 4: Being a Leader Staff Want To Follow

How can we become a leader people want to follow? Baker gives us a range of characteristics, not specifically in order that describe a leader’s characteristics, any one of which might hinder their effectiveness if missing in any significant proportion. 

APPROACHABLE.   A leader, who is really nothing more than the ideal form of a manager, is approachable, even with bad news. At the heart of approachability is simply a willingness to listen, first, before reacting.  

ARTICULATE.   A leader doesn’t need to be some master spokesperson or have a Ph. D. in English, but they need to be able to articulate what they are thinking and feeling. 

AUTHENTIC.   A leader needs to be the same person on the surface as they are in reality, deep inside.  Employees can smell a rat, and that rat often takes the form of a leader who dons a suit when at  work, trying to be somebody they aren’t. 

COMMUNICATIVE.   Not only are leaders able to articulate their vision, they actually do so.  

COMPETENT AT A BASIC LEVEL. Confident enough to understand the issues and be able to evaluate talent. 

CONFIDENT. There’s a balance needed here: enough confidence to inspire those following a leader, but not so much confidence  that it leads them astray.

CURIOUS. Closely aligned with this would be perceptive, observant, and inquiring. The leader holds a belief, but is always testing it against new information in new situations to further refine their learning and thus their convictions. 

DECISION MAKER. To be an effective leader we must be a risk taker.  In chaos and ambiguity, we must defy momentum and decide about direction and speed.

DIRECT. Being direct is motivated by a desire to truly communicate in a means whereby everything that’s necessary is included without any ancillary information or clutter.

DISCIPLINED. Leaders are disciplined.  That means that they get things done, do what they say, plan, and execute. 

FAIR. A leader’s fairness will most likely show up when he or she is alone with someone else, talking about a third party who isn’t there.

HONEST. The last thing you need is a leader who says different things to different people, either because they’re afraid of conflict or because they are trying to amass power. 

HOPEFUL.  Great leaders are hopeful, even when they know all the facts about the circumstances. 

Lesson 5: Managers Recognise Their Weaknesses

Baker tells us great managers recognise their failings and challenges.

Managers are accepting of a minority position. The group, however you define it, is often wrong.  The supposed safety in numbers is elusive.  This means that a leader will often look from the majority of those that he or she manages, and be comfortable with a position in the minority. 

Managers are merciful from significant personal failure. Their personal failures haunt them to some extent, keeping them humble and merciful. 

Managers are pattern matchers/critical thinkers. They see the possibilities and the outcomes like few others do, and therefore can set an appropriate course of action. 

Managers are predictable. Those they lead being able to anticipate how a leader might think and or act. 

Managers are purposeful. They have a plan, can articulate it, and then see to it that the seemingly random activities of a typical day are actually contributing to the execution of the plan. 

Managers are self-aware. Good leaders are self-aware.  They know their own tendencies, and they know how their actions affect others.  

Managers gain stimulation primarily from outside work. You want a leader who lives a more balanced life, understanding the role of work and the role of life outside work. A leader with an interesting life outside work is better at work/ life balance issues.

Managers are visionary. A leader must have a vision of the future. Otherwise, there’s very little likelihood that individual initiatives will be purpose driven. 

Lesson 6: Managing Crises

Baker suggests the first wrong reaction to difficulties we’ll experience is to go into a high control mode and seek to eliminate the messiness of the management environment. 

This instinct to control things is our perceived antidote to feeling out of control. We think people aren’t listening to us or aren’t respecting our directives, so we clamp down even harder, hoping to force compliance. 

The second wrong reaction to difficulties suggested we will experience is to go back into the craft or the technical expertise from which we were promoted. This tendency to retreat to an area of greater comfort is driven by the need to resolve some of the angst that comes from the less comfortable areas. But hiding behind a comfortable place won’t solve anything.   It just puts off the inevitable, and makes it even tougher to face once we get around to it. 

The third wrong reaction to difficulties we will experience is to make friends with employees.  That seems like an odd thing to say, but real management duty puts tough situations on our plate. When we deal with them, we can upset people just doing our job. The problem with befriending employees is that we can’t do it evenly, and so some are left out of our inner circle.  These outsiders, as they think of themselves, feel slighted and mistreated.

The fourth wrong reaction to difficulties we will experience is to “pull” on people for loyalty purposes. Any loyalty we create will be artificial, and in the process of creating it we’ll polarise the group of people answering to us.