New manager here - outside the office I am a socialite, inside the office I also socialize a lot, but by nature I have a very humble and almost "servile" demeanour when communicating within the company, especially when it's outside my own team.

Even when I need to ask for favors or require some cross-functional efforts, my normal approach has been to ask very carefully and courteously, showing I don't want to disturb anyone. My boss says this could come across as weak and make people think it's not so important. He also says that I should speak like a commander - not ask favors but ask to set a deadline for anything that needs to be delivered, and then argue if the other party tries to postpone too much.

Although nobody except my own team reports to me, my boss very likely says this because my function is crucial to the rest of the company and other teams are often expected to prioritize my or my team's requests - for their own benefit.

Now, in general and regardless of my specific scenario, do you think that as a new manager I need to start project the voice, demeanour, posture and other characteristics of a "commander"? Or is it fine for me to stay friendly, ask courteously and be servile?


You need to learn to manage your different "identities." You have your own personal identity that you have been working with, and there's nothing wrong with that. Keep going with who you really are in your personal and one-on-one relationships.

However, you now have a second identity: The team manager. When you are functioning in that role, you need to speak from and for the team. It's a bit of work to get this identity established, but you have to do it. Here's some things to start you off:

  • Do not make communications from "I" or "Me." Say "Our team," "The Widget Group," "Our department," etc. Be VERY careful that you do not slip into using the "Royal We." When you say "We" or "Us," make sure you are speaking on behalf of your team.
  • Predicate your resource needs with why they must be met in order to accomplish company goals. I.E.

    Attn: Purchasing Manager.

    As you know, we have a company directive to ship 1,000 widgets per week, and our team has been given responsibility for that.

    In order to to accomplish this, we will need to ensure that the purchasing department has ordered 5,000 widget shipping boxes and confirmed they will be delivered on or before the first of next month. This is required in order to meet the company directive.

    Please confirm that your department has placed this order and confirmed delivery dates for the shipping boxes by the 15th of this month. Please inform us if there will be any difficulty in meeting this requirement.

This way, you don't come off as ordering others who don't report to you around, but make it clear what your requirements and expectations are, and you have placed the onus on them to meet those requirements. Always respect the boundaries of their department and their leadership structure, but make it clear what your group requires, and that it is a requirement, not a request.

  • Track your deliverables from other departments. Know what you're going to need, and when. Budget some time to accommodate unavoidable delays, but if you know that the widget shipping boxes take 7 days to arrive most of the time, and you haven't gotten confirmation from purchasing on the 16th, you need to "Identify it as a risk" to your senior management immediately. You may have to do the dance a couple of times, but soon others will realize that if they blow you off, they'll just end up having to explain why they aren't meeting requirements.

Be direct. Be specific. Be consistent. Do those things, and you'll (likely) have little trouble long-term in getting the cooperation of other departments.

If your group does have the clout you say your boss says you do, then this should work well.

Now the flip side of all of this is that if your group has requirements placed on you, your group had better make the same effort to meet those requirements that you have placed on the rest of the company.

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  • Thank you Wesley - obviously your example was in written correspondence / e-mail; does the same apply for in-person communication? – BraveNewManager Aug 14 '14 at 7:43
  • @BraveNewManager - Absolutely. As a manager, you must speak for and from the team in meetings. – Wesley Long Aug 14 '14 at 16:13

A wise mentor once said to me this: Leadership has two parts.

  1. Make sure everybody understands the right thing to do and wants to do it.
  2. Let everybody do what they want.

He emphasized that if you neglect either of these, you have a big mess on your hands.

Your boss is urging you to speak with a commander's voice. But, that doesn't sound like a natural fit for your present leadership style. Commanding people is risky, because then they will do what they think YOU want rather than what THEY want. Most people want to do the right thing, and have a very good understanding of how to do it. If they do what they think you want, they might not do the right thing.

