How to prepare yourself for taking on your first management role

Business Impact: How to prepare yourself for taking on your first management role

Discover the four main management styles and get some advice on how you can have an impact on your organisation, in this guide to stepping up to management-level roles from Sarah-Jane McQueen, General Manager at CoursesOnline

Taking that first leap into management can be daunting, especially if you will be managing others for the first time in tour career. However, with the right preparation, it needn’t be. Often, the worry we have when taking a step up in our career is largely down to not knowing what to expect, or being afraid that we won’t know what to do. That’s why taking these preparatory steps before you begin your management job are vitally important.

Consider the manager you want to be

Before you plan your course of action as a new manager, take some time to think about what type of manager you want to be. There are four main management styles, and which one you are depends on the team you manage, the organisation you work for, and most importantly, your personality and values. The four management styles are:

  • Autocratic: These managers take charge of their team, making decisions and offering a clear structure for the plan of action. With little input from the team, autocratic managers take charge of the team’s objectives and responsibility for how they achieve them.

  • Democratic: Democratic managers, as the name suggests, work on a more democratic basis. Although guidance is provided by the manager, everyone in the team has a say and is encouraged to put forward ideas during the decision-making process.

  • Laissez-faire: The laissez-faire leadership style is also known as the ‘leave alone’ approach and is a very hands-off management style. These managers delegate work to each member of their team, and it is up to each member to decide how to approach their tasks and meet their objectives.

  • Persuasive: Persuasive managers make the ultimate decisions for the team, but use persuasion to get the rest of the team on board. Persuasive managers have excellent communication skills and encourage the team to ask questions and understand the reason for decisions being made.

Each of these styles has its advantages or disadvantages, so consider which style appeals to you. Consider managers you have had and what style you responded to best. Which style appeals to you? How do you think your team would respond to each of these methods? Note down the pros and cons of each and see which one (or elements of each) would be the best approach for you to take and apply best to your management skills.

Recognise that your objective has changed

For roles not in management, the focus is always on the job that you as an individual are doing. Are you hitting your targets? What is your workload like? What is your output However, managers’ targets are for the team they manage. First-time managers need to be aware of how your focus shifts in your new role from simply being about your own work to overseeing what others are doing. Supporting your team means being able to manage the workload and output of each member and seeing how every team member affects the work of the team overall.

Think about what impact you want to have

Next, consider what kind of impact you want to have on your team and the organisation as a whole. Are there any areas where you think things could be improved? Is there anything lacking that you could bring to the table? One of the great things about moving into management is that you have more of an ability to enact positive change within the company.

If you are initially unsure about what you want to change or improve, then note down the key achievements and challenges within your team (or organisation) in the previous year. If you are changing companies, note down any challenges you came across at your previous company. Then discuss with current employees what improvements they would want to see and if they have any ideas of how to implement changes. Finally, think about your objectives as manager, not project-based aims but broader goals, such as ensuring you have a happy team or streamlining administration, and jot down the steps you want to take to make these improvements.

Don’t put pressure on yourself

Although it is a big step to go into management, you are not expected to get it right away. While preparing for your first management role, make sure you don’t get overwhelmed and bear in mind that it will be a learning process.

Plan and prepare, but also allow for flexibility. You can do this by being open to different management styles, being aware that changes can take a while to come into effect and understanding that teams might interact differently than you had planned. You can’t foresee everything, and being aware of the hurdles, surprises and learning curves that come with every new job is vital.

Many people forget that learning and developing your skill as a manager takes time and practice, and assume that because you were hired for the job you need to know everything straight away. However, there are many advantages to being open to the unexpected. For example, you can find new ways of working, refine your leadership skills and learn to adapt to new challenges. Being prepared to adapt your plans and build trust with the members of your team are key to not just being a good manager, but also a great manager. 

Main image credit: Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Sarah-Jane McQueen is General Manager at the online learning marketplace website CoursesOnline, which offers online management courses.

How to manage a cross-cultural team to success

Business Impact: How to manage a cross-cultural team to success

How can you build an effective cross-cultural team? GA Agency’s Marie Marchal outlines the key challenges to overcome and principal benefits to work towards

To ensure sustained competitiveness and longevity, many businesses are now thinking globally and in turn, inclusively.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on business and commerce worldwide have made us all more digitally connected than ever before, and organisations are increasingly looking to expand into new markets in order to grow. The company I work for, for example, is spread across Europe in different timezones with staff speaking more than 10 languages collectively, so we understand that cross-cultural teams are crucial for businesses to trade internationally with success.  

