The First Time Manager Dilemma, How Do You Gain Respect?


How Does A Young Manager Gain Respect?

I am a young, newly promoted sales manager who stepped into what feels like a mine trap. I have been appointed to a brand new store filled with employees who lack professionalism and seem to be all out for themselves. I am the youngest associate to ever be promoted into a management position for our company and I feel like I have to make a name for myself by showing that I can make something of this responsibility that’s been given to me. My employees are all older than me, so trying to establish myself as someone that they can count on seems like a major task. Clearly, many of them have an issue working under someone who is younger than themselves. Not to mention the very first day, when our regional manager came to welcome me to the store, the associates were poorly dressed, not occupying themselves with their job whatsoever, and just sitting at our podiums talking amongst themselves. There is obvious work to be done, and I would really like to smother these bad habits before they become the norm. AngelCakes in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

AC, you’ve got your work cut out for you. I wish I could say the next three to six months were going to be easy, but they’re not.

The best advice I can give to you, and any young manager taking over in their first leadership roll, is this: be firm; be fair; and stick to your guns.

The truth is, that no matter how old you are, you want to be led. You want someone, anyone, to provide a vision and a direction that will help you get through your day. Luckily for you, you have salespeople to direct. It might actually be worse if these were front line, union welders or truckers with little regard for their career paths and the protection of a union.

Establish Some Ground Rules

Start right now and establish ground rules. Don’t worry about the feelings of your charges – you owe it to your company to maximize your resources, including labor – the good ones will accept you and the bad ones will terminate themselves.

Tell them exactly what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. Explain the rewards for complying and the punishment for disobedience. I know it’s harsh to see a word like “disobedience” in a leadership development post, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Be prepared to, indeed, break some eggs. Decide right now who is worthy of keeping and who needs to go. Give everyone the same chance, but prepare for the loss of those that simply do not want to succeed under any circumstances. Remember that this is not a popularity contest and put your ego in check.

Make sure they understand that you would love for this to be a happy and productive workplace, but short of that, it will at least be productive. Make sure they understand that the ball is in their court. They can all earn more money, get promoted or achieve whatever cachet they seek, provided they allow you to help make them successful.

You Are The Support, They Are The Superstars

Tell them early and often that they are the real heroes of your store, and that you are only there to support them. Then, be prepared to live it.

Your only goal, both stated and actual, is to make them successful. If they succeed, you succeed – though no one is going to succeed if they treat the entire day like one long coffee break. (This is where the ground rules come in.)

What they wear, how they act and how much they sell are all part of the expectations you set early on. If they live up to their part of the bargain, then you will live up to your part – you’ll help them get promoted, you’ll help them close a sale or two, and you’ll go to bat for them when it’s time for raises.

Has This Approach Ever Worked?

At 16, I was promoted to the manager of concessions at our local minor league baseball stadium. I had worked the previous summer in the concessions group, and took over as manager in my second year. (This means that I am celebrating my 30th year in management.)

My crew consisted of 30+ teenagers and senior citizens, all of whom were older than me. To make matters worse, my 19-year old sister and my 18-year old best friend also worked for me.

To make a very long story very short, I was not a great first-time leader, though by the end of the season we had reduced labor costs and increased sales to a level not previously seen by the ball club. Had I not decided to be a lifeguard the next summer, I would have earned a nice raise and would probably still be working in baseball.

During the course of the season, I fired both my sister and my best friend. Because both firings were clearly warranted, I only suffered about 3 weeks of angry stares from the two of them. However, the respect I gained from the rest of the team by setting expectations and getting rid of the two people considered to be the greatest troublemakers was immeasurable. (Once someone sees you fire your own sister, they pretty much tow the line.)

Have Fun

The best part about that summer in the minor leagues is that by the end of the season we all had fun.

There is an old saying that “sales cures all ills.” Like many old sayings, this one is true. You will be amazed at how a little success can go a long way toward invigorating your team to want more. It’s like blood to a shark; they will begin a feeding frenzy for success that you will be unable to stop.

So, AC, my advice to you is this (I like bullet points):

  • Deliver the ground rules
  • Set the expectations (for you and them)
  • Live the vision (which includes awarding punishment, when warranted)
  • Have fun

The last bullet point will happen all by itself if you succeed on the first three.

Good selling!

(Note from TheManager: To read a related series about the first steps a new manager should take, please follow this link.)