How to step into your leadership potential when managing your first team
Moving from the role of employee to leader requires a different approach. Discover how to develop your mindset and a plan for your first months on the job.
Congratulations – you did it. You made the transition from team player to team leader, and you are ready to prove yourself in your new managerial role.
As you probably have already realized, your new position will require a different skill and mindset than your previous one. Your “soft skills” will be put to the test as well as your ability to keep your eyes on the bigger picture while motivating those working under you. You’re up for the challenge, but also a little weary – how can you ensure you are living up to your leadership potential?
The good news is that leadership skills can be developed. Research shows that coaching interventions can result in a 20-30% increase in critical leadership competencies. But even without coaching, self-awareness and education can go a long way in shifting your mindset and preparing you for leading a team.
So, where should you start? What are the things you should pay attention to as you ease into your new role?
Read on to discover:
- The role of a manager today
- The essential skills of an effective manager and how to develop your capabilities
- How to plan for your first few months
The role of a manager today
At first glance, the role of a manager may seem obvious. Managers steer the ship while leaders set the course. But in today’s rapidly changing world of work, the line between leadership and management is blurring, and managers are being called on to lead in the face of unprecedented transformation. That means having a handle on the skills needed to embrace these changes will be key.
What’s important to remember is that what got you “here” won’t necessarily get you “there”. Rather than being tasked with a project and delivering results, you will need to mobilize people around a vision and guide the execution of that vision.
Mobilizing the vision entails:
- Taking a stand and embracing change
- Sharing and communicating the vision
- Using relationships to engage the team
Executing for results entails:
- Using data to develop a strategy
- Implementing the strategy by pacing actions and aligning operations
- Tracking results and offering praise and feedback
As a new leader, your actions – or lack thereof – will be visible. All eyes are on you. That means self-awareness is a good starting point. Before you schedule one meeting, take stock.
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- What is my preferred leadership style?
- How effective am I at giving feedback?
Once you understand where you have room to develop your leadership potential, your skills training can begin.
Six essential management skills for new managers
First and foremost as a new manager, you need to have a solid skillset foundation when it comes to understanding KPIs, management processes and methodologies, and the tools, services, or products that boost your company’s sales. Spend some time acquainting yourself with every part of the business you will be managing. If you identify areas where you lack knowledge, seek out team members or trainings to help you improve.
With that as the basis, the next crucial factor is time management. A report by Deloitte demonstrates the importance of time management activities, stating that “unusual time pressure can make even the smartest person seem incompetent”, suggesting managers are more likely to make mistakes or poor decisions when feeling up against the clock. If you’re keen to demonstrate competence and management skills to the board to justify your promotion and instill confidence in your team, working on your time management skills is key.
You can improve these skills by:
- Making a list of both core business activities and complementary tasks. From there, prioritize what’s urgent and note what can wait or be delegated.
- Mapping your week visually on your calendar, creating specific blocks of time for specific tasks. Of course, the unexpected can pop up, but having a plan puts you in the driver’s seat.
- Getting to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses via a skill gap analysis. Knowing the capabilities of your employees enables you to delegate the right tasks to the right people, balancing your and their workload and avoiding micro-managing.
- Challenging the status quo. Don’t be afraid to use your fresh eyes to reduce inefficiencies and find your own time-efficient ways of managing your team, taking into consideration the different personality types in your team and how each person prefers to work.
- Minimizing distractions when possible. University of California Professor Dr. Gloria Mark’s research into workplace distractions found that managers typically spend just three minutes at a time on a task due to interruptions, and it can take more than 23 minutes to resume work. While it may sound difficult to do at first, try switching off your email and phone during designated times of the day – letting people know about it in advance – to help you succeed.
One of the most important management skills is trust – since this becomes a clear bottleneck for transitioning new managers. A global survey of nearly 4,000 employees and business leaders in 11 countries found that 63% of employees and business leaders think that trust at work must be earned.
Building a culture of trust starts by embracing curiosity and asking open questions. When people answer these questions, not only do they feel that their opinion is valued but also what is voiced leads to an idea or proposal that is theirs, not a charge from the leader.
Here’s a few powerful questions for your toolbox:
- What if?
- What do you see that I don’t?
- What needs to be done from your perspective?
- Why this idea?
- What else?
- How do you think this plays out?
- What makes this hard?
- What can I do to help?
As a new manager, it might be tempting to fall back into the old way of doing everything yourself, but building trust also means giving your employees the leeway to grow and make mistakes. Once you understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses, take a breath and delegate appropriately. If you don’t get the desired results, then you have an excellent opportunity to give feedback.
