How to win at being the boss

Many excellent and highly-qualified employees are promoted to managerial positions only to find themselves struggling – and failing – in the new position of leadership. Fortunately, it is never too late to become a good boss.

For many professionals, the promotion to management is an exciting time. It is the next step on the corporate ladder, to gaining greater prominence at a company or organisation and an opportunity to fast track your career. But what if you are not a born leader, an introvert who prefers working alone, or even more challenging – find yourself unable to motivate teams and are constantly faced by situations of conflict with co-workers?

Author and motivational speaker Barry Moltz remembers the formal feedback from his team upon his promotion as first-time manager. He was shocked. “They thought I was a bad boss,” he says. “Not a single leader ever starts out that way, but over time, it can happen. No one wants to be a bad boss, but it is actually easier to become one than you think.”

Moltz is right. Nobody wants to be a bad manager, but the stresses of the job combined with the pressure from the top and having to direct previous friends and co-workers can cause tremendous tension for individuals coming into positions of new management. Is it any wonder that middle managers have the most stressful position in a company?

According to a Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health study, middle managers have higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than entry-level employees or company owners or leaders. The study of over 20 000 individuals revealed that the middle manager reported twice the level of anxiety of workers and also had higher levels of depression.

It is true that many new managers are given the promotion based on their work performance – as outstanding engineers, accountants, marketers or doctors, for instance. But in their new role of manager, they don’t have as much need for the skills they were trained in. On the contrary, the new manager finds him or herself having to activate skills they may not have learnt before – or are comfortable with – such as mentoring, communication and problem solving.

Apart from possibly financial and administrative skills, the new manager will find his/her time increasingly taken up with talking to superiors, meeting with employees, checking on suppliers or customers and clients, making phone calls, answering emails – basically communicating. That is why managers need to be masters at communication. It is estimated that managers spend between 60% and 80% of their time communicating.

But according to one study published in the Journal of Emerging Issues in Economics, Finance and Banking, only 17% of employees said their managers communicated effectively. The results of bad management are well-documented – a loss in productivity and a drop in office morale as well as increased absenteeism in the workplace coupled with health issues for employees and managers.

Fortunately, much of the problems that are attributed to bad management can be corrected. Good communication skills can be learned and developed through formal training and practice. And it starts with learning how to listen and then, how to trust and let go.