Yes, there are challenges that come with a cross-cultural team, but with the right management the benefits can easily outweigh these. Before I delve into the benefits, let’s look at the challenges and complexities of managing a cross-cultural team.

Three challenges for cross-cultural teams

1. Language barrier –if you have team members for whom English is not their first language, miscommunication can be a genuine concern. This can be exceptionally difficult to manage during busy periods, particularly when people are stressed or under pressure.

2. Working style and culture – cultural differences might be reflected in the ways people communicate, as well as being affected by the perception of another culture. For example, a propensity to say ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ frequently in one culture might mean that those who do not use these terms often are viewed as being impolite. However, for them, this might simply not be their cultural norm.

3. Motivation – we all have different reasons to work, with culture playing a role in our motivations. In some regions, there is a greater focus on pay or bonuses. Plus, the importance of encouragement or praise when a task is completed successfully can vary.

Four benefits of cross-cultural teams

Managing a cross-cultural team can be so enriching when you ensure that there’s space for everyone, and everybody feels part of the bigger picture. To get to this point, however, takes work, awareness and patience. Some of the benefits of having a cross-cultural team include the following.

1. Local knowledge and insights – as well as bringing cultural sensitivity, this can give a business the edge when it comes to delivering high-quality and better-targeted marketing.

2. Competitive advantage – when seeking new business, clients are likely to be reassured if a native speaker and local expert is part of the team.

3. Increased productivity –  in our experience, cross-cultural teams often have greater out-of-the-box thinking, creativity and perspective, which in turn helps a business to drive innovation, offer more services and produce better results.

4. Hiring the best talent – when not limited by borders or regions, business leaders can attract, recruit and onboard some of the most talented people around, which isn’t always possible for those looking inwards.

Six tips to help ensure all employees feel welcome and comfortable  

From an employee perspective, the struggle to fit in can be an issue. Not only do they have to adapt to a language or culture that is different to their own, sometimes they might also struggle to fit into a company culture that, perhaps, hasn’t always been completely inclusive or aware of the challenges they are facing. So, what can be done to break those barriers and make everyone feel welcome and comfortable? At GA Agency, we know the importance of taking company culture very seriously. Here are a few top tips to try and apply:

1. Watch the volume and pace when speaking – slow down, articulate and ask questions to ensure everyone understands you, especially when you know that your audience is diverse

2. Don’t be patronising – some people might not have a rich vocabulary to express themselves in your language, that doesn’t mean that they know less than you.

3. Look for alternatives – explain with an alternative choice of words when someone ask you to repeat, unless it is simply a case that someone has clearly not heard what you said. It’s likely that they just don’t understand a particular word or expression, so avoid repeating the exact same thing.

4. Try to understand verbal and non-verbal language –  this goes both ways and you need to take it upon yourself to adapt outside your own community and comfort zone. It takes time and patience, so surround yourself with kind and open-minded people.

5. Share – encourage your colleagues or team to share information about their culture and background, ask questions and simply, genuinely, show some interest! We all love to talk about our home countries, our food, music, and discover new things.

6. Be self-aware – train yourself to become aware of your own biases and what to do to counteract them. You might, for example, want to start a training programme in your company to raise awareness, not only for your immediate team but also throughout the company, up to the board of directors. This is on our agenda and it’s something that we feel has become increasingly important as our team grows.

*

Working in a cross-cultural environment can be so enriching when you ensure that there’s space for everyone, and make everybody feel part of the picture. It starts with embracing cultural diversity in the workplace and encouraging participation. Although it brings challenges, building a cross-cultural team can help individuals develop better skills quickly and, in turn, helps a business succeed.

Marie Marchal is Operations Manager at GA Agency, a digital agency.

Leaders in the tundra and Sahara: differing characteristics of snowflakes and cacti

How do the leadership qualities of snowflakes and cacti differ?

How do the leadership qualities of snowflakes and cacti differ? And how can you manage teams that span the parameters of these personality types? Devora Zack, author of The Cactus and Snowflake at Work, reveals all

Cacti and Snowflakes alike abound in the leadership arena. No credible data suggests either is inherently a more successful leader. Everyone has their own peculiar propensities.

