When you are first starting out in your career, you will almost certainly have your fair share of different management styles – both good and bad! At this point, you probably aren’t thinking about wrangling promotion yet but this is an excellent opportunity to start learning more about how people conduct themselves at work.
There is no single look for a professional but there are a few things that some of the most successful people have in common. They are confident, they pay attention to detail and they know their own minds. Professionals give off plenty of signals that they are in charge – even if they are simply making a quick coffee!
So, if you want to shake off your innocence and start walking the route to management, here are a few things to consider to make you appear more professional.
If you are a naturally anxious person, you probably think that confidence is a bit like a jacket you put on – all superficial and performative. For anxious people, confidence requires rituals and fitting in. But, while getting your teeth whitened on Saturday and buying a brand new outfit might give you a confidence boost on Monday, maintaining that confidence requires a little more effort.
It’s true that people with perfect white teeth are generally considered to be more professional and are often rewarded with promotions ahead of their colleagues. However, if you hinge all your confidence on how your teeth look (or what you are wearing, how your hair looks or any other superficial detail), you will never look truly professional. Why? Because true confidence isn’t about how you look; it’s about how you feel.
A big part of professional confidence comes with experience. When you know your job inside out and you have a couple of successful years under your belt, it’s a lot easier to believe that you know what you are doing. Believe it or not, imposter syndrome doesn’t have to last forever if you are willing to face your fears. Once you start seeing your successes in a clearer light, believing in yourself doesn’t seem too unrealistic.
Until that point, if you want to appear more confident, it is possible to fake it until you make it. Ultimately, you build confidence by pushing out of your comfort zone and seeing that the world isn’t as scary as you thought. Try pulling your shoulders back and standing a little taller for a start and make natural eye contact when you can. If you catch yourself avoiding people, making yourself small or fidgeting, give yourself a little nudge and change your behaviour.
You can never see an awesome manager at work for one simple reason: the people they are in charge of don’t feel ‘managed’, they feel empowered. It’s a difficult trick to master but ultimately, good management comes down to staying calm, being attentive and providing the support the team needs to succeed. This is why confidence is so important – without innate confidence, none of these traits are possible.
Every job comes with some stress but some come with far more than others. Managers tend to experience more stress than the rest of their team because they aren’t just responsible for their own job, they are also responsible for everyone else. Inexperienced or poorly trained managers are apt to panic and may put their own failings on to their team rather than own up to their flaws and look for a solution. Fantastic managers do the exact opposite: they stay calm, they are true to themselves and understand their own limitations.
You may never be able to see an awesome manager in action but you can almost always see their work pay off. Teams made up of empowered staff tend to do significantly better than those who are constantly worried about their job. And this comes back to building confidence. A manager who can build their team up and instil confidence is likely to produce a number of great managers in their time too.
Supporting staff often comes down to listening. If there is one thing that irritates other people, it is the sensation of talking into a void, unable to get a message through or discuss anything with real purpose. When a professional manager listens, they don’t interrupt or make faces or stare into the middle distance, they make eye contact, nod to show that they are listening and may ask follow up questions to check that they understand. You know you have an outstanding manager when they admit that they don’t understand something or they don’t assume anything.
If you are ready to start working towards a management track, you need to show your intentions. The best way to do this is to ask for a little more responsibility to build your experience and expand your expertise. This can be a little more difficult in a small company but there is still plenty to learn and do. If nothing else, you can make your manager’s job easier by taking on some of their tasks and owning projects from start to finish without needing their constant supervision.
As you start your own journey, be mindful of the kind of professional you want to be. It’s no use taking your colleagues down and climbing over their bodies to get to a management position and then trying to be supportive! Any employee can empower those around them by sharing skills, offering support and being kind to those around them.
So what does a professional manager look like? In truth, they look like the person who knows what they are doing, the person who can rally the team and keep everyone going. Whether they are wearing a formal suit or a hoodie, no matter what their socio-economic background is, a good manager is always the person who doesn’t need to tell everyone what their position is.
Good management is a state of mind and anyone can learn how to do it.