Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Ever feel like you can't turn your brain off? Worried about how to stop worrying?
We all deal with this when life gets challenging.
There is a way to overcome worry that doesn't involve alcohol or a straitjacket.
The answer is thousands of years old — but now science is validating those ancient ideas. You've probably even heard of it: Mindfulness.
Yeah, it's all the rage now. But nobody ever seems to really explain what it is or how to do it.
Let's fix that.
You Are Not Your Thoughts
What is mindfulness? In his book, The Mindfulness Solution, Ronald Siegel, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, gives a pretty good answer.
The working definition of mindfulness that my colleagues and I find most helpful is awareness of present experience with acceptance.
You might say: But I'm aware. I'm present. I'm accepting.
And I'd say: No, you're not.
You're not aware; you're staring at your iPhone.
You're not present; you're worrying about the future.
You're not accepting; you're shaking your fist at traffic because the world doesn't match the vision in your brain of how it "should" be.
Very often, we're all stuck in our heads.
We're not taking the world in; we're just listening to the stories we tell ourselves about the world, trusting the endless parade of thoughts flitting through our heads instead of actually paying attention to life around us.
One of the fundamental tenets of mindfulness is that we all take our thoughts wayyyyyy too seriously. We think our thoughts always mean something. In fact, we think we are our thoughts and our thoughts are us.
And that's one of the reasons we worry so much and experience so many negative emotions — because we take our thoughts about the world more seriously than the world itself.
Mindfulness practice brings all sorts of insights into the workings of the mind. Perhaps the hardest to grasp is the idea that thoughts are not reality. We're so accustomed to providing a narrative track to our lives and believing in our story that to see things otherwise is a real challenge.
You know as well as I do that all kinds of ridiculous thoughts go through our heads. And sometimes you know not to trust them. When you're tired, drunk, angry or sick you don't take your thoughts as seriously.
Mindfulness says you should go a step further. Because you have lots of crazy or silly thoughts all the time. And they can make you anxious or bring you down.
(For more on how to never be frustrated again, click here.)
The great psychologist Albert Ellis said we should dispute our irrational thoughts. Great advice — but it can be difficult. You have to be exceedingly rational for it to work.
And sometimes disputing those thoughts can be like a "Chinese finger trap" — the more you resist, the more they ensnare you.
So what can you do?
Observe. Don't Judge.
Sometimes you can't easily dispute those worrying thoughts. So mindfulness simply says: let them go.
Mindfulness practice helps us avoid the trap of counterproductive thoughts by learning to let them go.
You can't turn your brain off. And even if you meditate for years you can never fully clear your mind. But you can see those troublesome thoughts, recognize them, but not get tangled in believing them.
Remember, this practice is not about emptying the mind, getting rid of difficult emotions, escaping life's problems, being free of pain, or experiencing never-ending bliss. Mindfulness practice is about embracing our experience as it is—and sometimes what is can be unpleasant at the moment… We usually try to feel better by decreasing the intensity of painful experiences; in mindfulness practice, we work instead to increase our capacity to bear them.
And scientific research shows this really works. People feel better and are more engaged with their work after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice.
Dr. Davidson and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn recruited a group of pressured workers in a biotechnology firm and taught half of them mindfulness meditation for three hours per week over an eight-week period. They compared this group to a similar group of coworkers who were not taught meditation. On average, all of the workers tipped to the right in their prefrontal cortical activity before taking up meditation. However, after taking the eight-week course, the meditating group now had more left-sided activation than the nonmeditators. The meditators also reported that their moods improved and they felt more engaged in their activities.
I know, I know: Easier said than done, Eric.
Ignore your thoughts? Let them just float by? Sounds great but how the heck do you do that? Especially when they're emotionally powerful feelings like worry.
(For more on how to deal with anxiety, tragedy or heartache, click here.)
The key is attention. Yeah, that thing none of us seems to have anymore.
But there's a way to get it back.
Don't Distract. Immerse.
