ARE you a new manager? I am sure you are excited about your new role. For the first time in your career, you have a few people reporting to you, and you want to do your best to be a great manager.

While you are happy about your promotion, you are also feeling a little anxious. For example, you are still not too sure about managing your relationship with John who used to be your co-worker but is reporting to you now.

Then, there is Neal who has not been performing well for the last few months. How are you going to get him to improve?

Sometimes, you feel your team is not moving fast enough. You feel impatient but are afraid to confront them as you still want them to like you. After all, aren’t great managers supposed to be loved by their people?

If these questions keep you awake at night, you are not alone. Managing people is a fascinating area and everybody struggles and learns with experience. As you can see from the variety of complex situations people face daily, there are no magical answers for every situation.

However, there are some principles that can help managers confront challenging issues. As someone once said: “How to think is more important than what you think.”

Let’s call these principles the Five Golden Rules for managing people.

The first two rules ask you to “look inside”. Once you know yourself well, the third and fourth rules help you focus on your people. And the final rule is about enjoying the journey. 

Rule No. 1: Know yourself

Greek philosopher Socrates said: “Know thyself”, and it still remains the first step in any journey of discovery.

Knowing oneself includes asking and answering questions like “Why do I work?” and “How does my work fit in with my dreams?” It also means discovering your strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities available to you, your operating style and how you handle stress.

This information is important on two levels. First, knowing yourself is key to helping you succeed in the long term. Unless you succeed yourself, how will you help others to succeed?

Second, knowing yourself can help you to help your people manage their boss — you. For example, if you know you are not good at poring over details or energising the team with creative activities, you can figure out a way of getting people in your team to fill the gap. No one is good at everything, so the key is to accept it and ensure you put the right people in the right places to get the job done.

Rule No. 2: Define your role

Sometimes, newly promoted managers may  fail to ask: “What should I focus on now?”

Coupled with your inclination to gravitate towards what you know best and are comfortable with, you tend to do more of what made you successful earlier.

Thus, the manager who was great at managing and tracking the budget, continues micro-managing budgets even when she has someone reporting to her now.

She failed to ask herself: “What does my role as manager demand from me now, which is different from my past role?” If she did, the answer  may be: “Coach my team member to manage the budget even better than I did  so I can focus on defining whether the overall budget  is appropriate and is spent on the right priorities.”

This inner dialogue will also trigger questions on new skills the manager needs to acquire to perform her role effectively.

Perhaps, earlier relevant skills were her ability to track multiple details and a timely response to budget issues, whereas the more important skills for her current position would centre on knowing how to arrive at budget priority allocation and overall budget size benchmarking.

Once the manager realises what her new priorities are, she is no longer a prisoner of past excellence but is focused on creating the future. This is liberating not only for her but for the subordinate who finally has her own space to shine.

Tomorrow: The next three golden rules