Gone are the days of top-down management, where managers serve as generals barking out orders.
Today, the most effective leaders engage their employees. They work to understand them and the situation at hand to find the ideal leadership style that will help guide them to success. In fact, Gallup estimates that around 70% of employee engagement can be attributed to managers, and highly engaged employees are shown to be 23% more profitable.
Whether you take a coaching or visionary approach to leadership, by being adaptable you are ensuring your team is getting the customized support and motivation they need to reach their goals.
Imagine you have a big stakeholder presentation that needs to be completed by Friday. A traditional manager might say, “This needs to be done by Friday.”, while an adaptable manager might ask, “What do you need from my side to be able to deliver this on Friday?”
This shift from directing to collaborating facilitates two-way communication that allows you to understand the needs of your employee and empowers them to make their own decisions.
Active listening skills
Active listening is a critical skill you will need as a new manager. Active listening is when you are truly invested in what your employee has to say.
- Am I fully present?
- Am I open to taking a step back and staying silent?
- Am I ready to listen more?
Half the battle is giving people the space and attention to feel seen and heard. When you truly listen, it becomes easier to resolve issues and generate more buy-in for your ideas.
As a new manager, you may feel pressure to deliver impact through productivity. Solid facts, figures, and metrics that you can show to the board. As a result, you may be tempted to overlook things like social chats, breaks, rest periods, or fun because you don’t see the direct connection to the bottom line, and you don’t want to seem like a push-over early on.
However, while it may seem counterintuitive, these are the nurturing aspects that in the long run will help you build the type of team and company culture you’ve always envisioned – and one that also delivers results. Countless studies show the connection between taking breaks and productivity. Two recent ones found that workers were most productive when they took 20-30 minute breaks for every 90 minutes of work.
Not sure where to start? Try hosting lunch talks, introducing optional book clubs, setting up free coffee/ tea stations, etc. Anything that sparks a smile or a good thought in an employee’s daily routine. Make sure the activity is representative of your company’s values and supports the type of culture you want to create. For example, if community is a core organizational value, a neighborhood clean up would help strengthen that ideal. While work is serious business, we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously every second of the day.
Having a managerial perspective also means being fully aligned with your organization’s values – and making sure your employees are as well. People want to be part of a valuable mission, which is why purpose is key to cultivating a positive culture.
Recent McKinsey research found that the top two reasons employees cited for leaving (or considering leaving) their jobs were that they didn’t feel their work was valued by their company (54%) or that they lacked a sense of belonging (51%).
As a new leader, it’s your responsibility to model your organization’s core values and exemplify how a positive culture of belonging looks and feels. That looks like walking around, touching base with people, and aligning with multiple departments to ensure everyone understands the why behind the what and the purpose behind the objectives.
Developing a plan for success
With these skills in-hand, next comes the nitty gritty matter of developing a plan for your first few months on the job.
Adapting to your new landscape is a process that requires careful planning. And every good leader should have a plan from day one. A solid plan will help set your own personal agenda within the organization and give you self confidence in your own leadership.
At Krauthammer, we recommend developing a 30-60-90 day plan that helps you identify and build structure around your personal and team goals in the first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
- Days 0 to 30 are all about observing, listening, and introducing yourself to your team. This period sets expectations and allows you to build relationships and trust.
- Days 31 to 60 are dedicated to gathering information and learning where you can contribute. Your approach will still be “light touch” as you keep one foot in the learning phase and one in your new role as a leader. During this time, you are acting as an investigative journalist, delving into your teams strength and weaknesses and learning as much about every area of the business as possible.
- Days 61 to 90 are when you can fully step into your role as a leader. Now that you have developed relationships and a thorough understanding of your team, you will be in a better position to suggest changes and undertake concrete measures, monitor their consistent implementation, and ask for feedback.
Making the transition from employee to manager is no easy task. It takes patience and a willingness to learn.
To get yourself off on the right foot, it’s important to understand the leadership role new managers will need to take on in today’s changing world of work – one that encompasses mobilizing people around a vision and guiding the execution of that vision.
To this end, there are several practical skills that are important to develop, including time management, trust building, active listening, and inspiring your new team around a common purpose. Last but not least, as a new manager, you can set yourself up for success with a clear 30-60-90 day plan that helps you build gradual confidence in your leadership capabilities.
Want more targeted help? Discover Krauthammer’s First Level Management training, designed specifically for first time managers looking to unleash their leadership potential.
Download our “Manage your mindset” e-book to learn more about how you can start implementing positive changes as a leader.