How veteran leaders can adopt a ‘new manager mindset’

As I led a workshop this week for a group of experienced editors, I began with a wish for them: “May you think like a new manager.”

The concept was fresh in my mind, having spent the previous week leading a seminar for newbies. Make no mistake, the new managers had plenty of the time-honored anxieties: how to manage the shift from co-worker/buddy to boss, how to lead employees of all ages, personalities, experience levels and talent, and how to build credibility, trust and authority.

But here’s something that didn’t show up on their list of worries: the past.

Unlike tenured supervisors who wistfully recall leading in fatter times with richer resources, new managers think about the teams and tools they have today. They’ve always known some kind of technological disruption that requires new learning. Their souls aren’t scarred by the pain of presiding over past downsizings.

Their eyes are on focused on the future. They’ve been given the keys to the car and though it may be an economy model instead of the luxury beast of years gone by, it’s their ride and they’re all about the road ahead.

This isn’t a criticism of veteran managers. I believe their wisdom, born of experience, is needed more than ever. I just want them to remember how easy it is to filter today’s decisions through the prism of yesterday instead of tomorrow. Their conversations may be tinged with survivor’s guilt. They may hesitate to delegate, believing their doing-more-with-less staffers are at capacity and not noticing those who, in fact, are looking for new responsibilities. They may flinch at a promising new approach or idea, presuming people have chronic change fatigue.

That’s why I shared my wish with the veteran managers this week — that in addition to their priceless values, wisdom and experience, they enjoy the best of a new manager mindset. I want them to respect the best of the past and bring it forward, as though this were the day they were tapped to lead the team.

Sometimes, that new manager mindset comes when we move up or away to a new leadership role. That’s the case for the veteran editor who has helped me produce these leadership columns and podcasts and even the “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know” book that sprung from it all.

This will be the last column of mine that Julie Moos edits (at least officially — you know how writers stalk their favorite editors). Julie is moving to McClatchy as senior digital editor of its Washington, D.C. bureau. When I ran this column idea past Julie and twisted her arm to let me finish it with a word about her, we talked about how she’ll approach being a leader who’s new to an organization.

The editor who’s never at a loss for ideas and innovation told me she plans to listen and learn — to get to know the people, processes, products, priorities and yes, the politics of her new environment. In doing so, she’ll ask the outsider’s questions about why things work as they do, which is the very thing insiders can become too steeped in their environment to do.

For all of her experience, she still plans to bring a new manager mindset to work. May you do the same.

Here’s a podcast to help persuade you:

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  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    Hi Jill,

    If it’s not broke, then don’t fix it. The veteran leaders mindset has worked for decades now – how come suddenly it’s no longer good for us? How come all of a sudden all these veteran leaders need to change to adapt to the changing environment?

    We have posted about servant leadership before: http://www.pmhut.com/the-emerging-servant-leadership-paradigm but I’m personally not convinced that leaders need to change.

    Leadership is a characteristic and not a process. In my opinion, 90% of leadership is charisma, the rest is just best practice.