Welcome to the Safe Space – where managers can share their issues, and gain advice from top learning & development consultants.
Here at =mc we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature we share some of those challenges, and our advice, for dealing with them.
This time, the issue comes from a manager with a challenge, that whilst not common, is tricky to manage: managing your own manager when they are new
Hello =mc, really hoping you can help me. I work for a large, complex charity – I won’t say which one but I can tell you we provide medical research, technologies and services to help people through very difficult situations. I manage a team of technical specialists. We are a bit like an innovation or improvement team. We go into other teams, identify projects and processes that could be improved, and help them to make changes to their work. It’s a bit like a matrix situation. I’ve been in the organisation for a few years, and have had three managers in that time. The first one left, and I don’t really know why – they just kind of disappeared. I had to raise my game and step up for a little while. I didn’t mind, and knew some of that was temporary. But the next manager was awful. They came from the private sector and had a totally different working style to the rest of the organisation. They treated other teams like they were stupid when they resisted our ideas, micromanaged me and the team, and their communication style was incredibly direct. Sometimes they were just blunt, and barked orders at me. I tried to protect my team from most of it, but our reputation really suffered. Thankfully they left, and since then I have worked hard to build our reputation back up. I have great relationships around the organisation and our team are respected again. Our new manager started about 3 months ago, and I’m still getting to know them. So far things are ok, they’ve met the team and have asked some insightful questions. However they have also said they want to follow my lead in keeping up our good work. To be fair, they manage other teams too so we are not their only responsibility. But this feels like a lot of pressure. I’m worried history will repeat itself – this person has never worked in an organisation this large or complex. What if they too just don’t get it? How do I manage them?
Hello Manager – thanks so much for reaching out. It does sound like you’ve had some tricky times, and I understand wanting to make sure your new manager ‘gets it’. I recommend you start by working out exactly what that means. Managing your manager often means using your very best influencing skills. And that means having a really well formed outcome. This is a tool we use to establish our needs and wants with others. You are pretty clear on what you don’t want to happen – but what is the flip side of that, what do you want from your manager? If they were engaging with you, your team and others successfully, what would that look like? How could you see if they were causing issues? What value do you want your manager to bring to your work? Is it more direction, or less? More support, or less? More hands on or more hands off? Spend some time working this out and you’ll have a clearer sense of what it is you need to communicate to them.
Hey there Manager, Laura has given you a really useful starting point. I would add to this that it could be helpful to do a bit of an organisational culture induction. Help them to understand the context you are operating in. This means looking at the things that are not usually included in a formal induction plan. What are the things that you wish you knew when you first joined? What mistakes could you have avoided or obstacles could you have overcome if you knew those? Consider things like internal politics – who are the really influential stakeholders that your manager needs to build a relationship with? Help your manager to see why that matters. Also things like routines can be surprising to someone new to a complex organisation – things like how often teams connect, communicate, socialise etc. All these details will help your manager to settle in, and in doing so, appreciate your support and build trust in your relationship.
Hello Middle Manager – really appreciate you bringing this up. Managing upwards is a skill that is essential to all managers, and very rarely discussed openly. One thing that strikes me from your message is that your worries about your current manager are based on your concerns about your previous manager. I totally understand this – I once had a role where I had many changes in management and it can be scary. However, what really helped me was to recognise that managers are humans too – and therefore every time the person will be different. You get to start again, and build the kind of relationship you want with this one. They have even shown that they trust your judgment, which is a fantastic starting point. Take some time to appreciate that, and let go of the past. Think about what is within your control: you can’t control the past and the damage done, but you can control your actions. In doing so you have an opportunity to influence your manager and the way in which they can help with the reputation of your team.
Hi there Manager – I think Yvette makes a great point here. Bringing together her advice, and what Charlie has suggested about sharing your knowledge, you could go even further and give your manager some tips on the communication preferences of the teams and stakeholders you work with. Think about successes your team have had with building relationships around the organisation – what enabled that? When there were challenges before, what caused those? Sharing these insights with your manager will give them a great head start on building their own internal network and by the same token enhancing the reputation of your team.
Hello once more! I absolutely see where you are coming from. I too have worked in a large, complex charity where there are often matrix working arrangements. My experience of this is that you need to rely on your influence and relationships to ensure you have an impact. As a manager, you will need to continuously be adapting and reframing your work. It sounds like you have risen to the challenge a few times in this role, so you are clearly capable. Take heart from this – and take some time to identify the resources you have to help you. How did you build that reputation back up? What actions did you take? How could you continue to do that? What personal skills and strengths did you use? How could you keep developing these? This kind of assessment will help you feel confident in your approach. You’ve got this!
If you’d like to explore ways of handling for situations like this, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.
Finally, if you’re facing a challenge you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. While we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.