Where to Be—and Not Be—Flexible as a New Manager

Congratulations on your new promotion! Your contributions and leadership potential have been recognized, and now you are supervising other employees. Once your initial celebration is over, however, you may find yourself thinking, "This is really hard." And you would not be alone. Adjusting to a management position is not easy, and it's difficult to know where you can safely be flexible as a new supervisor.

where to be and not be flexibleThe secret to success is there are some areas in which you definitely need to be flexible—and some in which flexibility can be a trap.

Be flexible with…

  • Your communication style. If your perspective is that your team members should flex their communication style to yours because you're the manager, well, think again. (After all, are you actively adapting to your supervisor's style? Probably not.) The truth is your job now is to make sure your team is successful in achieving their goals in support of your company's mission. That means you need to employ every tool in your toolbox to help them get the job done. That may mean you need to schedule more one-on-one meetings and send written summaries of conversations to match the needs of specific employees.
  • Your view of work styles. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended so many facets of modern life, and how we work is at the top of the list. Pre-pandemic, you could likely mandate that employees work at the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After 18-plus months of flexible work arrangements as a public health necessity, companies are putting remote and hybrid work options into place permanently in order to retain employees. This means you may have employees completing work at all hours of the day and from locations you might not choose. You need to be flexible with your view of how your employees are working as long as they are getting the job done.
  • Your understanding of your role. As you grow as a manager, you'll evolve in your perspective on your job. When you initially start, you may feel most proud of your team's work product versus how you are developing your team members through your leadership. You'll also start to understand your role as a leader within the company, not an individual contributor.

Be steadfast in…

  • Setting boundaries with employees. Once you are responsible for evaluating someone else's work, you are no longer their peer, and you must establish boundaries. This can be difficult, especially if you are supervising former peers who may even be friends. It can be difficult to maintain a friendship with someone who reports to you. Not only can such a friendship prove awkward in the case of poor performance, but you could also be opening yourself up to accusations of favoritism from other employees.
  • Your consistency in application of company policy. Your employee manual is a guidebook you should know backward and forward. You need to be completely familiar with it, and you need to make sure you apply its rules equally across the entire team (and that you hold yourself to these rules, as well). If your policy manual specifics the lunch break is an hour, you can't overlook multiple members of your team "getting caught in traffic" on the way back to the office. Similarly, if a friendly colleague misses an assignment, treat them the same way you would treat your most challenging team member.
  • Your commitment to company values and culture. When you take on a managerial role, your responsibility's change in many ways. Not only are you now tasked with leading others instead of being an individual contributor, but you are now expected to be an ambassador for the company's culture and values. That means you carry forward "the company line" to your team. That doesn't mean you can't ever disagree with directives coming from above—but it does mean you recognize your first responsibility is executing those directives.

Management is not easy, and while hundreds of books have been written about how to be a manager, the only real way to learn is through trial and error. Above all, be flexible with yourself—and don't stop giving yourself grace as you grow.

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