I've posted before about how important attention is to happiness. And one of the key practices of mindfulness is meditation, which has been shown in scientific studies to improve attention.
While I'm a huge believer in meditation, yes, it can be hard and takes time. Is there another way? Yup.
Next time you're worrying, remember that your thoughts aren't real. Life is real.
So turn your attention to your senses. To the world around you. (No, not to your smartphone.)
How does that cup of coffee smell? Did you even notice the people nearby?
REUTERS/Anthony P. Bolante
Don't distract yourself. Immerse yourself in the world around you.
The approach teaches people mindfulness practices with a particular emphasis on not taking any thoughts too seriously but rather staying grounded in sensual reality here and now … Instead of fantasizing about the next moment of entertainment, you can turn your attention to the sights and sounds of standing in line, buying a cup of coffee, and walking down the street. Instead of getting frustrated because the train is late, you can study the other passengers (discreetly), notice the architecture of the station, and attend to the sensations in your body as you sit and wait. There is always something interesting to do — just pay attention to what is occurring right now.
(For more on how to meditate and be happier, click here.)
I know what some of you are thinking: The worries keep coming back, Eric. Smelling the coffee didn't make them go away.
No sweat. We have tools for this.
Noting And Labeling
Rather than dodging, disputing, or distracting (which can all lead to you just wrestling with those ideas further) acknowledge the thoughts. "Note" them.
You're not avoiding your thoughts. You acknowledge them … and then turn your attention back to your senses. To your breath. To the feel of the chair beneath your butt. To the person next to you.
For thoughts that keep playing like a broken record, try "labeling" them. Siegel suggests giving the thought a funny name that trivializes it: Oh, that "it's not going to work out" tape is playing in my head again.
When the thoughts arise, label them silently before letting them go. You don't need very many categories. You might choose labels such as "planning," "doubting," "judging," "fantasizing," obsessing," or "criticizing." The particular labels aren't crucial; what matters is using them to avoid being captured by stories or repetitive tapes. Once you label a thought, gently bring your attention back to the breath. If you find that your attention is repeatedly carried away by particular stories, try making up a humorous label for them. Give these greatest hits their own names, such as your "I blew it again" tape, "I can't get no respect" tape, "I never get what I want" tape, and so on.
Sound like silly, hippie nonsense? Well, you know those worries that bring you down and make you sad?
A study found mindfulness therapies were just as effective as antidepressants. In fact, many who practiced them regularly were subsequently able to ditch their medication.
In another, more recent study, MBCT was shown to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing relapses of depression and allowed many subjects to discontinue their medication.
(For more on how to be happy and successful, click here.)
Okay, let's round this up into a simple system you can use.
Here's how to stop worrying and start being mindful:
- You are not your thoughts. Sometimes they're downright ridiculous. Just because you think it, doesn't make it true.
- Observe, don't judge. Acknowledge the thoughts, but let them float by. Don't wrestle with them.
- Don't distract, immerse. Do not check your email for the 400th time. Take in the world around you. Turn to your senses. That's real. Your thoughts and the stories you tell yourself about the world aren't.
- Note or label intrusive thoughts. Yeah, the thoughts fight back. Acknowledge them. Give the intrusive ones a funny name.
- Return to the senses. Really pay attention to the world around you.
And when I say to pay more attention to the world around you, that doesn't just mean things. It's also people.
What ends a lot of relationships? "You don't pay enough attention to me."
When we endeavor to let the thoughts in our head go and embrace the world around us, we can focus more attention on the ones we love.
As mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, in a number of Asian languages "mind" and "heart" are the same word.
So mindfulness isn't a cold or clinical process. It might as well be translated as "heartfulness."
Let the thoughts float by and turn your attention to the people you love.
Read the original article on Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Copyright 2016. Follow Barking Up The Wrong Tree on Twitter.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Friday, October 14, 2016
Thais wept in grief across the nation Thursday after the palace announced the death of their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country’s unifying figure and the world’s longest-reigning monarch. He was 88.
