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Stepping Into Leadership

How to succeed as a new supervisor or manager

Step into LeadershipYou’ve been a stellar team member, and now you’ve been tapped to take on your first management role. Whether you’re supervising one person or several, adjusting to life as a manager has its perks—as well as its challenges.

Doing well in your initial job as a supervisor can pave the path for a successful career in leadership. Yet making too many rookie missteps might slow down your management trajectory, or even stop it in its tracks. Here are some strategies to increase your chances of success in your first supervisory or management role:

Get Prepared

One of the main issues that new supervisors need to master is preparation, according to Donna Lubrano, professor of business management at Newbury College. “Understand the requirements of being a manager—plan, organize, lead, and control,” says Lubrano. “Know the areas in which you have the greatest advantage, and other areas where you might need some additional support or training.”

Another important part of preparing for your new role is getting to know the nuances of each of your direct reports. “With a small staff of one to five, make sure you reach out and understand their goals and objectives,” says Lubrano. “The better you understand your staff, the easier it will be to motivate and communicate with them.”

To that end, it can be helpful to assist your team members by defining their new reality through specific measurable objectives. “As a new manager, your most important goal is to ensure that each individual member of your team knows how you define success for them, how and when you’ll measure progress toward that success, and whether or not you think they are achieving that success,” says John Baker former COO at American Express and author of The Asking Formula. “Without this teams do not function.” As a part of your preparation phase as a new manager, Baker recommends providing your people with quantifiable goals that gauge performance based on work outcomes, such as achieving quality standards and meeting deadlines.

Avoid Micromanaging

As a first-time manager, you may be eager to test your new skills and techniques on your team. Yet one of the common pitfalls in entry-level management is micromanaging—directing your team too closely and not trusting them to get the job done. Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, notes that first time managers need to realize that their staff may be at different levels, and should be managed accordingly.

“The 20-year veteran on the team who knows how to do their job can be given general direction and support and does not want an overbearing micromanager,” says Kimer. “Avoid the need to know all the details of everything and trust your team and delegate. Newer or inexperienced staff may need much more hands-on guidance and will welcome it.”

Executive coach and author Dr. Tasha Eurich agrees that it’s important to avoid coming across as too heavy-handed just because you’re now in a management position. “Yesterday, you were friends with your coworkers, now you’re the boss,” says Eurich. “This reality can turn new leaders into dictators: Since I’m the boss now, I’d better act like one and tell them what to do. Or you may crack down by making and enforcing rules that may actually insult or alienate employees.”

Build Your Confidence

Starting out in any new role can be intimidating, and it may take time to believe in your ability to handle unfamiliar challenges. If you’ve never supervised staff before, it takes a leap of faith to dive in and start building your confidence level. Confidence, or lack of it, is something many women struggle with, according to The Alternative Board’s UK Member, Lisa Richards. “It certainly keeps cropping up in the women leaders I coach, and I fall victim to it myself from time to time,” admits Richards.

Richards explains that setting a goal can help you find courage and confidence when things get difficult as a manager. In her first management role, she focused on a goal of helping others develop. This gave her a fresh management perspective and style, and allowed her to approach difficult management situations with a positive outlook.

“When you feel your confidence start to slip, give yourself a stern talking to, remind yourself that you can do this, and get help and support from family, friends, and peers and persevere,” says Richards. “For me, it’s all about believing in yourself and your goals and then working hard to achieve them.”

Keep It Friendly

Supervising a previous peer or friend can be a particularly difficult management challenge for many women. Lubrano advises that if you are changing roles and need to now manage someone whom you’ve worked with as a peer or friend, you should know from the get-go that it will require a transition period. “Don’t make it the elephant in the room,” says Lubrano. “Call a meeting over coffee and explain the situation and how it will change the dynamic. Be proactive in creating an atmosphere where fear of loss of control, and fear of loss of friendship, can be addressed up front.”

Anu Mandapati, founder of IMPACT Leadership Coaching, agrees that when leading a friend, you should have a conversation as soon as possible to set the tone and expectations for your relationship, including what types of conversations are appropriate, how and when to discuss frustrations, what types of information can be shared at work and about work, and how you want to be addressed as a manager. “The more clarity the better,” says Mandapati. “This helps maintain the friendship and prevents anyone seeing and thinking you’re playing favorites.”

When leading a previous peer, Mandapati advises immediately defining your new role and clarifying the expectations you have of all team members. “Enlist their support and voice to co-create with the team,” she says. “Discuss how you want to help achieve their personal and professional goals. Also increase your self-awareness to ensure you’re communicating and interacting with them as a leader and not a peer.”


About Robin Madell

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributing writer to U.S. News & World Report and serves as a copywriter, speechwriter, and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in New York and San Francisco. Robin is the author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30 and co-author of The Strong Principles: Career Success.


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