The ambitious 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.

  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 organisation 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 organisation.  Stress the ‘we’ over the ‘I’. Attend social events—better still, organise them. Bring people together. Share your ideas and assets. In giving you receive.
  3. Establish useful alliances and find soul-mates
    Get connected and embedded throughout the organisation. Get out of your cocoon and do your own matrix organisation. Understand, through relationships, how the whole organisation works. Never believe the organisational 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.
  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.

This was first published in the November 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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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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