Hundreds of people gathered at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, where Bhumibol had been treated for a variety of ailments for much of the past decade. Many sobbed loudly, clutching each other in anguish and shouting “Long live the king.”
The government announced a 100-day mourning period and a 30-day moratorium on state events. His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is to succeed him on the throne.
Most Thais had seen no other king in their lifetime and thought of Bhumibol, who reigned for 70 years, as their father and the embodiment of goodness and godliness.
Although a constitutional monarch, he wielded enormous political power and served as a unifying figure during Thailand’s numerous political crises.
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Symptoms Of Sciatica Trouble
What Causes Sciatica Pain?
Reducing Pain in Your Sciatica
The Standing Back Twist
The Knee Raise
The Two Knee Twist
The Single Knee Twist
The Twisted Lunge
The Seated Twist
The Cat Pose
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Even for the most gifted individuals, the process of becoming a leader is an arduous, albeit rewarding, journey of continuous learning and self-development. The initial test along the path is so fundamental that we often overlook it: becoming a boss for the first time. That’s a shame, because the trials involved in this rite of passage have serious consequences for both the individual and the organization.
Executives are shaped irrevocably by their first management positions. Decades later, they recall those first months as transformational experiences that forged their leadership philosophies and styles in ways that may continue to haunt and hobble them throughout their careers. Organizations suffer considerable human and financial costs when a person who has been promoted because of strong individual performance and qualifications fails to adjust successfully to management responsibilities.
The failures aren’t surprising, given the difficulty of the transition. Ask any new manager about the early days of being a boss—indeed, ask any senior executive to recall how he or she felt as a new manager. If you get an honest answer, you’ll hear a tale of disorientation and, for some, overwhelming confusion. The new role didn’t feel anything like it was supposed to. It felt too big for any one person to handle. And whatever its scope, it sure didn’t seem to have anything to do with leadership.
In the words of one new branch manager at a securities firm: “Do you know how hard it is to be the boss when you are so out of control? It’s hard to verbalize. It’s the feeling you get when you have a child. On day X minus 1, you still don’t have a child. On day X, all of a sudden you’re a mother or a father and you’re supposed to know everything there is to know about taking care of a kid.”
Given the significance and difficulty of this first leadership test, it’s surprising how little attention has been paid to the experiences of new managers and the challenges they face. The shelves are lined with books describing effective and successful leaders. But very few address the challenges of learning to lead, especially for the first-time manager.
For the past 15 years or so, I’ve studied people making major career transitions to management, focusing in particular on the star performer who is promoted to manager. My original ambition was to provide a forum for new managers to speak in their own words about what it means to learn to manage. I initially followed 19 new managers over the course of their first year in an effort to get a rare glimpse into their subjective experience: What did they find most difficult? What did they need to learn? How did they go about learning it? What resources did they rely upon to ease the transition and master their new assignments?
Since my original research, which I described in the first edition of Becoming a Manager,published in 1992, I’ve continued to study the personal transformation involved when someone becomes a boss. I’ve written case studies about new managers in a variety of functions and industries and have designed and led new-manager leadership programs for companies and not-for-profit organizations. As firms have become leaner and more dynamic—with different units working together to offer integrated products and services and with companies working with suppliers, customers, and competitors in an array of strategic alliances—new managers have described a transition that gets harder all the time.
Let me emphasize that the struggles these new managers face represent the norm, not the exception. These aren’t impaired managers operating in dysfunctional organizations. They’re ordinary people facing ordinary adjustment problems. The vast majority of them survive the transition and learn to function in their new role. But imagine how much more effective they would be if the transition were less traumatic.
To help new managers pass this first leadership test, we need to help them understand the essential nature of their role—what it truly means to be in charge. Most see themselves as managers and leaders; they use the rhetoric of leadership; they certainly feel the burdens of leadership. But they just don’t get it.