You describe yourself as servile. Lose that word and keep that attitude! A leader's job, especially a coordinating leader like you, is to serve the people doing the work and make them able to succeed. (You're also serving the customers, suppliers, and shareholders of your company of course.) You're serving them by making sure they, well,

  1. Understand the right thing to do and want to do it.
  2. Have the freedom to do what they want.

It sounds like your leadership style is to work on the first point -- explain, motivate, measure -- with great diligence and care. That is an excellent leadership style. You may have to say harsh things, like:

We have to ship this order by 2 pm Monday. Last time we shipped to this customer, there were 5% defective parts. We cannot do that again, or they'll be unhappy and our business will have serious trouble.

But then you have to say:

What does it take to get this order done right and ready to ship at 2pm Monday? Do you have what you need to get that done? What help do you need?

If there's a decision to make about how to do the work, usually it will be obvious which choice to make when everybody understands the right thing to do. If it is obvious, it's your job to name the decision: the right thing to do. If it isn't, then it's your job to decide crisply to overcome the indecision: to say something like,

Well, we could wait until Monday morning to pack everything, or we could pack each crate when it's ready. Let's pack each crate when it's ready.

By making decisions crisply and explaining them, you set people free to do their work.

Finally, when the team gets the job done, go around and say "I knew you could do it!" You can even say "what did you learn by hitting that deadline?"

Now look: if somebody refuses to understand the right thing, or does the wrong thing even when they know the right thing, then you have to exercise your authority. You may have to say, "do this job again, do it now, and do it right." You have to speak the truth to them, and maybe see to it that they aren't able to mess up your business. You may have to sack them. But these folks are very rare.

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You have to be yourself. It's going to be very difficult to pretend to act like a commander for very long. People are not going to respect this. What they do respect is being professional and polite. There's nothing wrong with asking someone nicely AND setting a deadline. You are in charge. They are accountable. Set expectations and consequences.

The key is, what are you going to do when someone doesn't do what you ask? I've seen yellers and screamers who still failed to confront people when there were problems. You'll just come across like a coward and a bully. Nothing commanding about that.

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As a manager, you have some built-in responsibilities toward your subordinates, your own management and the company. if you want to have more than a hope in hell to fulfill your responsibilities, you'll need to set aside your timidity and be as assertive as your job at times demands. As a manager, you can't do it by yourself.

The only way you can do it is by wprking through people. Ordering around the subordinates and sometimes your superiors (if you have a mandate from top management to get their cooperation) - that's just one option. Other options I use are trading favors, begging, cajoling, convincing, blackmailing, inflicting guilt trips - the whole McDonald's BLT of tactics with everything on it :) How do I sleep at night - very well, thank you for asking :) The only things I don't do are lying, cheating, acting unethically, mistreating people and treating them unfairly.

I am considerate of people (up to a point) but I am extremely aggressive about getting things done and meeting milestones and deadlines.

My management style works very well for me - It is based on my personality, preferences and the things that I need to get done. You need to come up with your own management style, where your management style does not clash with your personality but is drawn from it. A management style that clashes with who you are as a person won't work for you. For example, if you are low key, a bombastic management style won't work for you. If you are non-confrontational, you might prefer to wing by wearing down the opposition rather than crushing it outright. If you are not a screamer, then you might consider one-on-one conferences, which in my case I use as an equivalent of a dark alley.

Al Capone used to say that you can get a lot more done with a gun and a smile than with just a smile. :)

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  • I agree with working inside the framework of your personality. There are many styles of successful people. The first sentence is setting a negative tone and has unfortunately, attracted negative votes. – user8365 Aug 14 '14 at 19:00
  • @JeffO - I think the problem is that the OP is thinking in terms of "subordinates" instead of "Team Members" they are not your lessers they are the people who make it possible for you to get anything actually done. They are your team, you just happen to be the one driving the car, but with out your engine you are going nowhere no matter how hard you push the gas pedal. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 14 '14 at 21:26

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