You may be the best at your job, but that doesn’t make you instantly prepared for a promotion in which you will be managing and leading your peers. Effective leadership is a skill that one develops over years of training, mentoring and experience. Think about the managers you’ve had in your lifetime — what did they do that you, as an employee, appreciated? What did they do that you didn’t like? Here are some tips to help first time leaders avoid failure or failing into classic traps like micromanaging and trying to be everyone’s friend.
1. Accept that you have much more to learn.
You may have worked very hard for your promotion, but being lifted up to a leadership position brings about lots of new responsibilities you may have never encountered before. A lot of what you will learn and do as a manager comes from first-hand experience. At first, you may be lacking the self-confidence required to lead your team. Learn from every work day and every interaction. Don’t jump to emulate others without thinking first. Instead, you should be humble. Humility is a great quality for the burgeoning leader, as you will be able to tackle this new work adventure with an open mind and the ability to learn from others, as well as your own mistakes.
2. Maintain clear and transparent communication.
Use printouts, emails and regular face-to-face or Skype meetings to keep your team well informed about business updates, projects, goals and important deadlines. Clear communication is a cornerstone to proper management and gaining the support and trust of your employees. Not only must you explain what needs to be done, but you should also explain why things are being done. On my team, I use a daily 15 minute standup to allow team members to share what they are working on and identify any potential roadblocks. Being clear about the reasons behind your decisions will make your employees feel more comfortable about them and about your leadership. Nobody wants to work for someone who is completely unpredictable.
3. Lead by example.
Hold yourself to the same expectations to which you hold your peers and employees. Maintain a consistent level of professionalism and business loyalty at all times. The attitude or demeanor of the leader can determine the attitude of the entire office, so if you expect an upbeat and supportive work environment, make sure that you act upbeat and supportive! If you hold your employees to nothing less than perfection on their reports, you better be triple checking your work for errors.
4. Always recognize a job well done.
To build a supportive and productive culture within your workplace, it’s important that your employees feel valued. An easy way to do this is to recognize and credit your employees when they do a good job. Show gratitude and spread positivity through recurrent recognition. Don’t only recognize the big wins, either. Showing thanks to the employees who clean up the anonymous mess in the break room or the team member who did something nice for a coworker who was going through a stressful time at home, can help create a positive team environment by showing them that you value initiative and good deeds.
5. Encourage and accept feedback.
Feedback from your team is one way you can become a better leader. Encourage an open-door policy whereby your team feels comfortable addressing concerns, ideas and opinions on workplace issues such as training and support. Don’t be stubborn. Really listen to what your team members say to you. Consider these opinions and what’s said in team and one-on-one meetings before you come to any serious decisions that affect the whole office. Through feedback, you can learn to play on your own strengths as a leader, and eventually develop your own unique style of leadership.
6. Establish a strong relationship with your team.
Sometimes a leader thinks they’re empowering their team members, but instead they’re just micromanaging. No employee likes to be micromanaged, and this practice often leads to lower levels of motivation and productivity amongst your team members. Establishing a good level of rapport between yourself and your employees is necessary to fostering a supportive and productive work environment.
Get to know your employees and see how they’re doing in both their careers and their personal lives. In your first few months in a leadership position, you may feel you want the constant security that comes with micromanaging. This urge to control can be resolved by establishing rapport and building trust among your team. When you know and trust your team members to do their jobs, you will no longer feel the need to micromanage, and they will do a better job.
7. Invest in your team’s future.
How often do you hear about a business growing and succeeding due to making cuts? Make proper use of your yearly budget to invest in technologies, team building and training and development programs that will strengthen your team and your business in the coming years.
8. Find a mentor.
You are completely responsible for your own success, but if you are lucky, you will find someone with years of experience in the position to which you have been promoted, to take you under their wing and advise you. The training you receive at work will only teach you so much. Finding an experienced leader in your line of work to coach or mentor you can help you see issues coming and avoiding the subsequent pitfalls that are familiar to first-time managers.
9. Be productive.
Above all else, be productive and foster a work environment that values productivity. Keep meetings short and focused on objectives. Don’t go off on tangents or get distracted from those objectives. Remember that your success as a leader is dependent on the overall success of your team.
These are just a few practical and easy-to-follow tips to help a first-time manager become a better leader and foster a supportive and productive work environment. Remember the difference between a leader and a boss: a boss gives orders and takes credit for the whole unit; a leader is one who shares the spotlight and is comfortable crediting others for their hard work. It’s up to you to decide how to manage your peers and whether you want to be a leader or just a boss.