Why Learning to Manage Is So Hard
One of the first things new managers discover is that their role, by definition a stretch assignment, is even more demanding than they’d anticipated. They are surprised to learn that the skills and methods required for success as an individual contributor and those required for success as a manager are starkly different—and that there is a gap between their current capabilities and the requirements of the new position.
In their prior jobs, success depended primarily on their personal expertise and actions. As managers, they are responsible for setting and implementing an agenda for a whole group, something for which their careers as individual performers haven’t prepared them.
Take the case of Michael Jones, the new securities-firm branch manager I just mentioned. (The identities of individuals cited in this article have been disguised.) Michael had been a broker for 13 years and was a stellar producer, one of the most aggressive and innovative professionals in his region. At his company, new branch managers were generally promoted from the ranks on the basis of individual competence and achievements, so no one was surprised when the regional director asked him to consider a management career. Michael was confident he understood what it took to be an effective manager. In fact, on numerous occasions he had commented that if he had been in charge, he would have been willing and able to fix things and make life better in the branch. After a month in his new role, however, he was feeling moments of intense panic; it was harder than he had imagined to get his ideas implemented. He realized he had given up his “security blanket” and there was no turning back.
Michael’s reaction, although a shock to him, isn’t unusual. Learning to lead is a process of learning by doing. It can’t be taught in a classroom. It is a craft primarily acquired through on-the-job experiences—especially adverse experiences in which the new manager, working beyond his current capabilities, proceeds by trial and error. Most star individual performers haven’t made many mistakes, so this is new for them. Furthermore, few managers are aware, in the stressful, mistake-making moments, that they are learning. The learning occurs incrementally and gradually.
As this process slowly progresses—as the new manager unlearns a mind-set and habits that have served him over a highly successful early career—a new professional identity emerges. He internalizes new ways of thinking and being and discovers new ways of measuring success and deriving satisfaction from work. Not surprisingly, this kind of psychological adjustment is taxing. As one new manager notes, “I never knew a promotion could be so painful.”
Painful—and stressful. New managers inevitably ponder two questions: “Will I like management?” and “Will I be good at management?” Of course, there are no immediate answers; they come only with experience. And these two questions are often accompanied by an even more unsettling one: “Who am I becoming?”
A New Manager’s Misconceptions
Becoming a boss is difficult, but I don’t want to paint an unrelentingly bleak picture. What I have found in my research is that the transition is often harder than it need be because of new managers’ misconceptions about their role. Their ideas about what it means to be a manager hold some truth. But, because these notions are simplistic and incomplete, they create false expectations that individuals struggle to reconcile with the reality of managerial life. By acknowledging the following misconceptions—some of which rise almost to the level of myth in their near-universal acceptance—new managers have a far greater chance of success. (For a comparison of the misconceptions and the reality, see the exhibit “Why New Managers Don’t Get It.”)
Why New Managers Don’t Get It
Managers wield significant authority.
When asked to describe their role, new managers typically focus on the rights and privileges that come with being the boss. They assume the position will give them more authority and, with that, more freedom and autonomy to do what they think is best for the organization. No longer, in the words of one, will they be “burdened by the unreasonable demands of others.”
New managers nursing this assumption face a rude awakening. Instead of gaining new authority, those I have studied describe finding themselves hemmed in by interdependencies. Instead of feeling free, they feel constrained, especially if they were accustomed to the relative independence of a star performer. They are enmeshed in a web of relationships—not only with subordinates but also with bosses, peers, and others inside and outside the organization, all of whom make relentless and often conflicting demands on them. The resulting daily routine is pressured, hectic, and fragmented.
“The fact is that you really are not in control of anything,” says one new manager. “The only time I am in control is when I shut my door, and then I feel I am not doing the job I’m supposed to be doing, which is being with the people.” Another new manager observes: “It’s humbling that someone who works for me could get me fired.”
The people most likely to make a new manager’s life miserable are those who don’t fall under her formal authority: outside suppliers, for example, or managers in another division. Sally McDonald, a rising star at a chemical company, stepped into a product development position with high hopes, impeccable credentials as an individual performer, a deep appreciation for the company’s culture—and even the supposed wisdom gained in a leadership development course. Three weeks later, she observed grimly: “Becoming a manager is not about becoming a boss. It’s about becoming a hostage. There are many terrorists in this organization that want to kidnap me.”