Leadership characteristics

Cactus

  • Cerebral: lead from the head
  • Analytical, logical
  • Direct
  • Separate emotions from consequences
  • Can reprimand without emotions
  • Seek and provide facts
  • Consider principles in decision-making
  • May hurt feelings without realising
  • Drawn to rational choices

Snowflake

  • Sensitive: lead from the heart
  • Involved, empathetic
  • Diplomatic
  • Identify with others’ emotional states
  • Struggle with giving negative feedback
  • Seek and provide appreciation
  • Consider perceptions in decision-making
  • May over-personalise events
  • Drawn to inclusive choices

Did you find your spot among the array of leadership characteristics? Kudos! You’re an exemplary, self-aware leader.

You don’t get the rest of the day off. Quite the contrary. Now you get to be on high alert for the subtle clues of employees, supervisors, teammates, and clients regarding how they engage in the world. Let’s get busy!

Being adaptive is a particularly attractive quality to be able to draw on for those in leadership positions. There’s a high likelihood you’ve got a haphazard arrangement of prickly spikes and crystallised snow among your team. If you are a Cactus amid a crew of Snowflakes, learning to speak their language will take you far. Reverse that for Snowflake leaders.

You’ll also be seeking different motivators for each. What resonates and motivates Snowflakes? Recognition, benevolence, and encouragement. What do they respond to? Positive reinforcement. What resonates and motivates cacti? Fairness, justice, and intelligence. What do they respond to? Reason and data.

You may discover a member (or two) of your team has the exact opposite composition as you. That’s wonderful news. This person can be a tremendous asset. For example, if you’re a Snowflake, after staff meetings you can confer with your Cactus ally for analytical insights you may have missed. A Cactus can check in with a Snowflake collaborator regarding the state of participants’ underlying emotions.

Praise galore

Snowflakes are all about positive reinforcement. It flows forth naturally. Makes sense, as they themselves are highly motivated by praise. Yet, sadly, this can backfire. Free-flowing compliments have a diminishing collective impact. Cacti roll their eyes, thinking: ‘Sure, that’s Devora; she gushes over everyone’. (You have no reason to deduce I’m referring to myself. A serendipitous namesake.)

Even worse, people with cerebral natures may find it impossible that such abundant praise could be sincere. That’s right: now you’re under suspicion of being a phoney. A devastating label to bestow on an earnest Snowflake.

Meanwhile, think back to a time when you were the rare recipient of positive feedback from a formidable Cactus. Even a perfunctory comment may stick in your mind indefinitely when it is offered up like a rare gem.

The upshot is that curmudgeonly Cacti get more bang for their buck due to product scarcity (the product being the praise). Meanwhile, the Snowflake’s accolades get brushed aside, while the softy Snowflake is called into question for continual compliments. Cruel fate!

Know yourself

When people radiate positive reinforcement, this nearly always correlates with craving it themselves. But an insatiable appetite for glowing feedback is likely to be unrealistic. If you have a ‘never enough’ appetite for accolades, consider techniques to internally generate positive reinforcement. Heightening your level of self-acceptance also helps.

Feel good, do good

While there are endless methods to motivate others, the feel-good, do-good model is one of my favourites—and staunchly reflective of Snowflake and Cactus partialities. The feel-good camp, led by the pom-pom adorned Snowflakes, focuses on how people feel. The do-good faction, led by Cacti carrying clipboards, focuses on results.

As a Snowflake, you’ll gravitate towards encouragement; as a Cactus, you’ll gravitate towards systems. Integrating components of each methodology can generate particularly strong, motivated teams. It works. I’ve seen feel-good leaders push their teams beyond original expectations. I’ve also observed do-good leaders cheering on their team for smashing beyond goals. There is cross-pollination. Each style can be infused with and enriched by best practices from the other camp.

A startling surfeit of ‘how to boom your business’ advisories profess you must assume a plethora of mysterious leadership traits to succeed. This fuels a misperception that we must shelve our true natures to be five-star leaders. This is foolhardy and inevitably flops. The reverse is true. Let’s be trailblazers, bringing ourselves to the table. No need to deny your temperament, ever. The path to success – however you define it – is blending authenticity with receptivity.

This is an edited excerpt from The Cactus and Snowflake at Work: How the Logical and Sensitive Can Thrive Side by Side by Devora Zack (Berrett-Koehler, 2021).

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, providing leadership and team programmes. She holds an MBA from the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University.

