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5 Tips on Managing Managers

Updated on January 10, 2016

Managing Managers Requires Different Skills

As managers progress in their careers, they often find themselves in unfamiliar territory: managing people who are supervisors – or managers – themselves.

Imagine yourself in this position. You do good work and get promoted, and expect that your greater authority will make it easier to get things done. But instead, the entire work dynamic shifts under your feet. You're a step away from the day-to-day tasks of managing an operation. The details are now someone else's responsibility, but they're still your problem. People look up to you for answers, for guidance: strategic thinking and leadership skills are now much more important. You know people are talking about you, judging you, questioning your judgment. With a shudder, you realize that you rely on managers under your supervision, people who can make you look incompetent. Instead of feeling more powerful, you feel more vulnerable.

You understand that managing managers is not the same thing as managing staff. You have more power, but are also more dependent; your position commands greater respect, but you also have to earn it. You need a different approach to managing.

Think Empowerment

The key to succeeding as a manager of managers is to provide guidance, empower them, and get out of the way so they can do their jobs. Here are five important tips that will help you do that:

  1. Don't micromanage. It's not your job to tell subordinate managers how to execute tasks. Your job is to provide strategic guidance, articulate your organization's strategy and objectives, and to make sure that there are sufficient resources to get the job done. Their job is to figure out how to get there and to make it happen. If you spend all your time on the details, you aren't only interfering with other people's work, you're not doing your own job.
  2. Give them authority in their space. Subordinate managers need space to operate where they have authority to make decisions without consulting you. They also have to establish leadership authority over their own teams. So take a step back. Don't undermine your subordinate's authority by supervising his or her staff. Do not give your subordinate instructions in front of his or her team. Show interest in their work but do not attempt to manage them.
  3. Protect them from the bureaucracy. Corporate policies, regulations, and other forms of red tape can tie up your managers and keep them from doing what they do best—managing their teams. Find ways to feed the beast without tying up your managers, for example, by attending low-value manager meeting yourself or delegating time-consuming administrative requirements to someone outside the team.
  4. Listen. Always be available to your subordinate managers. Listen to their concerns, and help solve them. This will increase their trust towards you. They'll work harder for you and will go the extra mile when you really need it. Another thing to remember is that they're closer to the front line than you are, and their feedback will help you with your strategic planning.
  5. Praise in public, criticize in private. Show that your subordinate managers have your support—staff need to know that their supervisors have your ear. When things go well, give your managers credit, and give it openly. When things go badly, don't try to pin blame on them, even if they are at fault. Take the blame yourself, and hold any critical discussions behind closed doors. If you stand up for your managers, they will stand up for you.

Learn from Harvard Business Review

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Make the Effort

These rules apply even for poor performers. Remember, your subordinate managers won't perform better if you undermine or stifle them. If you have bad managers working for you, you'll have to spend a lot more time with them behind closed doors in the short run, and hire smart in the long run.

Like any new skill, managing managers takes time and effort. You'll make a lot of mistakes before you'll be comfortable in your new role. But make the effort—the downside is huge. But so is the upside.


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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      When I first worked in Canada, I was lucky to have a very good Boss. She was very trusting so I performed very well given the freedom.