Unconventional Advice for Young Managers

Work tips for young managers from a veteran psychologist and one of the world’s foremost minds in HR


Budding business executives often hear advice like, “Always give your 100 per cent” or “There is no substitute for hard work”. But such advice, well-meaning as it may be, doesn’t prepare them for the dynamic world of business. When young managers, men and women ask me for guidance, here’s what I tell them.

Unconventional Advice For Young and First-Time Managers

1. As quickly as possible become indispensable

Having any skill set that others need, yet do not possess, is a wonderful asset. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King. Similarly if you’re the only person to be able to speak Mandarin or understand Structural Equation Modelling, or nurture a temperamental machine, or person, it bestows a special status on you. Explore your particular talents and hone those that the organization wants but is in short supply.

2. Always be a committed and enthusiastic team-player

Learn to co-operate, to include others, to be supportive. Management is a contact sport. Develop a reputation for being committed to the team, group and organization.  Stress the ‘we’ over the ‘I’. Attend social events—better still, organize them. Bring people together. Share your ideas and assets. In giving you receive.

Also read » Do you have these 5 essential people skills?

3. Establish useful alliances and find soul mates

Get connected and embedded throughout the organization. Get out of your cocoon and do your own matrix organization. Understand, through relationships, how the whole organization works. Never believe the organizational chart. Informal leaders are very influential. Find them. Charm them. Befriend them. Get savvy as to where the power lies.

4. Don’t whine and never get caught gossiping

It is the alienated, passed over and angry who spend their life sniping. They are not fun to be around and they sap team morale. Positive people, by contrast, are life-enhancing, fun to be around and at the heart of a good team. Focus on the can and not the can’t. Never put down colleagues in public. You can evaluate ideas, but never attack the proposer. Treat setbacks as learning opportunities and move on.

Also read » The game everyone loves to play

5. Know when to attract and when to avoid the limelight

Make sure you get noticed by the right people at the right time. There is little worse than an egocentric, attention-seeking, narcissistic young person whose is self-obsessed. Less is always more. It is better to give a few brilliant presentations than many good ones. Pick your opportunities, prepare to the point that everything looks natural and easy, and praise others openly when they do well.

6. Manage Up and Across as well as Down

We know from multi-source feedback that of all the people who come into contact with you, your boss knows you least well. Your staff knows about your management style, your colleagues about your abilities and your boss about the consequences of your work. You have to beat your colleagues to get your boss’s job, so make sure he/she is kept well briefed on all you want him/her to know. Keep on good terms with colleagues and reports. Never forget the ‘little people’ in support roles, who often have disproportionate amounts of power.

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Cultivate a rare skill set, be a people person, connect with informal leaders, never complain and never gossip, be choosy about your opportunities, and be good to people across the hierarchy. If you take care of these things, your success as a manager will be much more plausible and sustainable.

A version of this article first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine.

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Adrian Furnham
Adrian Furnham DPhil, DSc, is Professor of Psychology at University College London. He rides a bicycle to work [as he has always done] very early in the morning and does not have a mobile phone. He has written over 1000 scientific papers and 70 books.


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