I’ve been a manager, a coach, and a mentor for years. So when I’m asked about the first time I assumed a leadership role, I flash back to those early days, before I really knew what it meant to successfully manage people.
In those days, well before I was overseeing people for start-ups and before I had my own company, I was more of a dictator than a manager. I thought that being a manager simply meant getting people to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Needless to say, this was not my proudest professional moment.
The first time I really stepped into the role – and truly understood it – was after I was promoted into a management position at a large company where I had been an individual account manager. Suddenly, I had five people reporting to me and I was in charge of making sure we all hit our targets. I had to find my replacement and present them to senior management.
Former colleagues now had to come to me to discuss customer meetings and forecasts, as well as have regular individual development and feedback conversations. This was all new and it was all terrifying. It took me a while to learn how to be a manager, a collaborator, and a motivator, rather than a power-driven ex-colleague. We got there in the end, and many valuable lessons were learned along the way.
But even now my role presents new surprises and challenges, and every day’s still a learning experience. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years.
You’ve been a highly successful individual contributor, but now everything’s about a joined-up approach. Be an advisor, a champion, a challenger – but not a dictator. No one wants to be micro-managed; they want to be empowered.
Make sure you’re clear about how you’d like the team to represent themselves in front of customers, other employees, and management. Give them a clear vision of what constitutes success, and what role they can play in achieving that success. You might even want to create a symbol for the team that represents what they can be. My team’s symbol is a lighthouse, as we provide guidance to sales teams on how to succeed in their efforts, even if the waters are rough.
We all want to be liked, so being the bearer of difficult news isn’t easy. But team members can’t improve if they’re only being told how great they are. Don’t sugar coat things.
At the same time, it’s also important not to overwhelm people. Provide suggestions for improvements one at a time – no one wants to be confronted with a whole checklist of their failures. When providing feedback, try not to fall into the trap of being a one-dimensional stereotype: the friend, the bad guy, etc. Just be human.
When I took over a managerial role, I was told to keep my distance from the team and stay away from personal stuff. To be honest, this nearly broke me. It took me a while to find the right balance, but pretending to be someone or something you’re not will only make your team feel uncomfortable. Be authentic.
We’re not perfect and we can’t expect ourselves to be – we’re only human, after all. I remember losing it with one of my team members towards the beginning of my managerial career, and I was incredibly embarrassed after that. Mistakes should be learning moments, not opportunities to humiliate others, or lose your cool.
Don’t act as if you’re the entire team when you succeed, and don’t hide behind the team when you fail. You’re all in this together, and teams need strong leaders who champion their work and stand by them, through good and bad.
You may be the leader, but everyone’s voice is important. Hear everyone out and listen to their suggestions and concerns. Diverse voices often mean fresh perspectives and ideas, so empower the workforce to seek their own solutions. Giving them this responsibility will enable you to focus on higher-priority items and strategies, as well as keep the team happy.
At Salesforce, we support new managers with Trails, Onboarding, Managers, Coaching, and more. I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous, as it would have been great to have these tools and this kind of support when I was first starting out. But even today, with years of experience under my belt, I still use Trailhead to flex my managerial muscles. After all, when you’re a leader, the trails you blaze will provide a path for others well into the future.
If you’re new to the managerial game, just want to brush up on your skills, or skill-up to face the future– check out Salesforce’s Trailhead today.