Taking charge: the mindset and attributes of standout contributors in the workplace

High-impact contributors are willing to take charge without waiting to be directed, but don’t hold on to power longer than is needed to solve a problem, says Liz Wiseman, leadership research and development expert and the author of Impact Players

Managers love a good handoff – that feeling of passing a piece of work to someone who will move it forward and get the job done. Ammar Maraqa, Chief Strategy Officer at Splunk, described an ‘Impact Player’ [the subject of the author of this article’s book, described as ‘standout contributors who create extraordinary value everywhere they work’] this way: ‘He’s a no-look pass kind of person. I can always throw the ball to him and know he’ll not only catch it, but also run with it and score for the team.’

Players who are trusted with the ball are those who are not only in position but also know what to do next – how to move forward and make a play. They are professionals who step up and do things without being asked. Ammar then described another staff member, operationally strong, but who waited to be asked before taking action: ‘He couldn’t work independently, so I couldn’t count on him to catch a ball and drive it.’

When a manager sees one person in need of handholding and another ready to take the handoff, whom do they choose? Who gets passed the high-profile assignment? Managers generally don’t choose the one waiting to be told what to do. In many ways, managers dole out the most important work not simply to the most capable but rather to the most willing. Much like a classroom, the person that gets called on is usually the one raising their hand.

Initiative rewarded

Joya Lewis grew up in Muncie, Indiana, in a tough neighbourhood in this struggling city, in a poor family, and without a lot of support. As a young girl she made her own breakfast, got herself ready for school, and did her homework by herself. At 15 she had her first job, washing dishes in a sandwich shop. It was hard work and she had to move fast. But there were times when she wasn’t busy and would notice co-workers doing other jobs who were struggling to keep up. So, she started clearing tables and sweeping floors until the dishes piled up again. The manager noticed her initiative and gave her a raise. She was delighted but shocked, saying: ‘Oh, I’m just doing what is right and helping out.’ At 15, the first of several important connections was made: ‘When you took on more responsibility, you made more money.’

Joya wanted a better life, so she kept volunteering for the hard jobs and taking care of the responsibilities she was entrusted with. In college, she worked multiple jobs simultaneously but still offered to take the extra shifts no one wanted. While working at Target in overnight stocking, her colleagues would show relief when the night’s shipment was small saying, ‘it’s a small truck. It can be an easy night.’ Joya would unload the truck and then offer to do more. Her initiative led to promotions and quickly became a mindset of, ‘if I raise my hand, I will be rewarded.’ 

Joya still works for Target, currently as a Store Director of a high-revenue store in St. Louis, Missouri. She’s now financially secure but still taking responsibility for the hard jobs and using her influence to give back to her community.

Proactive personalities

Impact Players have a stewardship orientation in their work. They have a heartfelt desire to make things better – both for themselves and for others – and a willingness to take responsibility for making things happen. Many people want change; what distinguishes these people is that they believe they have the personal power to initiate change. Their fundamental guiding belief is ‘I can improve this situation’. This inclination to fix what is perceived as wrong, change the status quo and use initiative to solve problems rather than passively accepting one’s environment is what psychologists refer to as a ‘proactive personality’. They are, as Stephen Covey [author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People] put it, products of their decisions not products of their circumstances.

They don’t just believe things could or should be better; they take action to make something better. They take charge of teams, lead others, and instigate collective action. As Tony Robbins [a US author, coach and motivational speaker] bluntly said: ‘Any idiot can point out a problem. A leader is willing to do something about it.’ From our interviews with managers, it was clear the Impact Players see themselves as capable of leading, making an impact, and contributing to larger goals. Our survey confirmed these findings. Specifically, 96% of high-impact contributors always or often take charge without waiting to be directed, compared to 20% of typical contributors. 91% of the Impact Players were always or often seen as good leaders. By comparison, 14% of typical contributors were seen the same way. 

Fluid leadership and stepping back

This brings us to another core assumption in the ‘Impact Player Mindset’ – ‘I don’t need formal authority to take charge’. While others are stuck in hierarchical, by-command forms of leadership, the Impact Players are practicing on-demand leadership. By-command leaders wait to be appointed from above and typically find it difficult to relinquish control when the job is done. On-demand leaders rise up when the situation summons them. They take ownership but they think and act more like temporary caretakers than permanent owners. They are willing to take the lead, but they don’t hold on to power longer than is needed to solve a problem. 

