Managing people can be extremely rewarding, but it’s not without its challenges. It’s important to establish some boundaries regarding the relationships you have with your direct reports. Through our management training and leadership development programs, Career Partners International (CPI) has over thirty years’ experience helping new managers grow, thrive, and increase contributions to their organizations. Learning how to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries with employees is central to the development of every new manager.

People you manage can’t be the friends you go out for drinks with after work on a regular basis, even if you did so previously. It’s reasonable to arrange occasional social events with your direct reports—and as the boss, you can expect to pick up the check—but it would be wise to keep it to a minimum.

Another part of maintaining appropriate manager/employee boundaries involves the way you present yourself at work. Make sure your attire, behavior, and communication style are all professional. Consider, too, the kind of management style you want to adopt. Do you want to be a very hands-on manager? Do you want to be a laissez-faire manager? Determine what the right role is for you, your people, and your organization’s culture. Keep in mind that with your new responsibilities you’ll be reviewed on your capabilities as a manager. Take some time to reflect on the managers you had who were the most effective—regardless of their age—whose style you could learn from and emulate. Additionally, think of the managers who you found ineffective and consider how to avoid those pitfalls.

Focus on what the essential role of a manager is: ensuring that your employees have the skills, tools, support, and energy to understand and succeed at their responsibilities and to remain engaged with the organization. In this role, you will be providing reviews of your team members’ contributions and areas for them to develop. It’s crucial to provide feedback to employees in the right setting.

Work on making sure your communication and actions are framed positively. The difference between thinking of your job as supporting employees’ success vs. catching them doing something wrong will help you establish appropriate relationships. Regardless of age of the new manager, everyone must establish an effective management approach—you want to be supportive and focused on development vs. nitpicking and finding everything that’s wrong with your employees’ performance. You also don’t want to take the overly agreeable approach of letting people go early or come in late as a way to build allegiance to you as a leader. Professional is your key focus.

New managers especially need to pay extra attention to confidentiality. There are a number of things you can no longer discuss with your coworkers that you may have formerly discussed over lunch or a break. You and your team need to recognize this shift, so that your employees don’t put you in a position of asking for more information than you’re able to give.

If your relationship with your employees is overly casual and friend-based, you might experience challenges to your authority or unprofessional reactions to feedback. If you are too aloof, you are not presenting your authentic self, which is key to good workplace dynamics. Managers want to have good relationships with the people they work with. This means understanding and acknowledging who they are outside of work on a regular basis; it does not mean being best friends who share everything over cocktails. A supportive and understanding management style will help build long-term successful relationships, exceptional productivity, and long-term success with employees of any age.

Strong managers lead to strong teams that are more effective and contribute more to an organization’s goals. CPI is committed to providing a range of assessments, manager training, and leadership development programs to develop strong managers, leaders, and teams in support of successful organizations.

By Elaine Varelas, CPI Board of Directors Treasurer and Managing Partner at Keystone Partners

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