As one disillusioned new leader puts it, “Becoming a manager is not about becoming a boss. It’s about becoming a hostage.”
Until they give up the myth of authority for the reality of negotiating interdependencies, new managers will not be able to lead effectively. As we have seen, this goes beyond managing the team of direct reports and requires managing the context within which the team operates. Unless they identify and build effective relationships with the key people the team depends upon, the team will lack the resources necessary to do its job.
Even if new managers appreciate the importance of these relationships, they often ignore or neglect them and focus instead on what seems like the more immediate task of leading those closest to them: their subordinates. When they finally do accept their network-builder role, they often feel overwhelmed by its demands. Besides, negotiating with these other parties from a position of relative weakness—for that’s often the plight of new managers at the bottom of the hierarchy—gets tiresome.
But the dividends of managing the interdependencies are great. While working in business development at a large U.S. media concern, Winona Finch developed a business plan for launching a Latin American edition of the company’s U.S. teen magazine. When the project got tentative approval, Finch asked to manage it. She and her team faced a number of obstacles. International projects were not favored by top management, and before getting final funding, Finch would need to secure agreements with regional distributors representing 20% of the Latin American market—not an easy task for an untested publication competing for scarce newsstand space. To control costs, her venture would have to rely on the sales staff of the Spanish-language edition of the company’s flagship women’s magazine, people who were used to selling a very different kind of product.
Winona had served a stint as an acting manager two years before, so despite the morass of detail she had to deal with in setting up the new venture, she understood the importance of devoting time and attention to managing relationships with her superiors and peers. For example, she compiled biweekly executive notes from her department heads that she circulated to executives at headquarters. To enhance communication with the women’s magazine, she initiated regular Latin American board meetings at which top worldwide executives from both the teen and women’s publications could discuss regional strategy.
Her prior experience notwithstanding, she faced the typical stresses of a new manager: “It’s like you are in final exams 365 days a year,” she says. Still, the new edition was launched on schedule and exceeded its business plan forecasts.
Authority flows from the manager’s position.
Don’t get me wrong: Despite the interdependencies that constrain them, new managers do wield some power. The problem is that most of them mistakenly believe their power is based on the formal authority that comes with their now lofty—well, relatively speaking—position in the hierarchy. This operating assumption leads many to adopt a hands-on, autocratic approach, not because they are eager to exercise their new power over people but because they believe it is the most effective way to produce results.
New managers soon learn, however, that when direct reports are told to do something, they don’t necessarily respond. In fact, the more talented the subordinate, the less likely she is to simply follow orders. (Some new managers, when pressed, admit that they didn’t always listen to their bosses either.)
After a few painful experiences, new managers come to the unsettling realization that the source of their power is, according to one, “everything but” formal authority. That is, authority emerges only as the manager establishes credibility with subordinates, peers, and superiors. “It took me three months to realize I had no effect on many of my people,” recalls one manager I followed. “It was like I was talking to myself.”
Many new managers are surprised by how difficult it is to earn people’s respect and trust. They are shocked, and even insulted, that their expertise and track record don’t speak for themselves. My research shows that many also aren’t aware of the qualities that contribute to credibility.
They need to demonstrate their character—the intention to do the right thing. This is of particular importance to subordinates, who tend to analyze every statement and nonverbal gesture for signs of the new boss’s motives. Such scrutiny can be unnerving. “I knew I was a good guy, and I kind of expected people to accept me immediately for what I was,” says one new manager. “But folks were wary, and you really had to earn it.”
They need to demonstrate their competence—knowing how to do the right thing. This can be problematic, because new managers initially feel the need to prove their technical knowledge and prowess, the foundations of their success as individual performers. But while evidence of technical competence is important in gaining subordinates’ respect, it isn’t ultimately the primary area of competence that direct reports are looking for.
