What changes when you manage managers

4 minutes

What’s changed?

While the fundamentals of managing managers will stay the same, there are a few key differences in how to operate.

The main difference is - Your success as a leader lies not in them delivering the work, but in helping them help their team to deliver the work.

What to do in week one

Use your first 1-1 to set expectations with each of your managers 

If the manager is new to management, explain that you will help train them and give them support. If they are an experienced manager, focus your time on understanding what they need from you to be successful. Just as you would with anyone, be sure to tailor your approach.

Align on the what and why - not how

Agree on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ and leave the ‘how’ to them.

Each of your managers will likely have their own management style. They might have specific customs, meeting agendas, and general approaches to how they work effectively. That’s perfectly ok! Resist the temptation to change or micromanage ‘how’ they manage.

What’s important is to set expectations and guard-rails around ‘what’ is required (the goals and outcomes), or a few guidelines that you want every manager in your organization to follow (e.g. everyone needs to have a 1-1 with each direct report once per week), and the ‘why’ (our mission or vision, or our values).

What to do in month one

Start asking these questions in 1-1s

Managing managers requires you shift from guiding individual work to guiding their management. This will change the content of many of your meetings and also change your role to one of a coach.

Instead of asking, ‘how is that project going?’, you might ask, ‘how are you working with Christine to get that project done?’, or ‘How might you better support Christine on that project?’

Potential topics to discuss:

  1. Review and draft the team’s goals
  2. Practice or role-play an upcoming feedback conversation
  3. Debrief management-related work
  4. Provide feedback on their management
  5. Talk thorough upcoming management actions

Schedule quarterly meetings with each skip level report

Set up quarterly 30-minute skip-level meetings with each of their direct reports.

Explain that the goal of these meetings is to better understand the team and help both them and their manager succeed. Be clear that you are aligned in that goal and there are no secrets. This time is also for them to get to know you too! When people know you, they’ll be more likely to approach you if there’s a problem that you should hear about.

In addition to 1-1’s you can have a get-to-know-you coffee with all new skip level hires or schedule an occasional lunch.

Stay approachable and visible but remind employees that they should talk to their manager first before escalating to you.

Sit in on the action

Schedule time to see your managers in action and then provide feedback on what you observed

  1. Occasionally observe check-ins and other team meetings
  2. Watch a manager give feedback (or role-playing a tough feedback conversation)
  3. Go on site visits together
  4. Conduct job interviews together
  5. Review performance evaluations before they go out (or a sample of them)

Give feedback on the work

Schedule time to see the work of your broader team in action. You’ll need to stay in touch with how work is being carried out, especially work that is most crucial to the company.

You can do this by observing, asking for a few work samples, or taking a slice of work and asking to talk through how it’s playing out. Doing this will better equip you to help shape higher-level strategy, and help you to know whether something is going off-track and if you need to intervene.

What to do ongoing 

Avoid micromanaging

Managers need to have the autonomy to run their team in their own way. Strive to give them advice and coaching instead of direction

Model the right behavior

Your actions aren’t just affecting your direct reports anymore — they’re affecting their direct reports as well.

Compliment your managers in public

The people who report to your direct reports look to you for clues as to how they should feel about their managers. If you respect the person and the job she’s doing, they will too.

Give people opportunities to demonstrate their credibility in front of others. Praise them publicly, ask for their advice in front of others, or assign them part of a presentation that lets them show off their expertise.

And be careful: the same effect can work for negative comments. If you have criticism to offer, be sure to do it privately.

Regularly seek feedback

At every 1-1 ask your managers for at least one thing you can improve. Not only does this model great behavior, but it also helps uncover any blind spots that can be addressed.

Credits: Photo by @bekirdonmeez on Unsplash.