You are in the third or fourth year of your career journey, and you have been doing really well in your role as an individual contributor. It is only natural that you want to get more.
The company values your contribution, so they promote you to become a team lead. You are super excited and super optimistic that you will be doing great!
But things do not go as smooth as you would expect. You do not feel as energetic as when you handled your own work and were the superstar. Your stress level is higher while relationship with former teammates slowly changes. You start doubting yourself and feel like you are not achieving anything in this role.
These are the feelings that I had when I first started leading the content marketing team at iPrice Group. When I was doing senior content marketing executive role, I could say that I did pretty well. We produced great content as well as obtained publication and organic links from top local and international publishers.
When they promoted me as a team lead, I thought I was doing well. But I was 100 per cent wrong. The team dynamic was so terrible that people ended up leaving the team. I did not know what to do and felt very frustrated.
At the end of 2018, I talked to my direct managers –the CMO and COO of the company– to suggest that maybe I should just stop being a team lead and go back to being an individual contributor. But both of them told me that managerial skillset is one of the most complicated skillsets there are; even the more experienced professionals struggle with it. So, they gave me the support to stay, and I stayed.
In this article, I would like to share everything that I have learned as a first-time manager. Everything I that wrote here was based on my direct interaction with team members, discussions with fellow managers at iPrice, books, videos, and podcasts.
As a bonus, at the end of the article, I have included all the great resources about leadership and management.
1. Not everyone wants to –or should– be a manager
To be a manager is like being a parent; it comes with a huge responsibility. Not everyone is ready to handle that, and not everyone should do that.
Remember that being a good individual contributor does not necessarily mean being a good manager. It required a totally different skillset.
2. You must have empathy for the people you lead
To be a great manager, you need to genuinely care about the growth of your people. If you do not have this, your journey will be quite challenging.
3. Your success is measured by the growth of your team members
A great leader is the one who can really grow and develop the people who work with them. It is no longer about you; it is all about your team members now.
4. A manager’s day is like a roller coaster —full of up and down
One day you will feel like this is the best job in the world. But on the next day, you will feel like you are doing a terrible job. It is totally normal. If you feel down, go home, take your dinner, and have a good sleep.
5. You do not need to understand everything, and that is okay
As a leader, you do not need to understand every details of the topics. And that is perfectly okay. If you do not know something, you ask for help. This is also the reason why you hire new people to your team.
6. Admitting your weaknesses to the team can make you a stronger leader
The mistake that I did as a new manager is that I was not being honest with my team members. When it comes to numbers, it took me longer to understand. But I did not admit it, and pretended to be good at it. This is a terrible idea.
Be honest about what you cannot do and ask for support. That is totally okay.
7. Your relationship with your team members will change. That is okay
If you started as an executive before being promoted to team lead like me, you will feel that the relationship between you and the other teammates slowly changes. Some of us might even find the need to say, “But we can still be friend, right?”
The reality is that your working relationship with them will change. At some point, you will piss them off with your decision. Take this as one of the consequences of choosing to take this path.
8. You are a public figure. Everything you do is a centre of attention for team members
You might not be aware of this, but as managers, people are looking at the way you behave, the way you dress up, the way you communicate, the way you treat others, and so on. Be more aware of this.
9. People will talk (and even complain) about you
Since you are a public figure, people will have a different opinion about many topics about you. Also, most of the time, they will do it behind your back. This is perfectly normal.
10. You need to protect your team members from external and internal danger
People are extremely effective and productive when they feel safe working. So, your role is to create this safe working environment for them. A safe working environment includes the safety to share a different opinion, to give an honest feedback, to fail, and to ask for help.
11. It is a lonely journey …
When you are at the executive level, you have at least two to three people who share the same role with you. So, you have people that you can rant about your boss together.
But when you are in the managerial role, you have the pressure from your direct reports and direct managers. If you have a problem, you cannot just complain as easy as when you are in a more junior role.
12. Leadership is a skill. To be great, you need to consistently learn about it
No one is born to be a leader. It is a skill that needs to be acquired, just like any other skillset. It is hard, but if you really put your energy and time to master it, I am sure that you will be able to do it.
You just need to know what information to adsorb –and where to get that information.
13. People who feel good about themselves, produce great results
It is important to make sure people understand if they are doing a great job. Because confidence plays a huge part in increasing people’s motivation to do beyond expectation.
14. You cannot motivate people. Because motivation comes from the inside –not outside
How do you motivate your team members? The answer is that you can’t.
