Becoming a manager is a bittersweet experience: You're responsible for guiding your team to success, with most of the pressure falling on you. And while it's an honor to take on a leadership position, it's normal to feel overwhelmed – especially as a new manager.
Adjusting to your position is a learning process, but you can help yourself adapt with these tips from management and HR experts.
1. Use existing strengths to meet new expectations.
When you move up to a leadership position, your day-to-day activities and overall role in the company are going to change. The challenge that many new managers face is understanding how the skills and strengths they gained in their previous position can help them adjust to their new one.
"Changing roles is like making a pivot in a basketball game," said Ashley Goodall, SVP of leadership and team intelligence at Cisco. "You are anchored by your areas of strength, and they don't change as you move. But the expectations of you shift as you go in a new direction. As you move into a management position, you will be orchestrating the work instead of doing it. The trick will be to pay attention to the expectations of your new role and to figure out how to put your strengths to work in different ways."
Goodall advised identifying your current strengths and building upon them to fulfill the expectations that come with your promotion. [Want to be a better leader? Try these these simple tips.]
2. Transparency is key.
As a nonmanagerial employee, you probably didn't have access to a lot of the company information your boss did. Now that you're a leader, you'll be more involved in planning and strategy work, and it's important to keep your team informed about what's going on in the organization.
David Niu, founder and CEO of employee engagement tool TINYpulse, noted that first-time managers tend to underestimate the importance of transparency, withholding important information from their team. Instead, he said, you should share that information, like budget, customer feedback and strategic plans.
"Transparency goes a long way in an organization – businesses go through periods of growth and decline, and employees at all levels pick up on these fluctuations," said Charles Sansbury, CEO of ASG Technologies. "Successful leaders understand that, in order to get the best out of their employees, those employees must feel well informed and clear on the business issues, objectives and move-forward plans."
Sansbury advised meeting with employees of all levels, empowering them to ask questions and make suggestions.
"Good leaders know that good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere," he said.
3. Establish a strong relationship with your team.
You don't want to be the boss everyone is intimated by or nervous around. Take the time to know each of your workers, and prove you care about more than just their performance in the office.
"I found that getting to know my team's world outside of work meant I had had a much more rounded view of them as individuals and a better understanding of their strengths and motivation," said Tom Hodgson, business development manager at Qualsys. "Once you engage with this type of thing, it is surprising what you can unearth and the value it can bring to the team and your organization."
At the same time, you want to ensure that you're not overstepping boundaries and getting too personal. While it's nice to be close with your team outside of the workplace, there's a time and place for everything. You're hired to be their manager, not their friend.
"Draw a clear line between personal and professional relationships," said Katelyn Holbrook, SVP of Version 2.0 Communications. "The peers who you joked with at happy hour quickly become those you may need to have tough conversations with when performance slips or deadlines aren't met. This can be really tricky to navigate, so setting clear expectations upfront around when you're their friend and when you're their boss – and establishing where the line between them exists for yourself – can go a long way in maintaining a strong relationship, both inside and outside of the office."
4. Set clear expectations and goals.
As a leader, you need to ensure that you and your employees are on the same page. Andrea Davis, co-founder of FlashPoint, advises leaders to define and communicate realistic expectations. While documenting performances and providing feedback, hold your employees accountable to adhering to the goals you set.
When expectations and goals are met, celebrate results and identify concerns.
"Use the information you have gathered from your previous feedback and conversations to help shape new goals and honestly evaluate performance," Davis said.
5. Recognize your employees when they do a good job.
To truly build a great culture and dynamic among your team, it's important to give your employees credit when it's due.
"Frequent recognition fosters a positive team environment and creates a culture of gratitude," Niu said. "Don't just wait until the big wins to recognize team members. For example, thank employees who took the initiative to clean up after an office party."
When giving recognition, be sure it is personalized and honest, said Davis. For instance, give awards for creativity, supportiveness and innovation.
"Never assume an award has to be monetary or come from the top," she stated. "Set the stage for teams or peers to award outstanding teamwork. Always, always start with a simple 'thank you.'"
6. Accept feedback, but find your own unique way to lead.
Everyone's going to have their own opinions and advice on how you should lead. While it's good to listen to what your mentors have to say, you must develop your own unique leadership style.
"There may be set cultural norms and standard procedures that management is expected to follow, but there are a lot of ways managers can – and should – inject their own personality into how they manage," said Holbrook. "For me, it was trying to do a lot of what I admired in my own managers and mentors, and cutting out elements of past managers' styles that didn't resonate with me."
Goodall advised asking yourself why anyone would follow your lead. The answer will likely be different for every manager, and it's the key factor that will set you aside from others.
"It's an easy question to overlook but one that I think is at the heart of what it means to be a leader," Goodall said. "Leaders attract followers because of what they stand for and how they help their team grow."
7. Get your hands dirty.
Your team will quickly lose respect for you if you act like a boss rather than a leader. Expecting too much from your workers without being willing to do the same will leave a sour taste in their mouths. This often leads to resentment and frustration – both of which are toxic for your company's culture.
"In my experience, being able to show you can (and are willing) to do the very same job that your team does has huge value," said Hodgson. "Not only are you demonstrating firsthand that you understand the challenges inherent in their role, but you also earn respect for showing commitment to the cause."
"Good leaders are good coffee-getters," added Sansbury. "This means, no matter what the task at hand is – whether it's presenting quarterly metrics to the board of directors or setting up a meeting with a low-level employee – leaders put their full energy behind a task and work to deliver the best possible product. They also expect this from their employees but never forget the importance of leading by example."
8. Delegate your workers' roles.
Employees perform better and have more confidence if they're in roles that suit them. Don't coach your team members to be jacks of all trades. Instead, focus on each of their talents, and delegate responsibilities accordingly. According to David Ciccarelli, CEO of Voices.com, delegation allows leaders to ensure that they and their employees focus on tasks best suited for them, while still encouraging growth.
Managers should also assign roles this way, making it clear why the employee is the best fit for the position and outlining each of their duties.
"By ensuring employees understand exactly what their role is, managers create a sense of purpose and motivation within their employees, ensuring they are there not just for a paycheck, but for the overall good of the organization," said Sansbury. "Good leaders foster this sense of meaning and community by infusing these qualities into their company culture, starting in the interview process, by looking for specific traits within candidates rather than just hiring for the skills a role needs."
Honing each worker's talents will prove that you care about their professional growth as much as the company. Additionally, your team will feel more motivated to work if they're performing tasks that they're interested in.
"Good leaders instill a strong sense of purpose within their employees," said Sansbury. "They do this by articulating each employee's specific role in making the business successful – whether they're entry level or senior management."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.