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Advice for new bosses

4 min read


This post is by Hank Gilman, deputy managing editor of Fortune. This article is inspired by his book, “You Can’t Fire Everyone: And Other Lessons from an Accidental Manager.”

I’d like to believe that all sorts of bosses, at all experience levels, will get something out of reading my new book. But truth be told, I wrote this book with younger managers in mind — and those who may be thinking about going into management. So let’s cut to the chase. Here are a few tips for you newbies:

  • Get ready for fewer wedding invitations. A lot of us go into management at the same place we toiled as foot soldiers. Let me clue you in: Your pals aren’t going to like being supervised by you. (Unless, of course, you’re not doing your job. In that case, I take back the wedding invitation thing.) It’s either them or you at the end of the day, and you’re better off winning that war. Just remember: You represent the organization, not your best friend.
  • When you hire, do the damn homework. You’d be amazed at how many good bosses are lazy when it comes to hiring. The resume looks good? A friend who knows the job candidate says he’s a nice guy? Yup, that will do. (You start Thursday.) To be fair, you do depend a lot on recommendations. My advice is to make sure you have some trusted contacts at organizations you would normally hire from. Also make sure the recommendations are 100% enthusiastic. So many people give out positive references these days. If they’re not really ultra-upbeat about your prospect, that’s a big yellow flag.
  • Speaking of firing… It’s just as important as hiring. Don’t avoid it. For one thing, it isn’t fair to the person who is struggling. I’ve worked at places where the managers let certain employees toil for years without the hope of a raise or promotion. The problem is, these bosses never bother to tell them they’re failing. It’s a big waste of someone’s work life, and it isn’t fair not to be honest with them. When you don’t deal with substandard employees on a timely basis, your good folks resent it. They have to do more work to make up for their less talented colleagues, and in some cases they’re paid less. Finally, when you do let people go, it creates an opportunity to recruit more talented employees.
  • Casting. Most of my many mistakes are casting mistakes. I ask a good second baseman who has a weak arm to become a shortstop. Don’t do that. I know it’s a cliché, but here it goes anyway: Emphasize your employees’ strengths and avoid any tasks that bring out their weaknesses. Let the second baseman be second baseman.
  • Feedback. Some bosses have a strange way of giving feedback. I tell a story in my book about one of my old bosses who was into the “body language” game. I basically asked him if he wanted me around in my job, largely because he inherited me from a previous regime. He was surprised and said something like “I thought my body language was good.” I had no idea. But I do find the feedback thing a little awkward. When I’m doing my job well, and that isn’t always the case, I try and let people know how they’ve done on each project. That way, the formal annual job review, isn’t a “Guess what: I hate your work” session. As for the body language method, I was wondering why the staff was so nervous when my old boss would show up with a bad back.

What are your favorite tips for new managers?