When Peter Isenberg took over the management of a trading desk in a global investment bank, he oversaw a group of seasoned, senior traders. To establish his credibility, he adopted a hands-on approach, advising traders to close down particular positions or try different trading strategies. The traders pushed back, demanding to know the rationale for each directive. Things got uncomfortable. The traders’ responses to their new boss’s comments became prickly and terse. One day, Isenberg, who recognized his lack of knowledge about foreign markets, asked one of the senior people a simple question about pricing. The trader stopped what he was doing for several minutes to explain the issue and offered to discuss the matter further at the end of the day. “Once I stopped talking all the time and began to listen, people on the desk started to educate me about the job and, significantly, seemed to question my calls far less,” Isenberg says.
The new manager’s eagerness to show off his technical competence had undermined his credibility as a manager and leader. His eagerness to jump in and try to solve problems raised implicit questions about his managerial competence. In the traders’ eyes, he was becoming a micromanager and a “control freak” who didn’t deserve their respect.
Finally, new managers need to demonstrate their influence—the ability to deliver and execute the right thing. There is “nothing worse than working for a powerless boss,” says a direct report of one new manager I studied. Gaining and wielding influence within the organization is particularly difficult because, as I have noted, new managers are the “little bosses” of the organization. “I was on top of the world when I knew I was finally getting promoted,” one new manager says. “I felt like I would be on the top of the ladder I had been climbing for years. But then I suddenly felt like I was at the bottom again—except this time it’s not even clear what the rungs are and where I am climbing to.”
Once again, we see a new manager fall into the trap of relying too heavily on his formal authority as his source of influence. Instead, he needs to build his influence by creating a web of strong, interdependent relationships, based on credibility and trust, throughout his team and the entire organization—one strand at a time.
Managers must control their direct reports.
Most new managers, in part because of insecurity in an unfamiliar role, yearn for compliance from their subordinates. They fear that if they don’t establish this early on, their direct reports will walk all over them. As a means of gaining this control, they often rely too much on their formal authority—a technique whose effectiveness is, as we have seen, questionable at best.
But even if they are able to achieve some measure of control, whether through formal authority or authority earned over time, they have achieved a false victory. Compliance does not equal commitment. If people aren’t committed, they won’t take the initiative. And if subordinates aren’t taking the initiative, the manager can’t delegate effectively. The direct reports won’t take the calculated risks that lead to the continuous change and improvement required by today’s turbulent business environment.
Winona Finch, who led the launch of the teen magazine in Latin America, knew she faced a business challenge that would require her team’s total support. She had in fact been awarded the job in part because of her personal style, which her superiors hoped would compensate for her lack of experience in the Latin American market and in managing profit-and-loss responsibilities. In addition to being known as a clear thinker, she had a warm and personable way with people. During the project, she successfully leveraged these natural abilities in developing her leadership philosophy and style.
Instead of relying on formal authority to get what she wanted from her team, she exercised influence by creating a culture of inquiry. The result was an organization in which people felt empowered, committed, and accountable for fulfilling the company’s vision. “Winona was easygoing and fun,” a subordinate says. “But she would ask and ask and ask to get to the bottom of something. You would say something to her, she would say it back to you, and that way everyone was 100% clear on what we were talking about. Once she got the information and knew what you were doing, you had to be consistent. She would say, ‘You told me X; why are you doing Y? I’m confused.’” Although she was demanding, she didn’t demand that people do things her way. Her subordinates were committed to the team’s goals because they were empowered, not ordered, to achieve them.
The more power managers are willing to share with subordinates in this way, the more influence they tend to command. When they lead in a manner that allows their people to take the initiative, they build their own credibility as managers.
Managers must focus on forging good individual relationships.
Managing interdependencies and exercising informal authority derived from personal credibility require new managers to build trust, influence, and mutual expectations with a wide array of people. This is often achieved by establishing productive personal relationships. Ultimately, however, the new manager must figure out how to harness the power of a team. Simply focusing on one-on-one relationships with members of the team can undermine that process.
