The six habits that new managers really should dispense with

Learning something new is always high on the list of any manager. But now that more initiative on the part of employees is expected, this requires something much more difficult – that is, unlearning things. Read more about the six habits that new managers should unlearn.

In the age of adapting more quickly in line with markets and customers, and of new forms of organization with greater autonomy and enterprise for employees, one of the most notable changes is that managers do not need all kinds of ‘tricks’ in order to manage and steer people. On the contrary, there are various habits that they need to let go. That process of letting go can be a problem; unlearning something in practice is often much harder than learning something.

Trusting others

According to Rob Bos, an expert in the field of management development at De Baak, “many managers appear to owe their existence to their role as a pivotal point in the organization.” They are appointed to make important decisions, but they have to learn to leave some choices to other people, as these other people are more closely involved with the relevant matter and the customers and are able to act more quickly. This only works if managers place trust in the professionalism of the people in question. Sometimes, this is the greatest challenge – letting go and trusting.”

What sort of things should new managers no longer do? Six areas that are difficult to unlearn:

Unlearn point 1: Saying how things must be done

“When people get a managerial role,” says executive coach Hans-Jaap Moes, “that is often because they are good at what they do. They are used to making many decisions.” But in an organization where employees have more autonomy and responsibility, that is exactly what they should not be doing. Employees should use their own expertise to determine their own paths, while managers should perhaps hold their tongue. Moes continues, “Now, they have to let others make decisions, and listen.”

It can be difficult to keep yourself in check. “Whenever someone asks a question, it can be very tempting to give an answer straight away,” says Yvonne Burger, executive coach and professor at VU University Amsterdam. “As a manager, it could be that that is what you have always been used to.” A coaching attitude and better listening skills are therefore needed. According to Burger, listening is a skill that can easily be acquired. “With a well-practiced ear, you hear a lot more than you would think. You would think that listening is something very simple, but it is actually an underestimated skill.”

Unlearn point 2: Wanting to be in control of everything

The word ‘manager’ has its origins in the Latin for ‘hand’ – manus. The manager is the person who handles everything, but in the case of shared leadership, that is precisely not the intention. Autonomous employees, whether or not they work in autonomous teams, have to learn to take charge of their own affairs and to overcome setbacks, which they will only succeed in doing if they are given the opportunity to explore dead-ends and make mistakes. “A good leader gives people or teams that opportunity,” says Joost Crasborn, trainer, coach and author of ‘Hoe coach ik mijn team? En het team zichzelf!’ “It is the only way a team is able to develop itself.”

“Managers live too much with the idea that they can steer things,” believes Ben Kuiken, the founder of and author of ‘De laatste manager’, among other things. “That is the theory on paper. Even in a command and control situation you have less control than you may want. Just ask yourself – are you really in control of everything, or do you just want to believe that? You’re better off ridding yourself of that illusion.” The new letting go is a mental skill that managers have to teach themselves, explains Kuiken. “As long as you keep managing, you prevent people taking on responsibility. Build a fence around people and you get sheep.”

Unlearn point 3: Mistrust

Managers who have freed themselves from the idea that they control everything should also dispense with the starting point based on mistrust. After all, you cannot let go without trust. However, the only way to gain trust, according to Auke Klijnsma, teacher and co-author of the book ‘De waarde van vertrouwen’, is to be vulnerable yourself. It is possible that something could go wrong in the process, but “that is a risk you have to take,” says Klijnsma. “That is because the effect of vulnerability is that people take on more responsibility. In order not to break your trust.”

Klijnsma’s words are in line with much psychological research. For example, studies have been done into mirroring; people mirror their behavior on that of a leader, say. If a leader shows trust and gives people an opportunity, they will replicate that behavior. In addition, anyone who puts their own interests second, rather than always putting themselves at the forefront, is regarded as more trustworthy. The feeling of justice in the work place is also a rich feeding ground for trust.

Unlearn point 4: Problem-oriented communication

“Communication in education is mostly problem-oriented,” says Astrid Vermeer, the founder of the Instituut voor Samenwerkingsvraagstukken. The same thing is subsequently automatically true in the work place. If something happens, everyone gets together to discuss the cause. However, one of the most important characteristics of autonomous employees and teams is decisiveness, and that decisiveness disappears if you take a problem-oriented approach.”

Discussions on the causes of problems are not only time-consuming, they also unleash negative emotions. Vermeer explains, “In a solution-oriented approach, the causes are simply acknowledged. The team focuses on the solution. What should be the aim? Do we have the resources and the authority to achieve it?” Whether or not you agree on why you decide on a particular solution is secondary, says Vermeer. “As long as you agree on what that solution should be.”

Unlearn point 5: Thinking that it’s all about you

A persistent automatic mechanism in many organizations is that managers are appointed because they are good at their job. That could be because they have achieved the best sales figures, for example. Once appointed, they retain their performance-oriented attitude. But that is not what new leadership is about, says Ronald Meijers, a leadership expert at Deloitte. Meijers goes on, “The first thing you need to learn as a manager is that it is no longer about how you do your own work, but how you enable your employees to do their work well. Their success is your success. Unfortunately, there are many leaders who quickly forget that.”

If you want your employees to respond quickly to market developments, you will have to develop a coaching management culture, says Meijers. Leaders should be appointed who give their people space and support. “We need leaders who are motivated by the urge to achieve something positive for their department.”

Unlearn point 6: Saying ‘see you and good luck’

In practice, it seems that the introduction of greater autonomy does not always go as well as it could. It is frequently the case that too little thought goes into the process. “The reality is that I have noticed that organizations making the transition to autonomy and flexibility often struggle with the same difficulties,” says Jaco van der Schoor, director of Mensen in Bedrijf and author of books on team development. “It is introduced without much preparation: ‘Right, you are now autonomous and responsible, so good luck!’ Meanwhile, there are still areas that are not clear, there are structures lacking, and there is uncertainty.”

Esther de Haan, a coach who has also authored various books on teams, has observed the same development. “You don’t say to a toddler, ‘Tomorrow you’ll be living on your own!’ But teams are often given autonomy without first having matured.” Many questions remain unanswered at the start. What does our department stand for? How does it relate to the rest of the organization? What does that mean for our day-to-day work? De Haan says, “If there is no clarity on this, everyone acts as they see fit. It is something I see on a regular basis. People can sometimes drive each other up the wall.”

Do not let teams loose

The fact that managers unlearn habits does not therefore mean that they should let their team loose. “A good manager does not let go,” says Jelle Dijkstra, co-author of the book ‘Gedeeld leiderschap’, “but is actually more on top of things.” No longer telling people how to do their work, but instead ensuring that they are properly guided and supported. The most difficult aspect of new ways of organizing, says Dijkstra, is the task of guiding on the one hand and giving people the space in which to operate on the other. “The task of managers is to create the conditions in which other people can take the initiative. For many managers, this is the greatest challenge of shared leadership, because they have spent many years doing nothing but taking the lead.

Or, if you would like your whole organization to learn, look at our Tailor-Made programs. The themes for which we provide in-company training courses include New Ways of Organizing, Management Development, and Change and Innovation.

Source: This article is part of the ‘Nieuw Leiderschap’ special on Produced in partnership with De Baak.

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