Yay! You did it. You’ve been promoted! You are now officially a boss with a team that works toward a vision you’ve created and depends on your expert leadership. It’s time to put your preferred management style into play and forge ahead toward increased productivity, all while helping grow the talent and potential of those you supervise.
What’s that? You haven’t got a clue how to do any of that? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, plenty of first-time supervisors and managers feel this way. “I was navigating it all blind,” says Willow Smith, who was promoted from senior to executive producer of one of Canada’s most popular national radio programs. “I felt 100 percent unsupported in the beginning and made a million mistakes along the way.”
Thankfully, just because you might feel overwhelmed doesn’t mean you can’t blossom into a boss that both makes a mark and inspires her team. Here’s how to get on that path.
1. Celebrate … and soul search
Someone thinks you have the skills needed to manage people and perhaps contribute to the larger vision of a company, so pop open the champagne. “Embrace the promotion,” says Josh Miller, a personal and executive coach in the Bay Area, and author of “I Call Bullshit: Live Your Life, Not Someone Else’s”. “Even if you don’t want it, you’re being sought after and considered a future leader. So pause, reflect and appreciate that.” However, before you accept the position, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into.
A fancy title, a designated parking space and a few weeks of extra vacation are attractive perks, but are you actually going to enjoy performing the new job’s tasks? “You might like the company and your coworkers, but make sure the scope and responsibilities of the new job are actually what you want to be doing going forward,” cautions Miller.
2. Understand expectations
You can’t succeed in a new role if you don’t know what that role is supposed to look like. In these cases, Miller suggests an open dialogue with your direct superior. “As you start to move up the corporate ladder, people are going to be looking at you and to you for answers and results. And the only way you’re going to be able to deliver is by first understanding your boss’s expectations,” says Miller. In other words, you have to “manage up” as well as “manage down.”
3. Figure out what kind of leader you admire — and want to be
Have your favorite bosses (or leaders in any capacity, if you’re just starting out) resembled easygoing close friends, or have they been more standoffish and authoritative, but efficient? The best way to create a template for the kind of leader you want to be is to make a list of the three best traits you’ve encountered in a leader, and the three worst. It may also be useful to consider the published values of your company, and size up what type of leader has been successful there in the past. That information can help guide you toward a leadership style.
Whichever approach you choose, it has to be authentic. “If it’s not you, you’re not going to be able to keep it up,” says Nicole Liddell, an operations VP and human resources executive in Vancouver who’s worked in the telecom and construction sectors. Vacillating will make you seem unpredictable to your staff, Liddell cautions. Predictability is key to having a team perform at its best.
4. Start as you mean to continue
Transitioning from buddy to boss isn’t easy, but it can be made smoother by being up front. “The first thing you need to do is set the tone,” says Miller. “Ideally in the first 90 days.” He agrees that it can be tough to motivate and manage the very people you used to take long lunches with, but that’s the job and setting up new boundaries is the first step. Get out in front of any awkwardness brought on by your promotion by acknowledging it, and invite your team to express their concerns to you. Hang out with the team if you’d like, says Miller, but let them know it’s not going to be the same as it was.
Smith discovered that moving up the ladder also required her to let go of the need to be liked. “People will not always like your decisions, and some days, just won’t like you. There’s no way around it. I used to think there was, but you have to harden yourself as a manager,” she says.
5. Ask for guidance from the get-go
Still nervous about your management skills? Consider accepting the promotion, but asking for a few months of mentorship or professional development (workshops, e-courses, a few meetings with a career coach) to be included. If no additional training is possible, lean on your personal and professional networks for support. For other tips on using your network efficiently, check out 7 Rules for Networking Success.
Do what it takes to get past the doubt that plagues so many of us as we start new positions. “At first, I thought, who am I to lead a team?” recalls Smith. But once you get through that, she says, becoming a boss is a crash course in your own weaknesses — and strengths. “After a while, I got to the point where I started to think ‘why not me?’”
Need more tips for managing workplace anxiety? We’ve got you covered. Check out Strategies for Managing Stress in the Workplace, among our other advice for navigating office life.