The following article was originally published by Sounding Board CEO Christine Tao on Forbes.com.
For many professionals, landing their first job as a new manager seems like the epitome of success. But in my experience, once they get a moment alone in their new office, they often feel the weight of the role.
As the CEO and co-founder of a leadership development platform that helps coach enterprises to develop its leaders, I’m well aware of the stress new managers face. We have observed a marked increase of new managers thrust into management roles due to changing workplace dynamics and the shifting demographics of the workforce. Many new managers find themselves with little support or training, left to figure out the nuances of leadership and management entirely on their own.
The good news is that effective leadership can be learned. Moving from an individual contributor role to a manager requires embracing a big picture outlook. While you may not be able to complete this transformation overnight, here are a few ways to start out on the right foot.
Learn to delegate
I believe one of the biggest challenges for new managers is learning that they don’t have to do all the work themselves. Delegation is a surprisingly multifaceted skill, yet, in my experience, it’s often downplayed by many new leaders. When looked at objectively, delegation is an involved process made up of several moving parts. There are steps a leader struggling with delegating can take to successfully assign tasks:
- Generate a vision, direction or outcome.
- Divide the overarching goal into specialized tasks.
- Assess their teams to find those best suited for the task.
- Communicate delegated tasks in a way that receiving parties will clearly understand.
- Periodically review the delegation process to ensure it’s gaining momentum.
- Wrap up delegated tasks, and evaluate how effectively the outcome was achieved.
Delegation requires several unique skill sets that operate in tandem. Since managers were once individual contributors, it’s easy for new leaders to believe they could do tasks more quickly themselves. In reality, that can lead to an overworked manager and an underutilized — and eventually undermotivated — team.
Find your own leadership style and personality
Newly promoted managers have to develop — usually quite quickly — leadership styles that reflect their personalities. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses, but it should match the leader’s own abilities. Otherwise, becoming a manager will feel like putting on a set of ill-fitting clothes.
In my experience, new managers often find their managerial identity by imitating the styles they’ve admired from previous managers. This tactic can certainly be effective, but trouble can begin if that style doesn’t fit with the manager’s own inherent qualities and characteristics. For example, a manager probably shouldn’t try to be a strict disciplinarian if their personality is warm and fuzzy, nor should they try too hard to be a transformational leader if that doesn’t play to their skill sets.
Developing your own leadership style is a challenging, highly personalized task. For new leaders, becoming aware of your strengths, weaknesses and values is an excellent starting point. Your style should be flexible so that you feel comfortable asking for help and learning new things. Try to apply your style consistently to build stability within the organization. I believe this kind of authenticity builds trust with direct reports: They know who you are and what to expect. This is much easier to do if you determine an appropriate leadership style early on.
Understand the difference between commitment and compliance
Being a manager is more complex than simply being “the boss.” As a leader, you should determine how the needs of the organization line up with your team’s skills, and influence your team to complete necessary tasks. Since many managers have the ability to hire and fire employees, I’ve seen some leaders rely on this power to instill compliance. That’s a seemingly easy tactic, but it can also be abused.
Compliance plays on the underlying fear of every employee who reports to a manager. It certainly provides an incentive for your staff to follow your lead, but it doesn’t necessarily make the organization better. Human beings and their motivations are complex, and relying on compliance can backfire in numerous ways. For example, team members might decide to only apply the bare minimum of effort or become insubordinate after reaching a breaking point you never noticed.
I believe the alternative to compliance is commitment, a concept in which managers use influence to encourage their teams to complete objectives. It requires building trust and a stronger understanding of interpersonal dynamics, but as a coach, I have seen it bring strong results over time. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this:
- Recognize that you set the tone for work culture. Your behavior as a leader inevitably influences the standards of your employees.
- Show employees you value their input and expertise. Find ways to let your team know how important they are to the organization.
- Be frank about your abilities. In my experience, showing vulnerability tends to strengthen workplace bonds rather than exposing weakness.
Leaders shouldn’t forget about compliance completely. Managerial roles do come with an inherent power dynamic, and neglecting it entirely can be perilous. For example, some new managers try to maintain the same relationships with peers as they had before their promotions. While leaders can certainly be sociable, they have to also understand the new responsibilities and expectations placed upon them in taking on a managerial role.
These complexities are why leadership skills are crucial. The good news is, these challenges aren’t insurmountable, provided leaders can shift their mindsets. Being open to growth does wonders when tackling the responsibilities of a new role, as does keeping in mind the larger scope of a manager’s role beyond just your team. I believe with an eye toward the company and organizational goals, new managers can become more effective in leading their teams — and make the transition less stressful on themselves.