You just got promoted to management – Congratulations! Now What?

You just got promoted to management – Congratulations! Now What?

You finally did it!  You got promoted into your first leadership role!  After your initial celebration and excitement about stepping into that coveted leadership role, you eventually realize the enormous responsibility you just inherited.  You have a team that is looking to you for career development, personal growth and to make sure that they have a plan to meet your department goals.  And you have no idea what you are doing.

Over the course of a few months, I went from never managing anyone to managing almost 60 people.  And not only was I one of a small group of women in the department, I was also one of the youngest.  It was definitely not the perfect recipe for success but I jumped in headfirst, sometimes falling on my face, and sometimes my crazy ideas actually worked!  Bottom line, I learned A TON about myself, my team and the power of working towards a common goal.  And not only did we achieve the goals, we had a blast doing it!

Being a good leader is far different from being a good employee because you are no longer responsible for only yourself – you have a team.  And you are rarely taught how to connect, influence and really lead the team.  I modeled my own style on what I liked (or disliked) about my own managers and came up with a style that has helped me manage multiple people in different jobs. Here are a few tips to get started in your first month on the job

FIND A MENTOR

In my first 6 months on the job, I had to complete my very first termination.  I was devastated as I felt like I had failed the employee with my coaching and couldn’t understand how I couldn’t get through to them.  When the day came, I locked myself in a room and in tears, called my mentor in.  After his initial awkwardness at dealing with my emotions (yes, we still had an unwritten rule that there was no crying at work!), he walked me through the best way to handle it.  After using his guidance and my own flair for bonding, the employee hugged me and thanked me on his way out.  He wasn’t happy and needed this kick to do something different with his life.  We are still in touch to this day!  But without that guidance from my mentor, I would not have been able to handle it the same and I am sure the outcome would have been different.

Let’s be real: this does not need to be someone that you idolize or that has all the characteristics that you love in a leader.  Ideally, that would be wonderful!!  But to start, it needs to be someone that you respect and that has “been there”. There will be MANY days that you are over your head and don’t know how to react to a situation (especially when it comes to performance management!!) and you need someone to guide you.

Once you identify someone, I don’t actually recommend asking them “will you be my mentor?”  You can if that style works for you but I have had my best results keeping it completely informal with them and not putting any pressure on them to be some kind of leadership expert.  I just simply say “I know I am going to be completely lost at some point.  And I know you have been in these situations before and I respect how you have handled yourself.  Are you cool if I come to you from time to time for advice?”.  I have never had anyone say no. 

GET TO KNOW YOUR TEAM

When you are a leader, you become responsible for your entire team’s failure or success. You need to be focus on what you can do to help each member of your team be successful in his or her role – and NOT what will make you successful in yours. Being a good leader is recognizing that it is not all about YOU, it is about your team.  So that means getting to know them as individuals, knowing what gets them fired up and what brings them down.  This will help you to know how to divide up work, how to keep the team motivated and how to best hold the team accountable.

In the first month of leadership, I recommend keeping the majority of your focus on getting to know the personal lives of your team. Are they married?  Do they have kids?  What do they like to do outside of work?  Basically, really try to find out what makes them tick as a person before making judgments on their work performance.  As an example, I had a team member whose performance and attitude became a huge problem and was becoming toxic for the whole department.  Because I had laid the groundwork to get to know him, when it came time to have some very frank discussions with him, he was able to really open up about some problems going on in his personal life.  I was able to get him the help he needed to get through it and he has now been promoted and is an excellent leader himself!  I do have a few other cases that I did not build a foundation of personal trust so people did not open up to me when they needed help.  And I desperately wish I could go back and treat the situation differently.

ASK QUESTIONS

As a new leader in the department, now is your time to ask all the “dumb” questions.  Ask about everything!  Find out how work gets done, what systems are in place, and what is currently driving the team!  It is your time to observe and truly understand what is working well and what isn’t.  One of the biggest mistakes new leaders make is that they jump in and start making changes based on their agenda without understanding what the real needs of the team are.  So take the time to ask questions, observe and show respect for the journey the team has been on before you arrived.

LEARN TO DELEGATE

Now is the perfect time to start learning the art of delegation.  As a new leader, you are feeling the pressures of wanting to provide a service for your team to make sure they can focus on their tasks.  But it is a delicate balance between breaking down barriers for the team and burying yourself in a mountain of tasks that, in the end, could end up making the work take longer and frustrating your team members.

I fell into this trap in my first leadership role.  Any time something came up during a discussion, I quickly piped up “I can handle that” with good intentions of completing it by the end of the day and making sure I was serving my team.  But what actually happened was that I got swamped with 1000 other items, forgot or didn’t have time to complete that one, and went home feeling like I let people down.  I was becoming the barrier to decision making and instead of empowering the team, I was causing them to wait on me for progress.  Not exactly the tone I wanted to set.

You will empower people if you trust them to do good work. Check everything over and check in frequently, but trust people to do the job they were hired to do. Spend more of your time managing, coaching, and helping people do the best work possible, and less time micromanaging. 

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Lastly, set a good example and follow all of the same expectations you set for members of your team. People will look to you for guidance—even if they don’t explicitly ask for it—so it’s important to set a good example. Whatever you do, embrace your new role and empower your team to be the best they can be. 

Are you a manager? What advice would you give to a first-timer?