Are you managing now? Do you want to get into managing people? Then David C Baker’s Managing Right for the First Time is for you. From personal experience I can tell you that I wish this book on management had been put into my hands as I was promoted from the skilled individual contributor ranks to the management ranks! David Baker put together a book—no, a field guide—to help the new manager learn the ropes and the veteran manager make changes for the better.
Building on his experiences as a manager, parent, business owner, elected official, and a consulting manager at all levels, David’s book is a quick one-to-two-sitting-read that uses real life examples to demonstrate “managing right”.
Through the pages of his book, David helps the newly promoted manager transition from “skilled employee” to “manager of the skilled employee” by challenging you to grow your self-awareness. Doing so, David suggests, will encourage you to understand why you were promoted, how to get started right, and what this journey will possibly look like on your way to becoming an ideal boss, which is defined by David as “Flawed, but self-aware and committed to the right things” (pg 42).
The Big Idea
Managing Before You Get The Title
"Great managers are generally great managers before they ever have the title."
Management is defined by Baker in his book “as taking responsibility for the performance and output of another employee in a business setting” (pg 11). Baker goes on further to address the prevailing notion that “you can be a good manager that does not lead, but takes responsibility, but the great ones learn to lead as well” (pg 14). As a manager, you need to (a) take responsibility for the actions and outcomes of your team members and (b) provide them with the resources to execute their roles and be proud of their work.
Sounds simple enough, but for some reason these two responsibilities are a challenge for many new managers as they transition to a management role. Why does the transition create such an issue for a new manager? And why do some transitions to management start off on the wrong foot? Let’s explore a few points from Baker’s book.
First, you need to understand why you were promoted and what expectations may need to wrapped up in those answers. In Managing Right for the First Time, Baker writes about a few of the ways promotions happen. The average manager will normally promote someone that is similar to them and will not rock the boat. Excellent managers, however will promote you because they have hopes that you will “do something better than the way it’s been done before” (pg 32).
So how do you know if you were promoted for the right reasons? Obviously, you could get yourself in trouble pretty quickly, should you assume you were promoted for one reason when the other is true. The most simple way to clarify is to ask questions. Ask your boss. Ask yourself. Effective questions could include, “Was I chosen for the right reasons?” or “Have I already been managing people without the title?”
Secondly, starting off right means you take into account the promoters and the detractors of your move. You’re creating change for those around you with the promotion, and you want to make sure that you’re not alienating people in the process. Your attitude and actions should include speaking to people about why you were promoted, what your expectations are, and also listening to their expectations of you in the role. David suggests keeping a log of the first impressions, from when you are announced as the new manager, right through your first few months in the role. His reasoning for this log is so that you can refer back to it later to chart your growth, and use it to mentor or coach a newer manager by sharing your memories of transitioning.
Finally as you start off right, David recommends you remain hopeful. This is not the same as being positive. “Positive people are generally in denial. Hopeful people are facing the challenges and still moving forward eagerly” (pg 48). You need to stay genuine as you begin to not just manage the team of direct reports but also the stakeholders around you.
Individual Contributor vs Becoming A Manager
"The notion that money moves in lock-step with your ascent on the corporate ladder has left us with a lot of idiots doing what they think is management."
One of the key takeaways in David’s book is the growing problem with management and leadership survival rates in corporate America. The primary problem is the warped thinking that in order to advance a career or earn more money, respect, and/or expertise in a given field, you have to go from your “skilled individual contributor” role to a “manager” role.
This causes great employees to possibly suffer from the Peter Principle, which states that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. To combat the Peter Principle, David suggests that companies and organizations should do their best to create structure that allows employee to grow in a way that is mutually beneficial to the individual and the business. In other words, structure that allows the individual’s responsibilities to be expanded (in turn, providing more money or benefits), but doesn’t insist that those responsibilities automatically involve managing other people. Some people are simply better managers than others.
Building the Next Manager
"Be comfortable with yourself, accept your role as coach and a leader, and nurture your people."
One thing that I do not practice too well, but have worked on since reading this book, is delegation. Find those smaller tasks that you’re comfortable with, and delegate them to others. Doing so will allow more room for you to grow and learn, keeping you from getting comfortable in (or protective of) your position.
A simple task that you can delegate to a potential new manager can allow you to gauge their management style and permit you to offer advice and feedback early—and it never hurts to build their confidence as well. When you delegate a task, David recommends that you make some suggestions, build consensus, and follow up with the person you’ve delegated to on a regular basis. I would personally suggest that you may want them to even stumble a bit in order to offer them a learning experience. In my position I have to turn in stack rankings in the review cycle, which is one exercise that I tend to delegate to potential leaders. Most stumble through it, they think too hard, and then I get to coach them on my views on stack ranking and other tools to use to create a ranking. I find that using this chance to get someone to start to view their buddies as employees is also critical to make that transition from buddy to boss.
Everyone takes that week away, why not take two? Delegate your responsibilities and have the person(s) you nominate keep a log or dairy of what they did and how they handled it. Review their notes with them and walk through the talking points when you return. Rotate this responsibility through the members of your team and see what surfaces.
When I received Managing Right for the First Time I did not know what to expect. I thought perhaps that it would be full of theory, but I honestly enjoyed it. The practical and simple way that David Baker coaches, shares insight, and helps to remove the roadblocks that a young (or even experienced!) manager may stumble over is refreshing. He also provides great tools that can be applied immediately. Actually, in-between meetings I’ll go through a couple of the comments in the appendix of the book, as I’ve found it to be full of gathered advice from new managers. Reading those comments reinforces for me why I am in this role as a manager and what I need to do. That “why” is essential to us as managers and coaches, as we work to keep the “hope” that David discusses alive.