During their first year on the job, many new managers fail to recognize, much less address, their team-building responsibilities. Instead, they conceive of their people-management role as building the most effective relationships they can with each individual subordinate, erroneously equating the management of their team with managing the individuals on the team.
They attend primarily to individual performance and pay little or no attention to team culture and performance. They hardly ever rely on group forums for identifying and solving problems. Some spend too much time with a small number of trusted subordinates, often those who seem most supportive. New managers tend to handle issues, even those with teamwide implications, one-on-one. This leads them to make decisions based on unnecessarily limited information.
In his first week as a sales manager at a Texas software company, Roger Collins was asked by a subordinate for an assigned parking spot that had just become available. The salesman had been at the company for years, and Collins, wanting to get off to a good start with this veteran, said, “Sure, why not?” Within the hour, another salesman, a big moneymaker, stormed into Collins’s office threatening to quit. It seems the shaded parking spot was coveted for pragmatic and symbolic reasons, and the beneficiary of Collins’s casual gesture was widely viewed as incompetent. The manager’s decision was unfathomable to the star.
Collins eventually solved what he regarded as a trivial management problem—“This is not the sort of thing I’m supposed to be worrying about,” he said—but he began to recognize that every decision about individuals affected the team. He had been working on the assumption that if he could establish a good relationship with each person who reported to him, his whole team would function smoothly. What he learned was that supervising each individual was not the same as leading the team. In my research, I repeatedly hear new managers describe situations in which they made an exception for one subordinate—usually with the aim of creating a positive relationship with that person—but ended up regretting the action’s unexpected negative consequences for the team. Grasping this notion can be especially difficult for up-and-comers who have been able to accomplish a great deal on their own.
I repeatedly hear new managers describe situations in which they made an exception for one subordinate but ended up regretting the action’s unexpected negative consequences for the team.
When new managers focus solely on one-on-one relationships, they neglect a fundamental aspect of effective leadership: harnessing the collective power of the group to improve individual performance and commitment. By shaping team culture—the group’s norms and values—a leader can unleash the problem-solving prowess of the diverse talents that make up the team.
Managers must ensure that things run smoothly.
Like many managerial myths, this one is partly true but is misleading because it tells only some of the story. Making sure an operation is operating smoothly is an incredibly difficult task, requiring a manager to keep countless balls in the air at all times. Indeed, the complexity of maintaining the status quo can absorb all of a junior manager’s time and energy.
But new managers also need to realize they are responsible for recommending and initiating changes that will enhance their groups’ performance. Often—and it comes as a surprise to most—this means challenging organizational processes or structures that exist above and beyond their area of formal authority. Only when they understand this part of the job will they begin to address seriously their leadership responsibilities. (See the sidebar “Oh, One More Thing: Create the Conditions for Your Success.”)
Oh, One More Thing: Create the Conditions for Your Success
In fact, most new managers see themselves as targets of organizational change initiatives, implementing with their groups the changes ordered from above. They don’t see themselves as change agents. Hierarchical thinking and their fixation on the authority that comes with being the boss lead them to define their responsibilities too narrowly. Consequently, they tend to blame flawed systems, and the superiors directly responsible for those systems, for their teams’ setbacks—and they tend to wait for other people to fix the problems.
But this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of their role within the organization. New managers need to generate changes, both within and outside their areas of responsibility, to ensure that their teams can succeed. They need to work to change the context in which their teams operate, ignoring their lack of formal authority.
This broader view benefits the organization as well as the new manager. Organizations must continually revitalize and transform themselves. They can meet these challenges only if they have cadres of effective leaders capable of both managing the complexity of the status quo and initiating change.
New Managers Aren’t Alone
As they go through the daunting process of becoming a boss, new managers can gain a tremendous advantage by learning to recognize the misconceptions I’ve just outlined. But given the multilayered nature of their new responsibilities, they are still going to make mistakes as they try to put together the managerial puzzle—and making mistakes, no matter how important to the learning process, is no fun. They are going to feel pain as their professional identities are stretched and reshaped. As they struggle to learn a new role, they will often feel isolated.
