The leap into management is one of the scariest moments in a young professional's career.
On one hand, the promotion is exciting -- and so is the bump in pay that likely comes with it. On the other hand, new managers quickly realize that all the technical skills that got them noticed in the first place don't mean much now.
No wonder they're often overwhelmed.
In making this transition, the most useful thing a young manager can have is a strong mentor. Perhaps the second-most useful: a copy of "The First-Time Manager" by Lorin B. Belker and Gary S. Topchik.
The book, first published in 1981 and now in its fifth edition, provides a solid primer for new managers, outlining the basics of good corporate leadership. Belker wrote the original; Topchik, a management development consultant and author of several books on management, including "The Accidental Manager," updated it after Belker's death.
The most important thing for new managers is attitude, Topchik said in an interview. They can easily pick up the technical details of the job as they're going, but the softer side, such as how to communicate and how to motivate, is trickier to master.
Here are a few of my favorite tips from the book:
* No sudden moves. Belker and Topchik advise new managers to avoid making any immediate changes. "Many young new leaders make their own lives more difficult by assuming they have to use all their newfound power immediately. The key word is restraint," they write. "Whether or not you want to admit it, you're the one who is on trial with your subordinates, not they with you."
* Sharing responsibilities. A good manager must learn to delegate effectively. Belker and Topchik are not fans of the idea that good managers must know how to perform every job they supervise. Instead, your job is to hire the right people and encourage and trust them to do good work, which you will be able to recognize. "You don't have to be a master chef to recognize rotten chicken," Belker and Topchik write.
* Dismissal drama. Firing someone is never pleasant, but eventually it will be necessary. Belker and Topchik emphasize the importance of keeping records of troublesome performance, as well as conversations you've had with the employee in an attempt to solve the problem. Given our culture's penchant for lawsuits, you want to protect yourself. "You should ask yourself, 'If I have to, can I fully justify this dismissal?' " the authors write.
* Know the law. While you may have had a passing understanding of employment law before you were promoted, Belker and Topchik advise you to study it more thoroughly now. If you misunderstand the law, it could have greater impact on your career and your company. The most important issues relate to sexual harassment, disability, substance abuse, privacy, workplace violence, and family and medical leave. "Far too many companies are sued and have to pay huge sums of money because their managers were ignorant of the laws or did nothing to enforce them," Belker and Topchik write.
* Mind the generation gap. Belker and Topchik acknowledge that one of the trickiest management situations is when a young manager is brought in to supervise older people. They reiterate the importance of taking your time before instituting any big changes. "Quick action by an older manager gives him the adjective 'decisive.' The same adjective by a younger manager earns him the adjective 'impetuous,' " they warn. Unfair, but true.
Topchik said he hopes that new managers are able to realize the power they have, even in that first leadership position. They shouldn't regard the job merely as a steppingstone, but as a way to make a difference in their office. "If they truly are an effective manager, they can make a huge difference in the lives of the people they work with."
Passing on a Promotion
Have you ever turned down a promotion? Do you regret the decision or think it's the smartest thing you've ever done? If you're willing to share your story -- and your reasons -- for a column on the subject, e-mail me at email@example.com.
Join Mary Ellen Slayter at 2 p.m. July 15 for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/jobs/careertrack.