Instead, what you can do is create an environment where people can get motivated by things that are relevant to their interest.
15. Understand the interest and career goal of each team members, then give them a project or task to help achieve that
Different people have different career aspiration. Have an open discussion with each of them to understand this, and work to help them achieved their goals.
16. When setting up a goal for the team, involve the team that will execute that
It is super important for people to know why you guys are doing something. Ask for their opinion and suggestion for it.
When people are involved in the decision-making process, they will have more commitment to achieve the goal.
17. “Ask” instead of “Tell”
People do not like to be spoon-fed; their opinion matters. So, when you want them to do something, ask for their opinion about it, instead of just telling them what to do.
18. Different people have different preference in thoughts and actions
I am working with people from different countries and age groups, and you may also experience the same thing. It is important for me to keep on adjusting my approach when I work with them.
19. Understand the “Skill” and “Will” of each direct report
At the end of the day, you want your team members to be successful. Using the same development approach for all people is a bad strategy. You want your team to have not only “High Skill” but also “High Will.”
Some people might have High Will but Just OK Skill. Some have Very High Skill but Low Will. By understanding this, you can adjust your approach to help them.
20. People do a remarkable job when they are working as a team
What makes human being unique and more successful compared to other species, is that we can work together as a team.
21. Proactively share good learnings for your team members
You might find a great-relevant article, video, or podcast. Do share that with your team members, publicly and privately.
It sounds simple, but it means a lot for the them. It shows that you really care about them.
22. When you give praise and feedback, make it extremely specific
“You are doing a good job!” and“The work is really bad” are examples of terrible feedbacks.
You need to be very specific when praising or sharing your feedback. Explain the 5W and 1H of it.
23. It is important to promote the work of your team members inside and outside the company
Exposing the work of your team members to external parties is good for them, as it is going to help them gain trust and credibility from other people in the company and the industry. They will also appreciate your effort on this.
24. When you see unexpected behaviour from your members, tell them directly about it
Do not wait for too long to redirect your team members, because you and the person might forget about it.
You can either use your digital communication or have a five minute face-to-face discussion.
25. When you give feedback, be super explicit about your intention
Let us face the truth: By default no one likes to receive feedback, especially a hard one.
So when you need to do it, make sure to tell them very explicitly that you are doing this to help them grow further in their career and personal journey.
26. Praise in public and private, but criticise only in private
When your team member did something great, always remember to praise them in public and private. But when there is something you want to criticise, always do it in private.
No one likes to feel ashamed in front of people.
27. It is important to have your regular weekly one-on-one meeting
This is the time for you to talk about their career growth, share your feedback for them, help them with their projects, and –last but not least– to proactively ask their feedback about you. Because you also need to learn from them.
28. When you ask for feedback, show them that you are not only listening, but also doing it
When you ask for feedback and people give it, do it. Do not just ask and do nothing about it. You need to practice what you preach!
29. Do not be defensive when your team criticise you
If you start being defensive, people will stop giving you one. Giving feedback means that they care.
30. Hiring skill is super important
Hiring people is like inviting new members to your family.
Do it right and you will see the improvement in the team members. Do it wrong, and you will see the team’s dynamic become really bad.
31. Involve your team members when you are hiring a new person for the team
One new strategy that I have started doing in the past few months is to involve the team members in group interview with potential candidates. It is like the “ask them anything” session.
After that, all the members will share the pros and cons of the candidate. I found a lot of great insights from all of them.
32. Trust. Giving and earning it is super important to lead an effective team
As an effective leader, you need to give your trust to the team members –and earn one from them. If they do not trust you, your leadership journey will be super hard.
33. Involve them in more strategic activities or projects
Everyone loves to work on something “important”. So, give each of the team members a chance to work on a strategic project in the company. It might not be directly relevant with the daily task, but that is okay.
34. Never expect people to know what you mean without explaining it in detail to them
Most communication problems happened because managers expect their team to know already what they mean. If you have more than one direct reports, they might have a different understanding and starting point of the matter.
So instead of expecting them to understand, try to explain a bit more and ask if they have already understood –or need more explanation about it.
35. It is good to have a debate with your team members. Focus on the goal, not the ego
At some point, you will have a different opinion with your team members. Healthy debate is always good. But the question is how to do that?
One thing I that learn is to set a clear goal of what we want to achieve in this debate, and the problem we want to solve.
36. When you protect your people, your people will do the same for you
This is just how human being works. When we protect other people, they will do the same for you.
As promised, here are some great resources where I learned and got my inspiration for this leadership topic.