Learning to make decisions as a new manager

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The level of responsibility handed to a new manager can be daunting, with people suffering under completely natural barriers when tasked with making decisions.

Many people hesitate, or want certainty before making decisions, for fear of making a mistake. Then there is fearing the consequences of making a poor decision.

“A lot of new managers are hesitant at making big decisions because they’re used to seeking approval and have that comfort blanket,” says Alastair Barlow, founder of accountancy practice flinder and a former PwC partner.

But Phanella Mayall Fine, an executive coach at The Executive Coaching Consultancy, points out, decision making is also in part down to personality, so there isn’t necessarily a single ‘off-the-shelf’ approach suited to all. “We all have a different blend of emotional and rational processes. When you’re a manager, self-awareness is key. Know your own decision-making style and ensure you surround yourself with colleagues and advisors who represent a different point of view. In that way, you can come to more balanced conclusions while staying true to your own intuition and beliefs. After all, it’s authenticity as a manager that motivates and drives your team forward.”

Grow your confidence

Again, depending on personality, some new managers will be more or less confident than others, but one thing  shared – and with senior managers also – is that everyone else is learning too, always.

“We should never judge our own internal monologue or self-talk against what we see externally of someone else,” says Fine. “While on the outside, it may seem as if other managers are confident and clear in their management style, the likelihood is that, for many of them, their confidence falters as much as yours, they just aren’t sharing that externally. So the normalisation of our state of mind often does a lot to increase our decision making confidence.”

Also important is how we cope, the often culturally inherited, yet hidden internal biases we carry around. “The fact that we are intimately acquainted with our own insecurities, tends to combine with our own leadership bias to hinder our ability to manage” says Fine. “For example, we tend to grow up with a particular view of what a manager looks like and how they behave. If we don’t conform to this view for some reason – for example in gender, culture or personality – then we can automatically dismiss ourselves as a credible management force. These biases are difficult to confront because often we’re not aware they exist.

“An online bias test, for example the Harvard Implicit Association test, can be a good place to start. Once you’re more aware of your biases, you can begin to work on breaking them down and accepting that leadership takes many forms, including yours.”

Experience – we all have it

There is also much to be said for the “little and often” approach: get used to making decisions and then reflect and learn from them, says Sue Stockdale, Senior Facilitator and Coach at Full Potential Group. “The more decisions we take, the quicker you learn about what ‘good enough’ means in your work. What are the things that are critical to pay attention to and what can you act on based on the best information you have at the time.”

Also useful is reflecting on times when you’ve made decisions in your life outside work. “We all make thousands of decisions in our lives but often don’t realise we are doing so, and are not aware of what method we used to make them,” says Stockdale.

Decision-making tips from the frontline

Jack Bunnage, technical reporting lead, Starr Companies: Using colleagues as a sounding board to give confidence to a decision.

Samuel Leach, assistant manager, EY: Making quick, effective decisions comes with experience. Mistakes happen, the trick is to not make the same mistake twice. I find the steepest learning curve is when you don’t have that safety net beneath you and you have to think on your feet. It’s the quickest way to learn and really gets the cogs turning. I always try to think it through rationally and foresee any reasonable consequences, at least then I can justify why I made a particular decision and if the outcome is something that was impossible to predict then you can’t really be blamed entirely.

Alastair Barlow, founder flinder (former PwC partner): Discussing with others before making a big decision is not just limited to new managers. At all levels, the approach should be to consult when making a big decision.

Sharan Hayer, manager, EY: I was in a small team prior to making manager and was given a lot of responsibility both internally within the team and also on client engagements, which helped with the transition to manager. The hardest thing is understanding the dynamics in different teams and how these work.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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