Stepping up: how to thrive in your first (or new) management position

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Article by Sarah Danzl, Head of Global Communications and Client Advocacy, Degreed

Author Henry Mintzberg once said that, “Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.”

This perfectly encapsulates the expectations facing today’s managers. They must motivate their teams, translate organization and team strategies into the day-to-day, and act as the bridge between senior leadership and the wider organization. This is a challenging task, for several reasons. Almost a quarter of managers (24%) are given no training or preparation for their new role. And these managers are getting younger. The average age for a manager is 33 years old, but some as young as 24 years old are being promoted.

I was a young manager. I was put in charge of a small team in my mid-twenties. Since then, I have led teams as small as 2 and as big as 14. Some people are natural leaders — born managers — but I was not. With this in mind, I want to share some lessons I’ve learned over the years in the hope it’ll help you thrive in your new manager role.

Continuously upskill yourself

No manager should ever stop learning. You are never a perfect manager. Set aside regular time in your diary to hone your current skills and learn new ones.

Sometimes people are put into management positions because they excelled as an individual contributor, not necessarily because of good people manager skills. It happens. In this case, it’s important to keep upskilling in essential manager skills like communication, project management, and change management. Find someone you believe to be a good manager and watch their behavior, emulate the strong skills they have.

Find a mentor and be one

One way you can build skills is through mentorship. A mentor, or better still a team of mentors, can provide guidance for your career and what skills you need to build. It’s actually been suggested that you need five different types of mentor in your life: the master of craft, the champion, the copilot, the anchor, and the reverse mentor. Each plays a key role in helping you shape your management style. Don’t forget that mentoring is a two-way street. Seek out ways you can mentor others. This will help you give back, grow the next generation of managers, and hone your people skills.

Be equal

Management is a team sport. Don’t be worried about hierarchy when there’s work to be done. Contribute where you can, when it’s needed, and your team will respect you all the more for it. 

At my weekly all-team meeting, we look at the tasks to be done, prioritize and decide who is going to own it. If that means we are assembling swag bags the night before an event, we will all be there together no matter the title or role.

Be human

It can be tempting in your first manager role to feel like you need to be perfect or demonstrate your strength. But we’re human, we’re all going to make mistakes. The key is in owning them, making it right if you can, and moving on as a better person for it.

Likewise, your team is going to have good and bad days. They are going to do work they enjoy and don’t enjoy as much, or face challenges that frustrate and demotivate them. Your role as their leader is to listen to them and take action. Find out what blockers are for your staff and remove them. When a teammate gives feedback, do what you can to adjust or improve.

Finally, always have your employees’ back in public. Even if you don’t agree, never reprimand, or give negative feedback in front of others. This is bad for morale and trust.

Give regular guidance and feedback

Everyone needs regular feedback. It tells them if they are meeting expectations and where to improve. Yet, only 39% of workers say that they get regular feedback or coaching on their performance and skills. That’s not nearly enough. Once a year performance reviews aren’t gonna cut it either. You need regular conversations about what’s going well, what needs work, and the skills your team needs to be successful. I like a mix of weekly one-to-one meetings and team meetings. This helps me keep my team abreast of company updates and goals, and keeps me updated on how each individual is feeling.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

An astonishing number (75%) of executive women report having had imposter syndrome. Personally, it’s something I still struggle with. At a recent team outing, I found myself looking around the room at my incredibly talented team and caught myself thinking “Who decided that I was qualified to serve these amazing people?!”

But, make no mistake, imposter syndrome will undermine your management style. You are more than qualified for your position and to lead and inspire others to do their best work. Second guessing yourself will only lead to a lack of confidence, and that ultimately can cause your team to lose faith in you and your abilities. Never forget the experiences that have led you to this point, because you worked for this and deserve it.

This was a quick overview of the main areas that have helped me succeed as a manager. Take what you find useful and tailor it to your own style. Being a manager is so rewarding, in no other role can you lead and support others to grow their careers as well as your own.

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