Unfortunately, my research has shown that few new managers ask for help. This is in part the outcome of yet another misconception: The boss is supposed to have all the answers, so seeking help is a sure sign that a new manager is a “promotion mistake.” Of course, seasoned managers know that no one has all the answers. The insights a manager does possess come over time, through experience. And, as countless studies show, it is easier to learn on the job if you can draw on the support and assistance of peers and superiors.
Another reason new managers don’t seek help is that they perceive the dangers (sometimes more imagined than real) of forging developmental relationships. When you share your anxieties, mistakes, and shortcomings with peers in your part of the organization, there’s a risk that the individuals will use that information against you. The same goes for sharing your problems with your superior. The inherent conflict between the roles of evaluator and developer is an age-old dilemma. So new managers need to be creative in finding support. For instance, they might seek out peers who are outside their region or function or in another organization altogether. The problem with bosses, while difficult to solve neatly, can be alleviated. And herein lies a lesson not only for new managers but for experienced bosses, as well.
The new manager avoids turning to her immediate superior for advice because she sees that person as a threat to, rather than an ally in, her development. Because she fears punishment for missteps and failures, she resists seeking the help that might prevent such mistakes, even when she’s desperate for it. As one new manager reports:
“I know on one level that I should deal more with my manager because that is what he is there for. He’s got the experience, and I probably owe it to him to go to him and tell him what’s up. He would probably have some good advice. But it’s not safe to share with him. He’s an unknown quantity. If you ask too many questions, he may lose confidence in you and think things aren’t going very well. He may see that you are a little bit out of control, and then you really have a tough job. Because he’ll be down there lickety-split, asking lots of questions about what you are doing, and before you know it, he’ll be involved right in the middle of it. That’s a really uncomfortable situation. He’s the last place I’d go for help.”
Such fears are often justified. Many a new manager has regretted trying to establish a mentoring relationship with his boss. “I don’t dare even ask a question that could be perceived as naive or stupid,” says one. “Once I asked him a question and he made me feel like I was a kindergartner in the business. It was as if he had said, ‘That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. What on earth did you have in mind?’”
This is a tragically lost opportunity for the new manager, the boss, and the organization as a whole. It means that the new manager’s boss loses a chance to influence the manager’s initial conceptions and misconceptions of her new position and how she should approach it. The new manager loses the chance to draw on organizational assets—from financial resources to information about senior management’s priorities—that the superior could best provide.
When a new manager can develop a good relationship with his boss, it can make all the difference in the world—though not necessarily in ways the new manager expects. My research suggests that eventually about half of new managers turn to their bosses for assistance, often because of a looming crisis. Many are relieved to find their superiors more tolerant of their questions and mistakes than they had expected. “He recognized that I was still in the learning mode and was more than willing to help in any way he could,” recalls one new manager.
About half of new managers turn to their bosses for assistance. Many are relieved to find their superiors more tolerant of their questions and mistakes than they had expected.
Sometimes, the most expert mentors can seem deceptively hands-off. One manager reports how she learned from an immediate superior: “She is demanding, but she enjoys a reputation for growing people and helping them, not throwing them to the wolves. I wasn’t sure after the first 60 days, though. Everything was so hard and I was so frustrated, but she didn’t offer to help. It was driving me nuts. When I asked her a question, she asked me a question. I got no answers. Then I saw what she wanted. I had to come in with some ideas about how I would handle the situation, and then she would talk about them with me. She would spend all the time in the world with me.”
His experience vividly highlights why it’s important for the bosses of new managers to understand—or simply recall—how difficult it is to step into a management role for the first time. Helping a new manager succeed doesn’t benefit only that individual. Ensuring the new manager’s success is also crucially important to the success of the entire organization.
A version of this article appeared in the January 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review.