First-time managers looking for a little guidance can find it in a new book by Wharton management lecturer Rachel Pacheco, who has written a veritable instruction manual for fledgling leaders who want to learn to fly.
Bringing Up the Boss: Practical Lessons for New Managers is based on research and the real-world experience Pacheco has collected from years of working with scrappy startups around the globe. She was particularly inspired by her position as chief people officer for an ambitious and fast-growing startup about four years ago. She realized the company was scaling, but the people were not. Many of the newly minted managers there lacked the training or experience to lead others, so she began writing tips and tricks to help them better handle employees.
“I think that’s the myth or the dirty secret of not just startups but also big companies — that we’re often thrown into the position of management without having built the skills or the capabilities to manage well,” Pacheco said during an interview with Wharton Business Daily on SiriusXM. (Listen to the podcast above.) “We might be an incredible engineer, we might be an incredible marketer, great at our functional role, so the next natural progression is to be a manager. Yet we’re given no skills or no training beforehand.”
Pacheco, who earned her MBA and PhD from Wharton and also is an instructor in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, said sound advice is even more important right now for management newbies who are navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and demands for greater inclusivity and diversity at work. Many office-based managers are currently managing by video or email, and some are managing new hires they’ve never met face-to-face. Without personal contact or casual conversations, it’s harder for managers to build trust, she said.
Managers must learn a range of complex skills, including how to motivate, how to give feedback, how to have difficult conversations, and how to set compensation. They also need strong people skills because they set the tone for the day for each employee. As Pacheco pointed out, employees probably spend more time with their bosses than they do with their spouses or families.
“We’re facing a great resignation, as folks are calling it, where people are fleeing their jobs after a year of disillusionment, poor management, and feelings of burnout,” she said. “Making sure your employees are well cared for, have work that is meaningful, feel seen and feel valued — it’s so important for companies to retain and attract top talent.”
Pacheco said she thinks the best way for new managers to learn is to have great role models. That means more experienced managers need to make an effort to mentor and show them how it’s done, especially in companies that cannot afford expensive training and education programs. She also said it’s important for new managers to understand that what made them a great engineer or great marketer isn’t going to earn them a five-star review from their reports. Managers have to cultivate a different skill set.
“You can start to build managing skills before you ever have your first direct report,” she said. “I want to encourage leaders and CEOs and organizations to build a culture of management in their organizations to help people build management skills from their first day at the job.”
Pacheco said her favorite quote for new managers is about communication: “Repetition never hurt the prayer.” She said all managers, both new and veterans, should repeat important messages and do so in different channels. Some employees need to hear it spoken out loud, while others need to read it in an email.
“I don’t know who said it, but I think it’s such an important message to get into the head of new managers because we often think that we’ve communicated enough, but we haven’t,” she said.