To write Becoming a Manager: Mastery of a New Identity, Linda Hill followed the development of nineteen new female managers during their first year on the job. She found that many made the mistake of trying to forge friendships with subordinates instead of good working relationships.
“They were too eager to be liked, when it was far more important to be respected,” Hill said.
Indeed, many female managers start off on the wrong foot by being too nice and overly accommodating. Their rationale: “If I’m nice to my staff and try to please them, they’ll like me and work harder.” In reality, when you bend over backward to please employees, they may peg you as a pushover or try to take advantage of you.
In fact, as a new boss, it’s probably better to start out a bit more tough than accommodating. Not mean, not macho, and certainly not command-and-control. But firm and decisive. Then, once you and your employees get to know one another, you can show your more caring side—without having to worry about being taken seriously.
Ultimately, though, you must go with a management style that is most comfortable for you and suited to your workplace and employees. Sometimes finding just the right style calls for experimentation.
While manager of editorial services at The Coca-Cola Company, Julie Culwell first tried distancing herself from her subordinates and keeping her relationship with them strictly professional. “I’d read a lot of management books that warned me not to get personally involved with my team,” she says. “But that was difficult for me, because I have a very warm and nurturing personality. In fact, I was miserable, and so was my staff.”
Culwell finally decided to just be herself. “I broke all the rules and became close friends with my team members. We laughed a lot together. We helped pull each other through professional and personal crises. We spent time together after hours. And what happened was, the more I nurtured them, the more they produced. In fact, they became passionate about their work—putting in long hours at the office and often taking projects home with them. Nobody ever missed a deadline and the feedback we got from our clients was consistently outstanding.”
The close relationship Culwell developed with her staff offered another benefit. “Because I knew my people so well, I was able to zero in on their strengths. I could see who gravitated toward certain assignments, or who always requested to write certain types of stories. And that’s how I would make assignments. I think lots of managers don’t bother to do this. Instead, they delegate with no rhyme or reason. Worse, some even hand out tough assignments to people they know probably won’t handle them well, just to see them sweat. But I believe that if you take the time figure out what your people enjoy doing—and let them go with it—you can bet that their work will be top-notch.”
Related Story: Democracy in the Workplace