Congratulations! You have been promoted and are now a manager for the first time. The learning curve on how to manage people can be steep. However, with an open mind, open heart, and constant curiosity, you will overcome.
You will find that everyone has opinions on how to do it correctly. There are blogs, training classes, and books galore. And while you can learn from all of those, the reality is you will mostly learn from doing and observing. You will develop your own unique style, and over time, that style will evolve and change as you gain experience.
Along your journey, you will inevitably make mistakes. You are human. What is important is that you learn, grow, admit your mistakes, and humbly move forward.
You may ask what qualifies me to share my thoughts on this? Over the last 15+ years, I have managed teams/departments as small as 1 and as large 70+. If there were mistakes to make, I made them. While I have made many mistakes, and continue to do so, one thing has held true for me; I always try to learn from them.
When you begin your journey into management, it’s essential to know that while you’ll make mistakes, not all mistakes are equal. Some mistakes can hold you back from having a positive impact on your team, the company, and your career. These are the mistakes that you’ll want to watch out for, identify early if they are happening, and adjust course.
A few that we will discuss are:
- Not admitting what you don’t know
- Not finding balance
- Not being flexible
- Giving directives instead of the direction
- Not being your authentic self
Not admitting what you don’t know
“I don’t know.”
“That’s a great question; how would you suggest handling that?”
“I’ve never encountered that before. Would you like to take ownership of researching?”
As uncomfortable as this may feel, grant yourself permission to not know everything. Just because you are managing a team, does not mean you are an endless well of knowledge. There is much power in saying “I don’t know” and learning how to do so in many different ways.
What is more important than knowing everything, is your team knowing that you will brainstorm the solution with them, that they feel empowered to find answers, and that they know it is also okay for them to not know everything (making it a safe place for everyone).
That is the message you send when you say you don’t know and partner to find the solution.
Not finding balance
I work long hours and have for years. It’s who I am. I enjoy working because I love what I do (as I sit here on a Saturday writing this). Be mindful of the indirect messages you send to your team.
If your team sees you working long hours in the office, they may feel like they need to as well. If you don’t ask for help, then your team may feel as if they can’t either. There are, of course, many consequences of not finding a balance (far too many to go into here). Some you can solve for, others you can manage the optics on.
A few tactics you can employee are:
- Ask for help. Perfect the art of delegation. I will be the first to admit, I am still horrible at this, but aware and doing better all of the time. Everyone is busy, and it is your job to not only drive outcomes through your resources but also provide others with learning and growth opportunities. What a better way to do so than tap those on your team to help you. You can achieve more with many hands.
- Partner with your team to set up the deliverables that must be done quarter by quarter. A great framework that I’ve now used for years is the OKR (objectives, key results) framework. What I have found is by using OKRs, we create transparency on what needs to be delivered and by when. As well, OKRs help make sure everything has a clear owner and also helps us know that we are all working on the right things to move the team forward.
- Set realistic deadlines and communicate when you can’t deliver. There are certain deadlines that you cannot miss (board meeting info) and those that can slip. Know the difference and how to balance between the two.
- Leave the office at a decent time every day and encourage your teams to do so as well. Yes, this matters.
Not being flexible
I am a sucker for great processes and systems. Seriously, I love finding the most optimal way to complete tasks, document it, iterate on it, and continue the cycle (wash, rinse, repeat). My brain is in a happy place when operations are running at an optimized state. While this has served me well over the years, it has also manifested another less desirable outcome, inflexibility (or the perception of).
Over the years, I have learned that there is more than one way to achieve similar outcomes (gasp) and have also learned to dig deeper into the things that I find myself holding onto tightly.
Figure out early what are the things that you won’t bend on. Then ask yourself why. Why are you not flexible on these topics? Is it because this is what you know and what you are comfortable with? Or is there a risk that you’ve experienced that you want to avoid? Always digging in on the whys will help you assess your next steps.
Giving directives instead of the direction
You’ve most likely been tapped to be a manager of a team because you are good at what you do. You are a domain expert. This is a very crucial moment in your career path. If you want to move beyond being just a domain expert and lead high impact teams, you need to empower those around you to take ownership of their destinations.
What does this mean? While you may know what needs to be done to achieve success, it will benefit everyone greatly if you provide a direction rather than a directive. Create a collaborative environment where everyone can be involved in solving problems. Help your team flex and build their strategic muscles. Rather than telling them exactly how to achieve the outcome, share with them what you are trying to solve for and collectively figure out the best route.
Not only does this empower everyone, but it also puts the onus of the outcome on the entire team, not just you.
Not being your authentic self
I am not saying throw caution to the wind here and share every single little thing about your personal life, but let your team know you. Be relatable.
If you come to work and are not yourself, fake, too professional, too this, too that, your team will see right through it. That will impact their trust in you. This is the first domino that tips, because if they don’t trust you, then the impact you can make as a leader will be greatly diminished and so on and so forth.
I am someone that genuinely cares about my teams, past and present. I still have relationships with many past team members, and they know that they can always come to me for just about anything, and many do. There isn’t any science that I can share on how to do this. This is something that has to come from within you.
By being your authentic self, you will increase the impact that you can make overall, as we tend to perform the best when we are true to who we are.
Just remember, your management style will change, be open to it. Learn your blindspots and surround yourself with folks that you trust that will call them out for you. Know that your management style will also change depending on the company and team you’re with. Different environments do require different approaches. And while this is true, it’s also important to remember to stay true to you.