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Role conflict – manager’s initial 100 days

I decided to address the topic of the role conflict, because I often encounter this issue when talking to clients. Many of the mistakes that they could avoid need not only a good understanding of the topic of changing the professional role, but also requires being more attentive to the emotional and behavioral aspects of the process. We sometimes forget that a man is primarily an emotional being, and rationalization of choices and decisions is a secondary process. This is crucial to our functioning not only within the family but also in the professional environment. It is impossible to leave the emotion area when entering the workplace and suddenly become another personal construct – a rational automaton that left the emotion at home. That does not work because man is an unified system that combines mind and emotions. The sooner the manager becomes aware of this characteristic, the sooner he or she will begin to build his/her long-term management effectiveness.

When we look from a larger perspective on our career or personal life, we see some regularity – a series of cycles of ups and downs that are in a specific order: Change (crisis) – stabilization and improvement – formation (preparation for change) – change (crisis).

Looking from this perspective, it is impossible not to quote the classics “The only constant in life is change.” Crisis situations bring a root of development potential to the picture, which, if developed, shifts us into a qualitatively different area of operation, but also entails a risk of failure. Risks, which often come from the tension between the need to introduce new ways of thinking and acting, and the desire to stop what is known.

Hence the topic of the role conflict, or more specifically, one of its aspects – namely, the acquisition of a new professional role by the manager.

Role conflict

Promotion for a management position is not only associated with a set of lucrative benefits, but above all with a change in expectations for the social functioning of the organization. Management is after all a representative of the mindset and decisions made by the company’s executives. To put it plainly, behaviors towards colleagues from work that were still accepted yesterday, must today be permanently deleted from the so-called „basic set of behaviors” and converted into different one. The difficulty in the first stage after promotion is the synchronization of two processes: social and individual.

From the social perspective, which I would compare to digital (that is, zero – one) on the day when a colleague becomes the boss the professional environment’s expectations changes immediately. This is not uncommon, as the relationship with colleagues from work changes from vertical to horizontal. This means that while being members of one team, people stay in the relationship with each other. After the change, however, the structure of this relationship is transformed, which results in significant consequences in the way individuals function in the group.

This goes hand in hand with the expectations of the superiors, who require the promoted person to change his perspective from the employee to the manager, which is linked to a change in his or her day to day work in the professional environment.

However, from a personal perspective (of the person promoted to managerial position) this change takes time, because it often involves redefinition at the level of the value system – so it is analogous. It is easy to see here a dependency which is one of the underlying causes of a role conflict – a shift in time between the fulfillment of the ambient expectations of the individual (on the one hand) and the ability of the individual to meet them (on the other). By complementing this diversity of individual readiness to change personal patterns that are at the foundation of its functioning in the professional world, a full context of role conflict begins to emerge as a situation where role requirements do not meet the characteristics, desires, and capabilities of the individual to fulfill them.

The internal contradiction that arises as a result of new professional circumstances will be resolved by redefinition of oneself, introduction of new ways of functioning and elimination of those which are not accepted by the organization on the new position. It is worth remembering that the speed of this adaptation is a matter of individual factors and an organizational environment that is not always supportive.

Manager vs employee – what changes when I become a part of the management team

I’ve been running leadership development programs in international organizations for over a dozen years, which include a workshop component in which participants define their expectations with respect to their superiors and to themselves.

Here are the answers to the question – What are your expectations toward your supervisor? – those, which appear most often (words were not edited – they come straight from the flip chart):

• Support

• Motivation

• Inspiration

• Honesty

• Flexibility

• Tolerance

• Coherence

• Reliability

• Building trust

• Clear and precise job outsourcing

• Communicating specific expectations to subordinates

• High personal standards

• Compliance with rules and regulations

• meeting deadlines

•  Reliability

• Push out of the comfort zone

• Sharing responsibility

• Submission of important tasks

• Joint development planning

• Concrete and accurate feedback on a regular basis

• Create a platform for sharing information and sharing ideas

• Time to listen to the opinions of subordinates

• Drawing conclusions from both successes and failures

• Create team creativity

• Caring for teamwork

  • Celebrate success together

And now the answer to the question: What a supervisor should never do?

• Give promises without coverage

• Respond to colleagues’ emotions

• Manipulate information and subordinates

• Use subordinates to handle his job

• Charge subordinates with private matters

• Not respect the arrangements and rules that apply in the team

• Use information about the personal life of a subordinate at work

  • Treat iunequaly – favorable

• Make subordinates hostile to each other

• Exaggerate his merits

• Crossing out subordinates after a single “slip”

• Depreciate goodwill

• Criticize his superiors

• Gossip

  • Arouse unnecessary emotions

And the last question: What do I expect from other members of the management team?

• Honest communication

• Sticking to agreements

• The implementation of established decisions

• Delivering duties entrusted

• Deadlines

• Open communication within the team management

• Feedback, even if it is difficult to accept

• Information in advance

• Direct communication

• Respect

• Looking for solutions to the situation

• not complaining about the organization in the presence of subordinates

• not transferring tension and emotions between levels

• Being focused on the interests of the company, not the particular interests of the departments

By reading these statements it is impossible to refrain from the impression that moving from an employee position to a managerial position requires a lot of work and commitment to the personal change process.

What to keep in mind when going through the role conflict?

Going through the role conflict, it is worth remembering a few points that will make it possible to run faster and to deal with less emotions.

Colleagues became subordinates

Maybe not from mine, but from the perspective of my colleagues I became their representative to the board and the representative of the board before them. This means that they have specific expectations from me that they want to be fulfilled from day one of my new position. It is worth talking to each of them individually about the change in this perspective to establish the rules for cooperation in the new constellation.

I represent the management of the company and I represent it to my subordinates

From the first day of work in a new position I start to think of myself as a representative of the management. What yesterday was allowed to me today can be interpreted as abuse of power. This includes behaviors like cynicism, joking with colleagues, criticism of board ideas, gossiping, etc. It is worth remembering that the manager is always in the spotlight. Subordinates expect the boss to be in a good mood, have the time and energy to motivate subordinates, is open to suggestions, flexible in action, etc. Just as if they forgot that the boss is also a man and worse days happen to him too. It may be fun, but one mistake of the new manager and a scratch on the image will remain for a long time.

I am an example of the principles I am implementing to others

“To lead others, you must first lead yourself,” writes Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence in Practice”. It is worth remembering that if I want somebody to follow certain rules, I should myself set an example. Only then do I establish a relationship of true leadership to my subordinates. I do not have to talk about the rules that I follow at the time, because my behavior testifies it. If, however, I demand from others and I do not follow them myself, they will immediately begin to interpret this behavior as abuse of my position and conduct not fair to them.

Employees have to respect me first, then they can like me. Being a manager, I am entrusted with a specific area of responsibility – delivering results with the use of my resources. Often these resources are not enough and a trap is emerging that threatens new managers. A newly appointed head starts to take on too many tasks, because implementing a team member in a new area would require changing his or her current responsibilities, and this in turn may involve potential dissatisfaction. As a consequence, the manager’s time is running out, he is tired and inefficient, because he works in two roles on a single job – an employee and a boss. This situation is irreconcilable in the long run, so it is good to start reorganizing the team so that new goals can be implemented in the new configuration, focusing on the most effective transition from this difficult period of conflict.

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