The best leaders are willing to lead, but they are fluid leaders, rising up and falling back as the situation commands. It’s a radically different mindset than that of the perpetual leader – the career-minded manager acts like once they are cast into a leadership role and become a boss, it’s their role for life. It’s no surprise that people resist working with these managers and that organisations replete with this mindset become sluggish, ineffectual hierarchies. However, beware the other extreme; getting stuck as a perpetual follower leads down the same path.

The Impact Players we studied were able to step away with the same grace as they had stepped in and taken charge. They are versatile players who can both lead and follow, who pass the ball and share the glory. This willingness to share and rotate the lead role creates a fluid, on-demand leadership model that enables organisations to respond quickly, adapt, and sustain commitment for the long haul.

Consider two vastly different leadership models from the animal world: a flock of geese and a pride of lions. A flock of migrating geese flies in a distinctive V formation, which scientists estimate enables a flock to travel 71% farther in a given period than solo flight. In this formation, the bird in the front of the flock breaks the air, reducing drag for the birds flying behind. Eventually the lead bird tires, falls back into the formation, and another bird rotates to take its turn in the lead. But the benefit of the V formation works in both directions: the birds in the rear fly behind and to the side, creating a force from the upward pull of the follower birds’ wings that helps propel the lead bird. Contrast this energy-efficient approach with the leadership model in a pride of lions: the king of the pride reigns for life; however, the alpha leader’s life is typically cut short by the hostile takeover of a contending leader. It’s a model of leadership that may be fit for the savanna but is a dying breed in a work environment where agility and endurance rule.

Playmakers

In order to understand the role and effect that Impact Players have on their teammates, we can look to playmakers in association football (soccer in the US). A playmaker makes important passes and puts themselves and others in position to score and win. They control the flow of the team’s offensive play and use their vision, creativity and ball handling to orchestrate critical passing moves. These instrumental athletes can operate from a variety of positions on the field. Marta Vieira da Silva, the prolific Brazilian scorer known for her quick feet and ability to play off of her teammates, plays in a forward attacking position. Midfield winger, David Beckham, would find teammates making runs and deliver the ball in his signature long, curved, killer passes. Like da Silva and Beckham, playmakers often serve as team captain. But from any position, they make plays happen and are a thrill to watch and a joy to play with.  

Playmakers, on the field and in the workplace, lead in bursts. Sparked by an opportunity for improvement and fuelled by a belief that they can make a difference, they take charge of the field and make critical plays.

It’s a belief system that propels them to take responsibility. The Impact Player Mindset is the pathway to leadership because, after all, isn’t the very essence of leadership the desire to make something better and a willingness to do something about it?

This is a modified excerpt from Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact by Liz Wiseman. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted by permission of Harper Business.

Liz Wiseman is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. She teaches leadership to executives around the world and is a frequent guest lecturer at Brigham Young University (BYU) and Stanford University. Liz holds a bachelor’s degree in business Management and a master’s in organisational behaviour from BYU.

The hidden benefits of language learning

Seamless pattern of a group of hand drawn people holding "thank you" signs in different languages

Learning another language is an asset for anyone, but do you know the full extent to which it can benefit you in your professional and personal life? Antje Vogdt looks at the impact on decision-making, multitasking, creativity and divergent thinking

The immediate benefit of learning a foreign language is obvious: you learn how to understand and to express yourself in a different language and you become able to talk to people who do not speak your native tongue. This might be a choice, for easier travelling for instance, or an obligation in school or for work.

But the advantages of language learning go far beyond simply communicating with others. Among them, you will find that you improve your overall performance in daily life and at work: decision-making, multitasking and creative, divergent thinking are but a few examples of the great asset that speaking two or more languages are for the cognitive process.

1. Decision-making

Research has shown that people working in a foreign language are better at decision-making. A group of psychologists at the University of Chicago wondered if people would make the same decision in a foreign language as they would in their native tongue. The intuitive answer would be ‘yes, of course’. You could even think that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systemic. Yet, the opposite is true.

To demonstrate that using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases, the team of psychologists under the guidance of Boaz Keysar divided a group of native English-speakers who also spoke Japanese into two. Those who were tested in their foreign language (Japanese) made less risky, more balanced and rational choices than those tested in English.

These loss-aversion tests were based on the theory of psychologist and Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman, whose 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, posits two general systems of thinking. ‘System 1’ is intuitive and quick, and used by the brain wherever possible in order to minimise effort. ‘System 2’ is deliberative and slow, and better suited for modern-life problems but demands more effort to activate and keep active.

