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So you have been handed over the reins of a department, a business or an organization. …. Now what? For many people the experience of making it to a management position can be rewarding and overwhelming. Particularly in the Native work environment, where the cultural dynamics of Native organizations can create unique challenges.

Some of the particular challenges that exist within Native businesses or organizations might include: The hierarchical structure of most modern organizations (where power and authority is held by one or a few people) which does not mirror traditional practices of many Native communities, where it is more of a shared responsibility.

Another consideration is when a manager must prioritize organizational needs over “people” needs. Many times it is difficult to grasp the impersonal element of management over their sensitivity to employees. Some Native employees may reject roles in management when they feel it compromises their traditional norms. However, today, many more Native employees are finding themselves in management and administrative positions.

Popular management theorists define the roles and responsibilities of a manager as: Planning, organizing, staffing, leading and controlling and has also grown to emphasize the motivational element as well. It now includes the roles of coaching and mentoring. These skills are not as easy to master as it may seem. Particularly for Native employees, there are many things that must be considered in their new role of a business manager, program administrator or department supervisor, and may not always be clearly defined.

The responsibilities of a new job position will certainly increase, as will the work load and stress levels. It can be a difficult and confusing transition for many employees. Adjusting to the changes are one thing, but maintaining your level of productiveness and the productiveness of your employees, while getting through some of these initial challenges may be the key to success in your new job.

Some tips for new Native managers:

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Make clarifications: Determine clearly what is expected of you, not only by your administration but by your employees as well. Review the specifics of your new job duties including your accounting and reporting responsibilities.

Do your homework: Learn about the experience of your predecessors, any particular challenges and problems in all levels of your business or organization. Review old reports and records to give you a picture of where the organization has been. Conduct informal interviews with staff to get an idea of what might be needed or understood in your new role.

Know your boundaries: If you are promoted from within your organization, you may have difficulty transitioning your role from co-worker and friend to supervisor or manager. You must remember to be fair and objective when dealing with all employees. You will be expected to act in a professional and responsible manner as a supervisor. Many people may be judging your behavior; this is how they will build trust and acceptance of your new role.

Maintain a good communication system: Keep the lines of communication open. Let your administrators know what is happening in your organization, including progresses and challenges. Keep your employees informed of organizational issues that involve them. Having a strong communication climate can enhance an organization’s success.

Be patient when implementing changes: Observe before you make changes, most employees will not respond well to immediate changes (unless they help to dictate those changes). It is better to review all processes and structures of the organization before implementing change.

Today it is important for tribal communities to encourage their businesses and organizations to place tribal members in key management and administrative positions. As many more Native employees are experienced, educated and qualified to take on these roles. Tribal leaders should strive to develop and support a full tribal workforce (rather then recruiting employees from outside the group). It can also be a way to ensure the respect and sensitivity to their individual cultural characteristics is honored. Tribal members have a vested interest in the success of their businesses and organizations. In most cases they will stay committed for the long run. It is important for the future development of, not only our organizations but our tribal nations as well.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at