Most new managers today are challenged to find ways to develop their management skills within the companies that promoted them. Fifty-seven percent of new managers learn to be a leader primarily through trial and error, which can be a hair-pulling, bumpy, wild ride. The new role often comes with little or no direction, not unlike being thrown into an icy cold lake and expected to deliver a team across to the other side (DDI 2011). This “sink or swim” method of management training can be hazardous to self-esteem, team morale, and to the company itself.
Would you like a life-raft for support? One very effective floatation device for new supervisors and managers for honing their management technique is to keep a daily management log or journal. There are dozens of remarkable benefits; I’ve outlined four of the most significant below, based on personal experience as well as feedback from people with whom I’ve worked and coached.
Fifteen years ago, I received my first promotion to a supervisory role at a real estate company. I attended a two-day management workshop, sponsored by my employer. I learned some basics in: conflict resolution, communicating motivation and deadlines, handling diversity, employee discipline, the importance of documentation, being tactful yet direct when delivering feedback, and some important labor laws. I didn’t realize at the time how rare the opportunity, nor how fortunate I was. My story is unique. Very few companies (including where I work today) offer such support. Somehow, the assumption is that a great, hard-working employee will naturally make a terrific manager.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a good management training program you’ll find that journaling will accelerate your learning and help you more quickly apply best practice techniques to challenging situations. If you haven’t had formal training, journaling will lead you to better decisions more quickly, help you overcome job stress, and promote effective planning.
Keeping a daily management log (or journal) does not fully replace a management training program. But it is easy to use, takes only minutes each day, is literally accessible right at your fingertips, low-cost, and will help you:
- Experience confidence — sooner,
- Ensure proper documentation takes place (a very common problem with new managers),
- Accelerate your ability to make sound decisions, and
- Prevent yourself from acting too quickly in thorny situations.
Also, a few pages of journaling each day is one of the most powerful ways that new managers can take responsibility for the evolution of their own management style.
- Keeping a log of difficult decisions. When a manager writes out the thought-process leading to an important decision, there is a greater chance that decision will be based on sound reason. Having taken the time to evaluate various options and opinions in a private journal before taking action boosts confidence. Plus, a journal serves as a natural feedback mechanism. The author can look back and reflect on their own choices. This alone can advance management growth exponentially.
- Writing out plans for improvement will help a manager implement new ideas without overturning the apple cart. Many employees have an ideal view of how their team or department should run. When they first receive the responsibility to oversee that team, it can be a difficult transition coming to terms with the reality of implementing their original ideas. A journal is a great place to work through that dissonance and develop mature strategies that improve the team’s goals not just for the short term, but for the long. Also, many managers realize after a few months, that there’s more to the job than they first imagined. Often, describing the challenges they face can help surface fresh ideas.
- Recording unusual events or anomalies. Any Human Resources Department will remind us that documentation is critical before (and especially in prevention of) taking legal action. There are times a manager should take note of a situation even if there is no action required in the moment. For example: an employee calls in sick for the fourth consecutive Monday, or a vendor makes a questionable remark. A journal can be a resourceful and informal log of events, should the manager need to escalate the situation, or provide factual examples in preparation for an employee performance review.
- Developing personal awareness. The best managers are those who are aware of their own biases and opinions, who make effective decisions based on clear thinking. A journal is precisely the place where most self-discoveries are made. It is a personal and private playground of thought, where one becomes powerfully acquainted with their own struggles, and takes responsibility for their limitations.
Making journaling a daily habit does not have to take too much time. Just 20 minutes, at a calm time of the day or evening, can grow a new manager into an experienced manager in a fraction of the time, and is far more effective than simply assuming auto-pilot. Journaling can also grow an experienced manager into a accomplished manager in the same ways.
Nathan Ohren is Director of Client Services for a worldwide software company in Santa Barbara, CA. He has been keeping a personal journal for over 27 years, and enjoys coaching people and facilitating groups for creativity and effective life management. Nathan is the founder of Write4LifeCoach, a resource for “passion, clarity, and purpose through journaling.”