On my first day as a manager at a Winery, I discovered that most of my employees had been doing their jobs for several years and some, for more than 10. And I, a 24-year-old girl that just finished university, was now assuming the role of their manager.
This meant: When my team members had questions about anything from supplies, to problems with their tasks, production, colleagues, salary problems and everything that it`s concerning them, they would be coming to me for a resolution. I was so scared. All I could think about was the fact that I wouldn’t know a single answer to any of these questions and that they would see right through my “expertise.”
So of course, I panicked. I immediately regretted taking the job, cursed the recruiter who thought I was even remotely qualified for the position, and took a few too many teary-eyed trips to the restroom , where no one could hear my pathetic blubbering.
When I managed to regain my confidence, I knew I had to make the best of this challenging situation. I surely didn’t know everything about my new company or the inner workings of its products, but I did have knowledge and I was very brave and hardworking. With that in my favor, I could make it work.
If you find yourself in a position where your employees know more than you (which, especially as a young manager, you almost certainly will), here are a few ways I found to navigate this seemingly tough situation.
If some of your direct reports asks you something that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. In the beginning, I shied away from this, because I was sure it would make me come across as weak, unknowledgeable, and altogether unprepared to be in a management position . Yet, if you go the other route which is providing an answer that you think is correct but isn’t, you and your employee could end up in an even worse position, and you’ll rapidly lose your team’s respect.
On the other hand, don’t forget about these questions off, either. Let’s face it, nothing is worse than asking your supervisor—the person you’re supposed to ask your questions and concerns to—a question and having her reply, “I don’t know, you’re going to have to ask another person.”
Here’s a much better approach. Tell your employee that you’re not certain of the answer, but that you’ll find out from someone who does. Of course, it may take a few minutes (or hours) to track down the information, yet if you follow through and eventually deliver the answer he/she needs, you’ll instantly gain her/his respect.
Learn From Them
Rather than fearing your employees’ knowledge and what they’ll think of your lack of knowledge, take advantage of it! Being the newcomer at a company is totally overwhelming.
But do not forget, no matter how long your direct reports have been there, they had a first day, too, and they know how it feels to be the fish out of water and not quite understand the company-specific mumbo-jumbo that’s coming at you at lightning speed.
So during your initial couple of weeks, take some time to sit with each of your employees, watch their daily routines, and ask lots of questions about what they’re doing and talking about. They’ll enjoy demonstrating their knowledge, and you’ll learn more from them than you ever would from a specific training.
Ask For Their Feedback
Employees who have been with a company for more than 10 years have definitely seen processes change time and again. They’ve seen what works, what needs some change, and what, as far as they’re concerned, will never be changed.
As a manager for approaches to improve processes, increase efficiency and productivity, and bring ideas to life , this is a fantastic resource. Ask your most tenured team members for their opinions and ideas. They will often lead to issues and concerns that you hadn’t thought of before. If you don’t really understand an issue or a process, they can help you with it, plus to give insight on how changes can be made to it.
My recommendation is: Don’t give these discussions a chance to transform into an unprofitable rant of complaints. Make sure the pain points you discuss actually lead to activity steps, and keep your eye on the goal of resolving issues and improving procedures.
Give Them Your Respect
At last, remember to focus on your own frame of mind. It’s easy to come into a management role on the defensive, thinking that you must have beat out all your employees for this pined position. After that extrapolate that they’re going to be envious, disrespectful, and bitter toward you.
The truth is, though, management positions and the roles of your employees don’t always go hand-in-hand, and the skills required for each are often totally different. It’s possible that no one in the department even wanted that management position, because they didn’t want to deal with the meetings, budgets, employee discipline, and all the other duties that come with a managers role.
With that in mind, it’s important to let go of your assumptions, leave behind your ego and convey how much you respect and value your employees. Keep in mind, it’s only when you combine their skills and yours that you can move the company forward. Let your employees know how much you value their knowledge, and they’ll be more responsive to your leadership.
Trust me, leading a group of tenured and knowledgeable employees is really intimidating. But when you recognize them as the resource they are and commit to learning as much as possible, you’ll definitely turn into a stronger leader.
It is not something that comes over night
Of course I did not succeed in my management role just in few weeks. I have to admit that I needed a whole year, with everyday learning something new, facing a new problem and getting to know the company.
And still I was not totally successful. Now at 27 I am in another company and I am still not good as I want to be. But, I am trying hard to be better every day.
Just have confidence in yourself and trust me if you truly want something and you work hard to get it, at the end you will.