The Management Maven

Dear Ms. Maven,
   I just got a promotion, and am going to be a supervisor to eight of my co-workers. Only problem is, I’ve never had any training, and I’m afraid I’ll blow it. These people were my co-workers yesterday, and come Monday, I’ll be their boss. Help! What do I do?

— Fearful in Ferndale

Dear Fearful,
   The Maven is going to assume that you wanted this — that you applied for this job thinking you had what it takes.
   So congratulations! You’ve taken a big step in your career path. You’re certainly well-advised to want to tread carefully — being promoted in a group has its own dangers to add to the challenges of first-time supervision. Here are some basics the Maven recommends:
   First, do some quick reading. Head to the library or a local bookstore and get some books on management. Find a couple whose style appeals to you.
   Naturally, you’ll want to re-read all the Maven’s old columns and refresh yourself as well … after you’ve finished that, remember that the worldwide Web is your oyster and at least some of the sites you find will have some pearls.
   The Maven’s favorite, second only to her own site is named (honestly … the Maven would never kid you, right?). Google subject areas that you are most concerned about. Take notes. Start a notebook of resources. Print out the best stuff you find, and make copies of particularly compelling chapters or charts in the books (yes, books on management CAN be compelling).
   This is a great time to write your own mission statement. Don’t worry — this is nowhere near as crazy-making as having to write one as a group — it’s just you, and you don’t have to make each word perfect. But it can help you get clear on what your goals are and what kind of boss you want to be.
   Most of us who aspire to management have at least some idea of how we think we would approach the role. The Maven was quite certain that she could be a better boss than many she had along the way. Once she got the opportunity to try, she discovered that it is not as easy as it may look, and some of the things you swore you would NEVER do are going to be lurking in the wings waiting for you to eat your words with salt and pepper. (This is not the last thing about supervision that will remind you a lot of parenting.)
    Bottom line: The more clear you are about what your style, values and methods will be, the easier it will be to hold true to them.
    Third: Sign yourself up for some training. We are fortunate to have many local options, with Western, Whatcom CC and Bellingham Technical all having programs and classes to choose from. Hopefully your employer will cover the costs, but even if they will not, the Maven cannot stress enough that while learning on the fly is a great and frequently fun way to learn, the stakes are high enough here to warrant using all the tools you can. Not only will you get a lot of information (hopefully!), you will also meet other folks new to supervision or management, and they can be a peer group and source of support as well.
    Fourth: Talk to your boss about job shadowing, or some coaching. This town is dripping with business coaches and consultants. Since the Maven is one of them, she can tell you that there are a lot of terrific local choices. It can be surprisingly cost-effective to get some individual coaching/instruction as you can be very focused in getting help in exactly the areas you have the most concerns and/or least knowledge.
    Fifth: Warn those around you that you are going to be taking on a big new challenge, and ask them to be as helpful and supportive of you as they can be in the near future. Naturally, all those around the Mavens’ readers are already perfect, but just in case they might occasionally fall short of perfection, this would be a great time to ask them to be super-supportive.
    Lastly, whenever someone is promoted within a group, there can be awkwardness, especially if others also applied for the position. Pretending otherwise is usually not your best bet.
    So, depending on your style and the group norms, the Maven recommends straight talk. Either individually, with the whole group, or a combination, just put it out there.
    Acknowledging and addressing any situation clearly and directly almost always wins more admirers than enemies.
    So tell your group how you hope to lead, what you hope to accomplish and how they can help, and answer their questions as forthrightly as you can.
Good luck and happy managing!

Ramona Abbott is a management consultant who specializes in on-site training and coaching for managers and supervisors. She can be reached at


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