A few days ago I received a short note containing the following question from one of our readers: “I am just a simple, low-level manager, so I do not always have the chance to put all of your techniques into place. I have read your first book and I actually believe and try to internalize what you put forth. How do I use your tools to make the jump to the next level of management?”
While preparing a personal response to this fellow, it dawned on me that this is likely a matter that a lot of others are chewing on as well, particularly now that the job market seems to be warming a bit. Ergo, here is my now repurposed response:
First things first, I’d like to react just a bit to your statement that you are “just a simple, low-level manager.” Truth be known, as a front line leader, you have the most difficult job in any organization. You’re in a spot where you have pressure from above AND below, you aren’t senior enough to call a time out in the action, and in all likelihood, haven’t received the kind of training your position warrants. So, give yourself some credit.
A few thoughts on getting to the next rung on the ladder:
- Look and act the part. Without putting on airs, it is important to project an image which suggests that you’re able to move comfortably to a more responsible role.
- Put up the numbers. If, as we advocate, you’ve hired, communicated, and coached well, your team should be focused, fired up, and putting up the numbers to confirm that you are a high performance manager. If they aren’t yet firing on all cylinders, take steps to improve before someone tells you to.
- Take on tough assignments. Show what you can do by volunteering (sensibly) for tough projects.
- Ask for feedback, and use it. Ask your boss for candid feedback and coaching, and make it easy for them to give it to you. When they tell you something you don’t especially enjoy hearing, thank them, rather than making them regret having said it. In the same vein, tell them about your career aspirations and seek their support. If your boss lacks the interest or ability to do this, get a coach who will.
- Do what you can to pick your next boss. In most situations, particularly early in your career, who you work for is more important than the exact job you’re doing, or the organization you are working for.
- Do everything you can to stay sharp and prepared. This is a bit selfish on my part, but folks in your situation are the ONLY reason we wrote our 3rd book, Rebooting Leadership. Get it and read it. I think you will find it helpful. It is chock full of prescriptive advice for 1st line managers. If after reading it you have remaining questions, feel free to reach out to us again.