Speaking a foreign language appears to activate System 2 in advance of tackling a tricky problem, heightening deliberation as demonstrated in the experiments. The researchers therefore believe that a second language provides useful cognitive distance from automatic processes and unthinking, emotional reactions (those activated in System 1) in order to promote a more analytical thought (System 2).

  • Foreign languages make you rich

Being able to express yourself in a foreign language will help you land a job and gives you an edge over monolingual candidates in job interviews. It offers more career growth, whether you choose to move abroad or explore international business opportunities. Candidates with foreign languages are offered higher salaries, and the accumulated benefit of the language bonus estimated to result in a very interesting extra sum by the time you retire. But that’s not all.

  • The prospect theory

The positive impact of foreign language skills on decision-making biases, as outlined above, is largely beneficial in relation to financial decisions. Keysar’s team used scenarios proposed by Kahneman – whose 2002 Nobel Prize in economics was awarded for his work on prospect theory – to develop several tests. For instance, Keysar’s team gathered a group of students from the University of Chicago and gave them each $15 USD in $1 bills. Each dollar could be kept or bet on a coin toss. If they lost a toss, they would lose the dollar, if they won, they received the dollar in return and another $1,50 USD. Almost half of the first group just kept the dollars.  

A second group of students spoke Spanish as a second language – unlike the first group, almost three quarters of the students decided to take the bets. Keysar and his colleagues concluded that those who were taking the bets in a foreign language were less affected by the so-called ‘myopic risk aversion’ phenomenon that describes that, rooted in emotional reactions to the idea of loss, the possibility of small losses outweigh the promise of larger gains. By using a second language, the second group of students had more cognitive distance and were therefore able to perceive that the proposition made by Keysar and his team, over multiple bets, is likely to be profitable.

2. Multitasking and focusing

The so-called ‘executive functions’ – which we might think of as being like the ‘CEO of the brain’ – are a set of mental skills that help the brain organise and act on information. Multitasking is one of the things that the executive control system handles. In a study led by researchers at York University in Toronto, monolinguals and bilinguals were put in a driving simulator. Through headphones, they received extra tasks to do – everybody’s driving got worse, but those who spoke more than one language made fewer errors in their driving, as they were able to stay focused.

Multilingual people are constantly ‘juggling’ between two systems of speech, writing and structure, a kind of constant mental exercise. This ability to switch helps them to filter the most essential information at any given time.

For Daniel Goleman, author of 2013’s Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, ‘focus’ is the hidden driver of excellence and ‘attention in all its varieties’ is a mental asset that is critical not only for your career, but also for living a fulfilling live. As he describes, attention connects us with the world. A second (or third, fourth…) language expands the number of people you can talk to, the number of universes you can explore. As you switch from one language to the other, from one system to the other, you train your power to disengage your attention from one thing and move it to another. You become more aware of the world.

3. Creativity

Bilingual individuals have demonstrated great creative skills in different arts. When learning a second language you dig deep into the mechanics, patterns, structures and syntax of the second language and confront them with your own language, thus strengthening your ability for complex thinking and understanding of the relationships between things.

Language determines the way we look at reality, and you will realise that there are different ways to understand our world. Learning a second language helps you to develop new experiences, new thoughts, new visions and new solutions. This form of divergent thinking is assessed, for instance, in the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking which measure a participant’s creative ability. Bilingualism is a great way to experience diversity. And diversity fuels creativity.

Recent studies into the benefits of language learning are less explicit, now acknowledging that the varying ways people use their language have different effects, and taking into account other factors, like context, background, the languages in question, how many foreign languages, and so on. (You can find out more in this 2020 article in The Economist.)

Learning a second language is always beneficial and, with all the apps and the possibility to watch films in VO (version originale – ie., in their original language) it has never been easier. Maybe you have transitioned to working from home, as many of us have done. Why not use the time otherwise spent in commuting and meetings to learn a foreign language? You’ll find a way to use it to your advantage.

Antje Vogdt is a publications and content manager with a passion for travelling and learning languages. She is currently exploring her love for design in all its varieties, and new and traditional ways of publishing, communicating and teaching – digital, on paper and in person.

How to succeed as a first-time manager

A cartoon of business professionals in a meeting gathered around a table dressed in blues and orange colours. Business Impact article image for how to succeed as a first-time manager.

