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Avoid New Manager Mistakes

Written by Ed Sanow

First, if you have been promoted up from the ranks, you MUST form a different relationship with your former co-workers. These former peers are now subordinates. You simply cannot be buddies with those who report to you. They were your friends, and now they work for you. Everything changes.

Of course, you can continue to be friends with true friends. However, be extra careful to avoid the appearance of favoritism, one of the supervisor’s greatest faults. How do you discipline or reprimand a friend? Or give him a crummy assignment? And, you cannot be friends with everyone, or your new employees will walk all over you. Your goal is to be friendly without being friends. The inability to form a new type of relationship with former peers is a major reason managers fail.

Second, you MUST resist the new power going to your head. Don’t let your new position turn you into an arrogant authoritarian. Your attitude cannot say, “I don’t want or need your ideas. Just go to work and do as I tell you.” You will not have all the answers. Ask subordinates for options to solve the problem. Ask peers how they solved the same problem. Ask a trusted superior to mentor you.

Worse yet, this kind of bullying leadership results in passive-aggressive followers. They will let things go wrong in a way that makes you look bad, but in a way that won’t look like their fault. From the first day on the new job, listen to and respect your new subordinates. Time enough exists to flex your new authority. Wield it carefully.

Third, you MUST resist the temptation to do it all, especially a problem for new sergeants. They go from hands-on street cops to hands-off people managers, the biggest career change in law enforcement. Instead of dealing with criminals and complainants, you now deal with fellow police officers. Even for the new captain or chief, the new job is just that…new. You need to stop doing your old job and start doing your new job.

It is natural to second guess the promotion. As a new sergeant, you liked arresting criminals more than handling personnel issues. As a new chief, you liked dealing with police officers more than elected or appointed officials. Before you ask for your old rank back, give the new job a couple of years. That’s right, years. It takes time to adjust to each step up, especially the transition to sergeant and to chief.

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2008

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