What Great Bosses Know about Rookie Managers

As I write this column, we’re in the midst of a Poynter seminar for new managers. Our visiting faculty, Mae Cheng, Executive Editor of amNewYork and Lana Durban Scott, Director of News Strategy and Operations for E.W. Scripps, led a session with the 25 newsroom leaders from around the world. The title: “Tips and Trip-ups for New Managers: A Candid Conversation about What They Never Told You in J-School.”

Mae and Lana shared lessons from the early days of their successful careers. They also invited the group and other faculty in the room to share their best advice. I served as scribe for the group, and we assembled a list of the most important takeaways, which we turned into an instant handout for the group. I now turn it into a column for you, adding my notes in parentheses.

Here are 18 tips for rookies who want to become great bosses:

1. You can be a nice person, but you’ll still make people unhappy as a manager. It comes with the territory. (The lesson: Don’t stop being nice or fair, just understand that your decisions won’t be universally popular.)

2. The higher up the ladder you go, the more menial work you may do! (The lesson: Your job is to help people do their best work. Some times you do that by tending to the smallest details that get in their way.)

3. You are the air traffic controller of information for your group. (The lesson: Overcommunicate.)

4. You can no longer blame things on the other bosses. You need to find a tactful way to bring forward ideas you may not love. (The lesson: Lead in your own name.)

5. You need to learn how to be the advocate for your staff, saying things they may be afraid to say to those in authority. (The lesson: Learn how to manage your bosses.)

6. Identify “listening posts” in your newsroom. These are people of influence who will alert you to concerns and help you share important information. (The lesson: You need allies.)

7. Stay away from disseminating gossip. Information about personal lives, information that is hurtful to people, or internal decisions should be confidential. (The lesson: Trust is key to leadership.)

8. If your bosses aren’t good communicators, offer to help disseminate accurate information. It helps counteract gossip and rumor. (The lesson: Learn how to manage your bosses.)

9. Managing old friends is tricky. Explain your responsibilities and boundaries as a manager. (The lesson: The trust you built in good friendships should see you through the transition.)

10. Enjoy healthy social activities with staff, but behave as though you’ll be broadcast on YouTube and not regret it. (The lesson: You’re never really “off duty” when it comes to credibility.)

11. You can’t fix all problems, sometimes people just want to talk. Check: what would you like me to do with this information? (The lesson: Listen, ask, don’t assume.)

12. There’s no shortage of difficult conversations to be had as a manager. Putting them off doesn’t make things better. (The lesson: Learn to have tough talks. Don’t hesitate to practice in advance with another manager.)

13. You can’t ask people for respect, you have to earn it. Don’t be intimidated by employees with more work and life experience than yours. It may take time for you to build their respect. (The lesson: What they want to know is “what have you done for me lately?”)

14. Don’t be rigid and authoritative to prove you’re in charge. (The lesson: Know what management style and approaches work well for a variety of situations.)

15. Choose one thing that you love to do and keep that for yourself, so you have a happy place each day. (The lesson: You have a right to have fun at work, too!)

16. Don’t be afraid to take risks that can help you and your team grow. (The lesson: Your staff often comes together around challenging and important assignments.)

17. Your job is to be a calming force, not to let your out-of-control emotions negatively affect others. (The lesson: Leaders are contagious.)

18. Good mentors and support networks can be a great benefit to managers. (The lesson: Leaders need sounding boards and safe venting zones.)

I really like these tips — and at the same time, I hope they don’t frighten readers into thinking that being a great boss is an overwhelming burden or an impossible dream. In fact, in today’s podcast, I’m going to give you one more tip: how to sort through the advice and make it work for you.

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and everywhere. You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or to any of our podcasts on iTunes U.

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