The New Manager – Ian Mann’s review of my book

The New Manager: How to become a leader in 52 simple steps, by Steven Jacobs

TWO colleagues walked past my desk as I was reading this week. When they asked what I reading, I told them it was a primer for managers and one said: “You must be so bored reading another one!” I explained that this was for a first-time manager, someone appointed to be a team leader of a group in a call centre, for example.

One colleague responded: “I wasn’t given any advice when I got my first position, I didn’t have a clue what I should do!” This began the conversation between the two women, one of whom retired as a mainboard director of a top 100 listed company, while the other had worked in and on multinationals, internationally. Both saw the enormous value in Jacob’s no-frills, down-on-the-floor, real guidance for first-time managers.

The book is a collection of 52 pieces of advice and insights, each a three-page chapter with “Reflection Questions” at the end. The topics range from how to gain credibility and bond with your team, to how to lead in the storm. It covers how to develop your people, manage their performance, and evaluate your own performance.

The book opens with the issues one could face in the first three months of this new role. On Jacobs’ first appointment, a team member confronted him sternly, saying: “Steven, I want you to know, I don’t like you.” Pause here, and consider what to do in this situation. You are young and thought you were appointed because everyone loves you.

His response: “I am sorry you feel that way; it’s okay that you don’t like me. You don’t need to like me, but going forward I would like your commitment that you will deliver on your business objectives. I commit to this, too.” This is an important lesson; not everyone will applaud your appointment and handling this well will set the right tone for your tenure.

It leads directly into the next key issue: knowing as much as you can about the people you work with and their personal circumstances. With this knowledge, can you answer the main question: Why have I been appointed? The only answer is – to develop each person, and the team as a whole.

‘Control freak’ behaviour

The appointment to a leadership role is so often mistaken as being a reward for hard and competent work, with the right to relax into “the boss” position. This is a trap. What earned you the leadership position was your diligence, ability and hard work. That is exactly what you are being expected to continue exhibiting. Misunderstanding this expectation leads to arrogance, ‘control freak’ behaviour, and the popularity drive of a campaigning politician.

In everyone’s life there are people you love and who love you, with the inevitable result – a high level of commitment. The “love” of your staff required in the workplace is essentially the same: “the unselfishly loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another” (Merriam-Webster’s definition).

A leader who really loves her team will correct them (in their best interests) and help them succeed. The true measure of leadership is not how many promotions you have received, but how much your people grow through your guidance, Jacobs points out. That is real caring, and “If your team really knows that you love them, they’ll go the extra mile,” Jacobs notes.

Inevitably, things will go wrong in business – conditions over which the leader has no control will turn unfavourably. It is at times like this that good leaders excel and bad ones fail. If the leader shows panic, how can he possibly lead the team out of trouble?

Good leadership requires that the leader appears to calmly lead the team out of the storm, despite what he is feeling inside. Being “authentic” and letting one’s fears be exposed is hardly the hallmark of good leadership. “No matter how you feel,” Jacobs exhorts, “when you walk through those doors and others see you, be positive!”

Team leaders are often required to judge people, and not fully knowing the situation can lead to painful mistakes. Without watching the entire movie, it is impossible to accurately predict the ending, and it is no different in the workplace. You need to know the whole story before coming to a conclusion.

Being biased by a relationship you have with one party can result in a grossly unfair decision for the other party. Overriding this bias and displaying wise leadership will have your team trust you, knowing you are fair in all situations, no matter who is involved.

No one can be a leader if they cannot be a follower. “When leaders respectfully follow the ones above them, they set an example for others to copy,” says Jacobs. Too many people believe they are more competent than their manager, but if your team is aware of this, you are setting a poor example for them.

Leaders clearly cover the full range from the inspiringly competent and caring, to the exact opposite. However, in the interests of one’s own team, the leader needs to always show respect for their manager’s position, irrespective of the manner in which they lead.

In the introduction, Jacobs explains: “Now the big day has arrived (you have been appointed team leader,) you know the job, you know what has to be done, and you want to make a good impression. It’s a step into the unknown, but (this book,) The New Manager will be your mentor 24/7.” Having read the book carefully, I already have a list of people I am going to recommend it to. Included are members of my family, new managers in companies I am invested in, and client companies.

Jacobs has produced a valuable book – use it if you are at the beginning of your career, or share it with those who are.

Readability:    Light +—- Serious

Insights:        High –+– Low

Practical:        High -+— Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.


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