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Six essential skills for new and aspiring managers

Author: Chris Paterson

Published: 06 Jul 2023

If you’ve just been promoted to management, or you’re looking to take that next step, ICAEW trainer and executive coach Chris Paterson shares his tips for leading a high-performing finance team.

1. It’s OK not to have all the answers

It’s easy to put yourself under unnecessary pressure by thinking: ‘I'm the boss now so I need to tell people what to do.’ If you're working with people who have the right skills for the job and are motivated, sometimes the best thing you can do as a manager is let them crack on and not interfere.

When I first became a people manager, a piece of advice I received was to ask two questions:

  • What motivates you?
  • What do you need from me as a manager so that you can be the best you can be?’

This enables an adult-to-adult conversation rather than a parent-child type of dynamic and encourages the team to take responsibility for their work, their objectives and their development.

Getting good at receiving feedback is an important skill. Just remember, feedback is a perspective. As a manager, having the confidence to ask people, ‘how did you think that meeting was?’ and ‘what could I have done better?’ is important. If we're able to receive feedback, then we're role modelling it for our team members too.

2. Creating a cohesive team

While a team is about getting things done (the what), a leader needs to keep the why and the how of the team in mind: working on the team, as well as in the team.

It’s important to remind ourselves why we exist as a team and to ask how we are doing as a team. Where are we strong, where do we struggle and how can we get better together? When someone joins or leaves the team, the dynamics can change and we need to make allowances for this.

Team meetings are a key way for the team to do its work. You can make these more effective simply by being clear about the aim of the meeting and making sure that it is relevant for all attendees.

One of the ways to do meetings well is to say ‘this is our meeting’ and ask others’ opinions on how they would like to see the meetings run. Your aim is to get everyone thinking about how you can do things better as a team. This may result in short regular team catch-ups (status updates), with longer brainstorming or decision-making meetings as separate events.

3. Dealing with difficult situations

When it comes to difficult situations, the best thing to do is lean into them, because they're usually more difficult when we think about them than when we're in them.

Difficult situations are usually people-related and are often caused by the difference between intention and impact when we communicate. If I'm saying something, I know what my intention is. I can try and gauge my impact by looking at how the person responds. They will know what the impact is because of how it’s landed, but they don't know what my intention is.

To get better at this, we can be very explicit about our intention. For example, when giving feedback to support growth and development, I could tell you that I really see your potential and want to help you reach that. So, I’m going to tell you some things I think you could have done better. But I’m not saying it to put you down, I’m telling you to help you grow.

4. Prioritising workloads

When new priorities come in, as a manager, one of your jobs is to manage the pressure gauge for the team. Where does it sit within the other work already on the team’s plate? What needs to be dropped?

It's okay to ask other people, especially more senior stakeholders, because they've got a different perspective. If there are two conflicting stakeholders, get them in a room together and ask how you can work together to make the situation work.

Encourage your teams to prioritise, but also let them know it’s not an expression of weakness to say: ‘I’m struggling, let’s have a chat.’

5. What to do if you’re an aspiring manager

First, it’s about being as good a team player as you can be. Show that you are interested in the team and are supportive of others. Practise your skills of receiving and giving feedback. And take opportunities to lead on initiatives or chair meetings.

Don’t be afraid to come forward with ideas. It can be useful to imagine that you already are a manager, but without the specific responsibilities, and start to behave in that way.

6. Don’t lose sight of what’s most important

My mantra for team leaders is: ‘Be kind, be clear, be connected.’ This is especially relevant when it comes to hybrid working.

Expect the best from people but be as accommodating as you can. Being clear is kind, so let your team know what’s expected of them and what good looks like. Being connected is about making sure you're available for your team and staying in touch with them on a regular basis.

The most important quality of a manager is not whether they’re competent or not, it’s whether they care and show that they care.

Developing high-performing finance teams

Chris Paterson is leading ICAEW's two-day course on how to develop and sustain a high-performance finance team in October.

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