Discover the skills, approach to others, and attitude to continued learning you’ll need to embrace the step up to management level and thrive

How do you succeed as a first-time manager? Start by thinking about your journey to becoming a manager. How is that you are in this situation? Did you apply for a management role? Did your manager volunteer or select you? Has it just happened by accident? It’s worth reflecting on these questions, not least because it’s likely to inform how you are feeling about the opportunity – excited, nervous, perhaps even daunted?

These feelings are perfectly normal. Everyone starting out in management experiences certain anxieties because managing is a challenging job. It’s not just about delivering tasks and rallying a team to hit certain performance goals. It’s fundamentally about developing people to be their best. And getting the best out of people is better achieved by nurturing capability, rather than applying control.

To succeed in management, you’ll need to master new skills – like how to manage a budget, manage organisational change or hire people effectively. You’ll be most successful if you take the time to think about, learn and experience key moments that matter across the employee lifecycle. For example, as a manager you may be required to induct team members, set objectives, and manage performance. You might have to recognise and reward people, deal with employment issues like grievances or redundancy. You might also need to consider how to best train and develop your team, spot talent, and manage motivation.

Of course, all managers need to communicate as well. Sharing company information is just the tip of the iceberg. To succeed as a first-time manager, you’ll need to learn how to inform people about key decisions, give and receive feedback and set expectations. The great news is that are plenty of learning interventions that can help you with this type of knowledge building, and hopefully these will be offered by your employer.

Management practice: learning from experience and from others

Becoming a first-time manager is also about creating a happy and healthy work environment. You’re not just managing tasks; you’re dealing with human feelings and emotions. This means you need to deal with the unexpected and manage situations that may not always appear logical or straightforward.

A good place to start is to remind yourself of your experiences in being managed by others. Which felt good? Have you experienced poor management practice? Knowing what ‘good’ management looks and feels like is a great way to set the bar for your own practice. If you didn’t like being micromanaged, do you think your new team will? If you were motivated by receiving praise for work completed, do you think that others will feel the same. Today, it’s common for managers to take a coaching approach to dealing with people. This means giving people appropriate feedback ‘in the moment’, rather than waiting to conduct a performance review. When you see good behaviour, a job well done – call it out there and then. If someone is a little off course, is struggling, or is perhaps exhibiting behaviours that are less than acceptable, then it’s important to do the same. Take people to one side and help them understand where they might be going wrong – offering ideas and support to get them back on track.

In addition to mastering these techniques and answering these questions, remember to listen and learn from others. Are there more experienced managers you admire? What can you learn from them? Would they be willing to mentor you? If you know other new managers in your organisation it’s also a good idea to get together and share experience. Successful managers aren’t islands – they seek out support when they need it.

Keep tabs on the development of your managerial identity

Take your time to consider how you feel about managing and what you’re learning about yourself as you grow. If something makes you feel particularly nervous, why might that be? Is there a skill gap, or do you lack confidence because of past experience? Always be ready to ask your own line manager for support and be honest with them if you are struggling.

Finally, as you get into managing, keep checking back on how your identity as a manager is developing. Managers who are fair, encouraging, team-oriented, and problem-solvers have a great chance of success. How would you describe you knowledge, skills and character as a manager, and how are things changing as you experience leading your team?

The key with management is not to feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities. Good management takes years of practice, and dealing with tough stuff will make you better, as much as celebrating the successes. If you have a coach or mentor – fantastic, put them to good use. Otherwise, try to retain an open and curious mind that is willing to keep learning and keep smiling.

Elisa Nardi, is a former Chief People Officer, now executive coach, mentor, author, non-executive director and CEO of professional development journaling company, Notebook Mentor.

Feedback is the foundation of high-performing teams

Two casually dressed business individuals in a closed meeting, discussing feedback and planning in a creative office environment. The individual has short black afro hair with a black beard dressed in a maroon tee shirt and a denim long-sleeved on top.

A true culture of feedback is rarely seen in organisations, yet how can we know what we’re doing well and where we need to improve without it? Julie Nerney, co-author of Own Your Day, offers tips for building feedback into your daily practice

There were so many things I enjoyed about doing my MBA. As I was doing it part time while I worked, I also had lots of opportunities to put the learning immediately into practice. Decades on, I can now see that the one thing that wasn’t covered on the syllabus is something which has been seen to have the biggest impact on teams and organisations: feedback.

