first time manager

I was promoted in April last year to a team leader at MPOW. Thinking about the last eighteen months I have worked out that the two best things you can do as a manager are:

  • listen
  • ask open questions

Not to belittle any of the management theories etc, but those are the two most practical things that I think I can do to help my team.

Listening is difficult – I certainly find it very difficult most of the time not to tell people what I think they should do. The other thing I find difficult about listening is remembering what they’ve said afterwards.

Open questions are also important, in order to let them talk around the subject. I once did a really difficult exercise where we had to pick a subject and then ask the other person five closed questions, to which they could only answer and not say any more, and then ask five open questions. It’s surprisingly difficult to just answer a series of closed questions, but it does make you appreciate the difference between the two. Combine this with listening (or being silent and not jumping in) and you can then find out what the other person wants/thinks/plans/worries about etc.

Managing is all about the other person, not me.

The other thing I do to help me with these two points is take a drink with me to any meeting. I was told years ago when talking about open and closed questions, that all an interrogation is is being asked questions and silence to force you to answer. The only difference is how the questions are asked. Personally I find having a sip of my drink makes any silence less threatening for the other person. Although this may just be in my mind and make no difference to the other person!


  1. Although I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written above, something appears to be missing. Open questions are in vogue but are sometimes unappreciated by the person being questioned. You can get the feeling that the person asking the questions if fishing for information without wishing to reveal anything about their own thinking. Sometimes people want a manager to manage not to probe.

    I guess it all depends on what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes feelings aren’t important and it’s all about finding solutions. And few things are as frustrating as somebody asking fluffy questions when you are trying to get cold hard information. Managers of the world, embrace your left brains!

    • Alun, I never said anyone should use open questions all the time! It’s always a balance and you should ask questions back!

  2. Interesting comments. In my experience the biggest challenge, and possibly greatest measure of success, is getting the balance right between , on the one hand, listening and encouraging comment and opinion and, on the other, being confident and prepared to make decisions. I err on the side of the former, but have a sneaking admiration for benevolent dictators!

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