Author: Emiliya Tsaneva
Leading people is a mastery. It takes just the right mixture of patience and firmness, flexibility and structure, consistency and being able to change the plan, as well as deciding when to take an active part in the process and when to take a step back and give space. Often before becoming a manager one imagines a lot of things and afterwards realizes that the reality is somewhat different – it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses, there might be a lot of things happening behind your back, as well as other difficult situations and challenges to deal with. Being a manager is not an easy task, however, it definitely gives you a lot of opportunities to build your character and grow as a person.
The journey of the junior manager is full of challenges, since he is at the start of gaining experience and naturally stumbles often. He needs some time to figure out what is his personal management style and what works best for him, how to organize his own schedule in the most effective way, how to approach different types of people and what actions to take in order to motivate his team for high results. The intense attention towards the junior manager could also become overwhelming – you enter the room and you could feel all 20 people there staring at you, as well as conversations stopping immediately. So it definitely helps getting some wisdom from outside. In my first steps as a team leader I was lucky to have a mentor, which meant priceless support, as well as access to someone else’s valuable experience, so that it wasn’t necessary for me to make all the possible mistakes along the way in order to learn. Of course, you will always make the wrong step here and there, this is part of the process, however, learning from someone else’s experience and sharing your own makes it way better. So here are some of my lessons along the way:
- Hard is wonderful – when it is hard for you, it means that you are learning something new and growing. It is okay to have moments when it is so difficult that you start wondering if you are doing well. For sure, there will be tricky situations, heavy conflicts, dissatisfied team members and you will wonder what to do – that’s how you learn. Remind yourself that with each difficult situation, you become better equipped for the next one and more stable. The more you deal with difficult tasks, the easier it is going to be for you afterwards. Be persistent and give yourself the support you need while laying those important foundations of being a manager.
- Get used to the complaints – I remember my first team leader interview and particularly one question – how do I handle complaints. Back then I was quite surprised by this question, but later I realized that it was actually quite on point. To be responsible for other people often means hearing a lot of complaints. And this is not because the people or the environment are bad, it’s just that most of us are used to seeing what is lacking and not okay, so no matter how much things improve, there will always be something that is not perfect and makes someone complain. At the same time the information we get from others complaining could be very valuable – sometimes there are quite some good points in the complaint, so make sure you take note of it and go into timely action. However, it is often the case that the situation has improved tremendously, but people are still complaining. Nothing personal in there, it’s just that some people use complaining as a way of communication. So do what you feel is right, keep an eye on your achievements, check if there is valuable feedback in those complaints or the person just wants to have contact with you, and then simply get back to work.
- Emotional outlet – it’s just business, there is no need for emotions there. When we get upset, angry or anxious about work, most probably there is a personal reason behind it, so it is good to have a look at it instead of bringing it to work. Most often the role of the junior manager is in the middle between different levels and when there is some tension within the organisation, we can feel it coming from all sides – this is part of being a manager, just accept it. What you can do about it is make an effort not to bring in additional tension yourself, then after work make sure to get an effective emotional outlet – sports, for example, is the perfect partner for getting rid of piled up heaviness.
- Be good willed, but don’t expect the same from others – there are a lot of people who will help you and be genuinely happy for your success. But there are also a lot of people who will try to minimize your achievements, focus on your faults and try to hinder you one way or another. This is part of management as well – not everyone will like you and support you. And a lot of the time it isn’t something personal, it is just that some people tend to put others down, when they don’t feel good enough, because this way they don’t need to focus on their own flaws. Don’t waste time on those people. Make sure you yourself are good willed towards people, including those you don’t like. You don’t need to like someone in order to be respectful with them. Everyone has their difficulties, time is too precious to be wasted on people who try to put you down. Focus on becoming an even better manager, and in case you get an undeserved criticism, just have a look at the numbers – they are always objective and will let you know if you are doing well or it is time to try out a new strategy.
- Keep on learning – even if you have studied management at the university, there is always something more to learn. The fact that you have finally become a manager, does not mean that you have reached your final destination – on the contrary, the journey is just beginning. For me, there were some situations where I wasn’t quite sure what to do and it was extremely helpful to pick a book or two (or ten) to get some insight. Videos, workshops, courses – it all helps navigating better in management. So keep on learning, it pays out.
- Find your mentor – gained experience is extremely valuable, shared experience – even more. Have a look around – I am sure there are some experienced people, who would be happy to be there for you. When you like someone’s management style, get in touch with them and ask them for their opinion on certain topics. If it goes well between you two, go ahead and ask them for mentoring. Of course, no one owes you anything, some people will say no, but many others would be glad to be your mentor – keep asking until you find the right person for you. And when you come to the point where you have quite some experience yourself, remember how valuable it was for you at the beginning to have someone’s support, so don’t forget to pass that on.
More to follow in Part 2.