That’s right; feedback. Why is it that this one word creates a sense of fear whenever most people hear it? Then there is that slightly sarcastic inference that ‘feedback is a gift’, when the process of providing and receiving it is something that most people dread.

Like all things we do, those that become habitual get easier. And like all habits, that starts with practice. When you think about all areas of management and leadership, some things come so naturally that when you’re asked how you do it, you really have to stop and think about it. It is so well ingrained that it has become a subconscious competence. In others, you’ll have had to practice and learn from experience – especially when things haven’t gone well – and it’s much more of a conscious competence that you step through every time you do it.

The detrimental impact of a lack of feedback

A true culture of feedback is rarely seen in organisations, largely due to the dread that the word creates. This means the habit doesn’t get formed and the viral impact of learning from each other continuously is lost. This is such a shame. Feedback isn’t just a gift, it is – as Boris Becker once said – ‘the breakfast of champions’. How can we know what we’re doing well and where we need to improve if no one tells us? Where are the opportunities for personal development and growth if that insight is denied?

Think about your own experience. How many times have you worked in a team when it’s obvious that someone is being carried by others, yet no one is addressing this? Can you remember the impact? The drain on morale and motivation of the rest of the team. The resentment that builds. The feelings of negativity that this creates towards that individual.

It works the same way for star performers. Those people doing well, but rarely having their contribution acknowledged. Having no opportunities to celebrate their success. No visibility for their achievements in a way that might aid their development or career progression. There is a palpable dip in motivation caused by this, both for the individual and their contribution to the team.

Not only does this have a detrimental impact on the individuals concerned, it also undermines team cohesion. It creates an implicit acceptance of a reduced sense of transparency and openness. An unwillingness to tackle difficult issues. Ultimately, this will start to reduce the value that group of people adds, so that its members are no longer greater than the sum of their parts in whatever endeavour they’re applying themselves to.

Three top tips for building a culture of feedback

If you accept the premise that culture is an accelerant of performance, cultures with excellent feedback practice at their heart are those that make the biggest difference. Conversations between managers and direct reports are richer and more valuable. Successes are acknowledged and captured. Areas for improvement can be coached and supported. Where we’ve seen it work well in all types of teams, there has been an overt conversation between team members as to both the importance of feedback and how they’ll hold each other to account.

So here are three top tips for starting to build feedback into your daily practice and helping others to do the same:

1. Make it frequent, in the moment and brief

Feedback shouldn’t need to be a big conversation which you need to prepare for – that tends to mean that things have gone too long without any feedback. It should look like this: ‘The way that you opened today’s presentation today had real impact, I could see that the example you used really engaged the audience and made the rest of the session flow much more easily’. Or: ‘The way that you opened today’s presentation lacked impact compared with how I’ve seen you do it before; perhaps changing the example didn’t work as well as you thought it might.’ Simple. Short. Constructive. Objective. The best kind of feedback.

2. Stop thinking of feedback as positive or negative

There is no such thing as positive or negative feedback, there is just feedback. Just think of feedback as information which will help someone improve. From good to great. From under par to good enough. The only consideration is to make sure that when the feedback is provided it is done so with positive intent. With kindness. And in the spirit of encouraging learning and growth.

3. Open questions encourage ownership

You can tell people something, as in the example given in the first point. Or you can ask people: ‘What do you think was different about the way you delivered the presentation today?’. When you ask people it forces them to engage in the process of thinking about the question, and deepens ownership of the answer. Providing feedback by asking a series of open questions so that the recipient arrives at the point by themselves is a way of supercharging ownership and action on the back of this information. Sometimes telling people works just fine, other times you need to ask. The best kind of feedback conversations tend to start with a simple tell and, if it is more complex, continues with a series of asks.

If you’ve read this far and are now thinking, ‘yes, that’s all well and good, but I can’t do that,’ you should try to reflect on what it is that is getting in your way. And then do something about it. Getting good at this will accelerate your own performance and that of others.

If the only barrier is yourself and you find it hard to get started, then find someone you trust, share your desire to do this and ask them to hold you to account. Sometimes making a commitment public is all it takes to make a start on developing a new skill.

Julie Nerney is a serial entrepreneur, transformation expert, Chair, and guest lecturer. She holds an MBA from London Metropolitan University.

Together with Diana Marsland, Julie Nerney is also the author of Own Your Day (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2021) 

BGA members can benefit from a discount on copies of Own Your Day, courtesy of the BGA Book Club. Please click here for details.

Translate »