managers training fellow managers

How Managers Can Better Understand Other Managers

Reaching a position where you’re required to manage other managers (and that goes for global mobility managers as well) can be tricky. However, many employees who reached such a position aren’t used to taking a step back from being hands-on on every problem that their team would encounter in hiring both local and foreign talents. 

A Harvard Business Review presents a podcast where a certain Andrew, who has achieved success in the tech industry, is now beginning to understand the difference between managing individual contributors/freelancers and managing managers.

A struggle that’s top of mind for Andrew is understanding where the managers are currently. He further explains that he’s overseeing three managers who have varying needs and he doesn’t know how to quickly manage both their weaknesses and strengths. Muriel Wilkins, the host and a longtime executive coach, provided some clarity for Andrew.

She states that what Andrew is experiencing is one of the biggest challenges of many people who manage managers, where they’re required to not only develop themselves but also have to develop others at the same time. Wilkins makes it clear that between the two, choosing to develop oneself first is a no-brainer. 

Moreover, she identifies that individuals, who are similarly situated as Andrew, should have the sole job to manage. Wilkins then further suggests that Andrew should hone his ability to connect the dots between his managers and the strategic challenges that affect the business so he can provide more clarity and direction for his team of managers.

Relevant training programs

From an employer’s perspective, it would be advantageous to provide relevant training programs for employees who aren’t accustomed to dealing with managers. It will also be helpful if global mobility professionals and HR representatives are aligned now with the prevalence of managing remote managers.

An article from SHRM shares the same sentiments with Wilkins. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, identifies modeling the kind of leader one wants his managers to emulate as the key to managing managers. Another focus is how to coach managers. Finkelstein views this as an approach to helping managers use critical thinking methods to discover solutions on their own.

Additionally, he thought it was important to mention the right resources to equip new managers. How do you anticipate the steep learning curve of inexperienced managers who’ve proven themselves worthy to be in their current position? 

According to Finkelstein, many companies fail to provide first-time managers with the right tools and resources to aid them to be successful people managers themselves. This will result in patience and intentional coaching.

“Superbosses” should listen more than talk

Another quality of managers of managers should possess is the knowledge of knowing when to listen. As termed by Frankenstein, “superbosses” are encouraged not only to get to know their managers but also with their direct team members. Listening to your managers’ team members isn’t a simple task. One has to strike the balance between gathering relevant information as the basis for feedback for managers without undermining their authority.

Emplify, a SaaS company that provides employees with a platform to voice feedback to company executives, helps business executives to do just that. It shared its method of evaluating companies’ managers’ performance through confidential surveys. Although it doesn’t divulge most of its questions in its survey, it shares its core principles of the tool:

  • Ensure confidentiality

Candid feedback isn’t gathered too often without anonymity involved. Your managers’ team members will only give authentic answers when they’re aware that their answers won’t be held against them by their direct supervisors. They further suggest providing proof of confidentiality to avoid skepticism within the managers’ team.

  • Find clarity

When certain issues about the managers are brought up from the evaluation, companies should get to the root of the problem. This can be done with a simple one-question follow-up. Companies can opt to narrow respondents’ answers through a poll to get to the bottom of things instead of asking too open-ended questions.

  • Take action

To maximize the data gathered from the evaluation, leadership ought to intentionally respond accordingly. This will result in increasing the success of managers and at the same time prove to their managers’ team members that their voices are heard.

A distinction between managing individual contributors versus managers is clear. While studies indicate that many people who have reached such a position lack the tools to manage managers, it’s paramount to equip them to ensure the success of their managers as well as their teams.