The Rookie Manager: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing (But I’m Trying to Get Better)

March 13, 2013

i have no idea what i'm doing dogBy far the hardest thing to adjust to in my new job has been being a supervisor instead of just being my own department. This far surpasses the Bronx vs. New Canaan, giant system vs. small town library, and even full-time vs. part-time differences in what I do on a day-to-day basis and how I feel about my job.

Before starting with NYPL, this was the entirety of my supervisory experience:

  • A semester-long stint as the supervisor of the student staff of the front office for the residence hall where I lived in college
  • Leading Teen Advisory Board groups at my last job
  • A year-long term as chair of Amazing Audiobooks
  • About a year and a half of managing The Hub
  • I also read and loved and really took to heart From Good to Great, although as inspiring as that book is and as helpful as it was at my last job when I was creating a vision/strategic plan for my department, it’s more about leadership and less about supervisory/management work

It’s not a lot, but this is one of those “How are you supposed to get experience when you have to have experience already to get hired?” kinds of situations that I think a lot of job-seekers find themselves in. I’m grateful to NYPL for seeing potential in me and offering me this job, and I’m determined to live up to the idea that I can do this, and do it well.

But right now, I am definitely in the stage where I have a lot to learn, and I’m trying to learn quickly. Some of what I’m lacking is knowledge (how NYPL does certain things, details on what my staff members’ strengths and weaknesses and interests are, “best practices” for different supervisory situations), but I think a lot of what I’m lacking is also experience, which will only come from time and handling situations as they come up.

The last two weeks have been pretty exhausting: a couple different situations that predated my arrival came to a head and I’ve had to lead my team through them. It’s been trying, and I’m still not sure I made the right decisions or talked to people the right way, but I’m trying my best and I’m also trying hard to be self-reflective and to learn as fast as possible.

And that’s definitely one lesson I’ve learned so far about supervisory/management work: you have to know yourself really well. When you’re working on your own or someone else is managing you, you may not be as aware of your shortcomings or your strengths, but when other people are depending on you, you have to learn what you’re good at doing (I like the puzzle of trying to put together schedules, which is good, because holy cow am I spending a lot of time on schedules of every kind) and what you’re not as good at doing (the people side of things is tough for me; I’m not sure I’m always great at striking the right tone or saying the right thing, and I have to consciously think my way through what other people are feeling and the best way to talk to them based on that). My staff members approach their jobs differently than I do, and I need to understand those differences so I can communicate effectively and get them excited about where I think we can take our department.

But knowing thyself is hard, right? You don’t know what you don’t know, and self-reflection is especially difficult because you spend so much time with yourself that it’s hard to be objective. It’s like when you’ve been working on a paper for so long that you just can’t see it from anywhere but the inside, except even more extreme. (And while you might have an editor who can help you transform a paper into something impressive, I think life editors are harder to come by!)

So because I’m still adapting to my new role and because I have a lot to learn, both about supervisory work and about myself, I’m really looking forward to this management training program NYPL does called Managing for Excellence. We had a kick-off meeting a week and a half ago and starting today, we have full-day trainings once a week for nine weeks, and then we’ll do a presentation of a group project at the end.

The first training session (today!) is called “Your Role as a Manager,” and we’ve been asked to bring in a quotation, poem, or book that’s meaningful to us plus two objects that either represent something we’re proud of or that we think are beautiful just on their own. Next week’s session is “Developing Self-Awareness Through MBTI and Emotional Intelligence,” and we’ve been given log-in codes to take those tests/inventories ahead of time. I’m really looking forward to having some guidance in examining who I am and how I operate and what that means for how I manage.

Obviously as much as I’m looking forward to these sessions and as grateful as I am that NYPL invests in its managers (and potential managers — Managing for Excellence is something your supervisor recommends you for, and you don’t have to already be a manager to be enrolled), I recognize that it isn’t going to magically give me years of experience and wisdom or solve all of my specific problems and uncertainties. But I am hopeful that I’ll learn some new things and that the process and structure of being in this training course will help me to be more reflective and intentional on the job so that I can gain that wisdom and experience as quickly as possible.

