First-Time Manager Tips: How to Ask for Help

By Marla Rosner, Principal
Instill Leadership

Welcome to management. One hopes you received a nice boost in pay, even in this dreadful economy, since your responsibilities have been ratcheted up several degrees if you’ve been promoted. If you’re like most people you’ve started out wildly enthusiastic about the new role, given your increased status and pay. Brace yourself… you won’t be alone if after the initial euphoria you become humbled and/or frustrated. In fact, there are those management gurus who say that passage through this difficult stage is inevitable in your forward movement over the learning curve for any new job activities.

Tip #1: Be patient with yourself and don’t confuse these temporary challenges with signs of failure.

If you’re lucky, your boss is one of those models of management who has anticipated your learning curve, arranged for your training, and will be meeting with you weekly to provide direction and support. This is, by the way, the boss you want to become. Alternatively he or she may be the well-intentioned but overworked, overwrought or asleep-at-the-wheel type, in which case, this series of articles should be even more helpful to you. If you’ve drawn the short straw and your boss is in the latter category, you have been handed your first challenge.

Tip #2: Swallow your pride and ask for help.

“Manage up” by letting your boss know what you need to be successful. Be specific. It could sound like any one (or all) of the following:

  • “Janet and Mike aren’t working well together and I’m not sure what to do. I need help.”
  • “Mary isn’t sanitizing the equipment correctly but I know she’ll bite my head off if I talk to her about it. What should I do?”
  • “I need instructions on how to analyze the ZYX report.”
  • “How should I go about estimating the department budget?”
  • “How do I take inventory?”

This is by no means an all-inclusive list. Your questions could be radically different. Whatever they are, don’t avoid asking them.

Why do new managers avoid approaching the boss when they need help? We all want to appear competent and avoid disappointing our superiors, especially when they’ve just entrusted us with greater responsibilities.

Tip #3: The sooner you ask questions, the faster you’ll make it over the learning curve.

There are significant risks to hiding the fact that you don’t know how to handle something. For example, if you wait six months before you get direction on scheduling, you’ll likely have made many mistakes in that time frame; e.g., short-staffing can cause rotten service, lost customers or clients, angry staff and an annoyed boss. Or, if you’ve been promoted because you were great technically as a programmer, nurse, machine operator, teacher or scientist to name just a few jobs, but are in the dark about giving employees feedback on their performance, get help fast! Your job as a manager is to get results through other people. You can damage a great many relationships with employees in a short time with either an overly aggressive or overly passive management style.

So avoidance has its costs to your effectiveness and reputation. There are ways, however, to offset the nagging fear that you might appear inept when going to your boss with neophyte questions.

Tip #4: When you do go to the boss for guidance, demonstrate that you’ve taken some initiative to figure out the situation on your own. For instance, if you ask for advice about how to handle an employee conflict, start out by providing approaches you’ve considered. Better to have a less than perfect idea to put forth than no idea at all.

Even while you’re garnering as much guidance as you can from your boss, plan on grabbing information, tips, and training from outside your work environment. Read about management in articles, get DVDs, subscribe to newsletters and podcasts, and talk to friends and other associates about management challenges. While it’s ideal to have a boss who has laid a path for your training and development, don’t wait to take initiative for your own professional development. It is, after all, your career — so be pro-active about getting what you need to become effective in your new role.

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