I was a new manager once. Correction: I was a clueless new manager once. But who isn’t? The role changes so radically from your individual contributor days that it is hard to have a sense of what you should or should not be focusing on as you get going.
Though much of the learning will take time and experience to bake, there are things you can do to prepare yourself to better meet the growth challenge of becoming a people manager.
1. Impostor syndrome probably isn’t going away. Learn to live with him or her.
Impostor syndrome comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be a small nagging voice, specific to a certain aspect of your role (“I can’t do X”) or, in its most paralyzing form, a loud din ever-present in your day to day (“You? A manager? Ha!”).
Unfortunately, as you grow your career, there will always be an aspect of impostor syndrome present. The good news is that it’s a sign of stepping into new responsibilities and stretching your professional self.
The other good news? By identifying your impostor voice and dragging it into the open, you can neutralize the negative effects and actually turn it into a development tool.
What does the voice happen to be saying? Is it questioning your ability to gain buy-in from your team? Is it telling you to dread those 1:1s and how you spend your time? Great! Turn those nagging doubts around and set them up as focus areas!
2. Don’t promise too much right away.
A core tenet of building trust with your team and cross-functional partners is to consistently follow through on the commitments you have made to them.
“I am going to do X every week.” “I am going to make these asks on your behalf.” Over time, showing a pattern between your words and actions is one of the surest ways to show credibility and commitment to your team.
One of the easy traps to fall into as a new leader, however, is piling up the commitments in an attempt to demonstrate impact, justify your role, and because saying no to asks from a new team is really hard.
Why do the commitments become a challenge? One reason is that you are still feeling out what is and isn’t possible, and if it is possible, how does it get done?
Early on as a director, in an attempt to show my commitment to the team, I greenlit a ton of projects. As a management group, we gathered together to identify what was working well and where we had opportunities for growth. I looked at the list after the meeting and then shared with the channel all of the wonderful things we were going to be working on. Inevitably, there was not enough bandwidth or focus available, and most every item on the list faded to the background with a faint whimper.
Did I recover? Sure, but I didn’t do myself any favors.
Go 105% on a few key commitments versus 10% on 10 different items.
3. Figure out what’s working at the individual and team level… and what isn’t.
Coming in as an experienced individual contributor, you likely already have an idea of both the blockers and the tailwinds in your sales organization.
That feedback is going to be crucial to your new management cohort, and in turn, other leaders at the org can share more context that you may not have been aware of as an individual contributor.
The key is to take your experience on the front lines and combine it with this new management perspective to best deploy your efforts to assist your team.
In short, don’t be in a hurry to prioritize issues solely based on your IC experience. Take some time to learn from your new peers to form your POV and what needs to get done.
From there, you have a few options on how to tackle your list.
First, identify what you can directly impact and own. Next, figure out what can be delegated or become a project you and your team work on together. Finally, some items will be beyond your scope and require you to deliver feedback across or up the organization.
4. Be comfortable not having all the answers.
One of the easiest pitfalls to encounter as a new leader is trying to be the single knowledge source for your team and offering advice or answers that are beyond your scope. This is particularly prevalent when joining an entirely new company.
The trap is driven by a number of factors, but primarily it stems from a need to appear competent in front of your team. After all, if you are the manager, you must be the one with the answers, right?
Although not immediately apparent and obvious, the leaders who can show humility in the face of areas they lack expertise in are the ones who generate more respect from their teams. You gain more credibility on the subjects you do know, and the team feels more comfortable not knowing the answers themselves.
There is also a concept known as the “Connector Manager.” Being the leader who is able to direct individual contributors to management peers and cross-functional partners with domain knowledge has two direct benefits: one is to help create and foster internal networks, and the second is to promote self-sufficiency amongst your team members.
5. Your team gets the credit. You get the blame.
I have heard this concept referred to as “Level 5 Leadership.” As your team’s ultimate advocate and steward, it is important to keep their best interests in mind at all times. That involves internal credit and blame.
When good things are happening within your team, hold up a window to shine a light on the individual contributors who are doing the best work. When things aren’t going so well, that window becomes a mirror and the buck stops with you.
Of course, this builds your own credibility with your team, but it also serves to elevate the most important contributors and motivate them to do further good work.
You might think, “Well, shoot, part of my job is managing up – what about my own job performance if I can’t take any credit?”
The real truth is that a leader who is constantly promoting those around them will not only see a performance gain on his or her team, but the goodwill and selflessness reflect more strongly than any short-term gain from taking credit for a team project.
Similarly, one of the many responsibilities as leader is being the sole person in the spotlight when things aren’t so rosy. The team may not recognize and see these actions, but they do feel the absence of blame which enables them to keep performing in their roles.
6. No one on your team is just like you.
I referred to this idea in a previous post – the “Mini Me” approach. As a high-performing individual contributor, I had a certain pathway to success which felt like the “only” pathway to success.
Of course, I had helpful hints and tips, but I was way too prescriptive when I started out as a manager. In fact, in my first-ever manager feedback survey, one of my account executives described it as “my way or the highway.”
That hurt. But they weren’t wrong.
Instead of handing your team a 25-point plan, start with your sales “values” and meet your team in the middle.
For example, I believe setting a proactive and accountable schedule is crucial to success as an Account Executive. I preach this to my team as an overall concept while being careful not to push my specific methodology or productive periods of the day.
Meeting your reps in the middle allows for a level of cohesion on the team while still creating the flexibility your reps need to be successful.
As has been my experience, you will also learn a TON from how your reps approach their days and steal these best practices for others.
7. Bonus Topic – Share your voice early!
The natural instinct for many when hopping into your first leadership meetings: defer defer defer.
But you were promoted to this position for a reason, and you should be proactive in finding ways to contribute early.
Instead of focusing on the collective experience, titles, or seniority in the room, think about the unique point of view you possess in your first leadership meeting post-promotion: you have the most recent individual contributor experience in the entire room. Suddenly, what you may have thought of as a liability before the meeting becomes a huge asset. Who else can weigh in so directly on observations from the floor? Who else besides you has been pitching this stuff and listening to customer feedback directly?
And remember, you were hired for a reason. You are valued in that room. Make your voice heard!
If you want to further challenge yourself, check out my 6 Ways to Build a Reputation and 6 Tips for Career Development. And if you aren’t yet a manager but want to work toward that next step in your career, read Preparing to be a Manager, Part 1: Building the Toolbelt and Part 2: Building your EQ.