I want to be a good supervisor and a good leader for my department. Any advice?

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12 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Erin  |  March 13, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Gretchen – yo! I think that you are so open to learning all you can about management and taking every piece of advice thrown at you is evidence that you will be an amazing manager! You are going into this not pretending like you know everything, and you are open to new ideas and self-aware about what your potentials strengths and short-comings might be. You are going to rock this! :)

  • 2. Gretchen  |  March 13, 2013 at 11:13 PM

    Thanks, Erin! I’m glad you have confidence that I’ll get there eventually. I just want to be as non-terrible as I can until I’m competent, you know?

  • 3. Cassie  |  March 13, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    Gretchen, I am totally with you on this. When I started as Director, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but the last year has been exhausting, exhilarating, confusing, and amazing! My advice would be communication, communication, and more communication. You need to follow up with people, make sure they understand your expectations, and talk through complaints, concerns, questions, etc. every single day. As a manager who cares, you are really going to be very hard on yourself and you will have to deal with people not liking you when you have to make tough decisions or even make a mistake (because they’re inevitable). In my experience, remembering what I have done well, what I have done right, has been the hardest part. Make sure you take care to give yourself pats on the back and remember all the good you are doing! It’ll get better as you get more comfortable too. If you ever need to ask a question, vent, or bounce off an idea, feel free to send me a message. I’d be happy to help.

  • 4. Gretchen  |  March 13, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    Holy cow, Cassie, I’m really glad to know someone else feels the same way. And hooray for your first year being at least some parts rewarding!

    I will almost definitely be coming to you for help at some point. Right now, most of what I’m dealing with isn’t really something that I can put into words other than “oh god what am I doing,” but as soon as it gets more specific than that, you are my gal. Thank you!

  • 5. Jim Withington  |  March 15, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    We did a lot of “talking about communicating” and my last full-time position. Two things I thought were huge:

    1. The book “Time to Think” by Nancy Kline. Now, it’s a lot about how to run meetings; however, the underlying principles have to do with giving people time to talk about what they need, and getting really great at listening, as a result.

    2. We talked a lot about thinkers vs. feelers. The way you describe yourself–and the fact that you used the word think 9 times and didn’t use feel–makes me think you might fall on that thinking side. Part of meeting people where they are is using the language of the person you’re talking to. My buddy Ben is a thinker, and I am a feeler, and he realized that dealing with all of the feelers at our job (including me!) was much easier when he started saying “What do you feel about” or “I feel that….” in addition to “What do you think about…” and “I think that.” It’s a lot to think about, but it’s amazing how much easier it is to just pepper your words with both once you’re aware of it.

    p.s. Gosh, I miss being a coach sometimes.

  • 6. Gretchen  |  March 16, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    Thanks, Jim. I’ll see if I can find that book!

  • 7. Ariel Cummins  |  May 26, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    So behind on my internets!

    This is a great post, Gretchen! Just remember, everybody had to start managing somewhere. Your self-awareness puts you loads ahead of many, many managers.

    Do you read It’s pretty awesome and not just about management, but about workplace stuff in general.

  • 8. Gretchen  |  May 27, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    Thanks, Ariel! And yes, I’m totally hooked on Ask a Manager (both as a supervisor and just as an employee!). I’m also enjoying Library Lost and Found, and I’ve heard good things about Rands in Repose and Seth Godin’s blog, though they’re not library-specific.

  • 9. Ariel Cummins  |  May 28, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    Awesome! Even though I don’t have any direct reports, I think reading about management makes it easier for me to talk to my managers!

  • 10. Gretchen  |  May 28, 2013 at 5:27 PM

    Holy cow, yes! Being a supervisor has made me think about past and present bosses TOTALLY differently.

    I think that Sarah Flowers’s series on the YALSAblog, “What Your Manager Wishes You Knew” (part 1, part 2, part 3) has been really helpful at giving a peek behind the management curtain to front-line staff.

  • 11. Reflections | Things I Kn&hellip  |  December 8, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    […] Photo credit:… […]

  • 12.  |  August 9, 2017 at 10:48 AM

    Librarified » The Rookie Manager: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing (But I’m Trying to Get Better)

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