The 5 Lessons I Didn't Expect to Learn as a First-Time Manager

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Corporate Change Maker

Recently, a mentee reached out to me for advice on her first-time managing people. She was clearly stressed about the situation and was pouring over details, recounting different situations — team meetings, presentations, emails, text exchanges and live conversations. Why wasn’t this working?  What was she doing wrong?  Was she just not meant to a manager?

The first time I managed someone, I really struggled. Because our biases run deep.  We think: I like me. I like people like me. And guess what? If they aren’t like me, let me manage them, mold them, force fit them into a mini version of me. Sometimes, the only version of success we can understand is one that looks just like our own.

This is something I had to learn. And in my afternoon conversation with my mentee, I shared with her some of the other things I've learned throughout my time managing teams, along with the five tough lessons I remember learning as a first-time manager:

1. Stop with the perfectionism.

I love storytelling. I love building a great deck. It’s just how I was trained.

As a first-time manager, I was guilty of reviewing decks and thinking: I don’t love that picture.  And I don’t like that title slide.  And I don’t like the use of that word until I might as well have  built the deck myself.  It was my need for perfection out in full force  —  and perfection the way I defined it.  I had to retrain myself to think: what was the outcome we wanted?  What was the impact we needed?  What was the end goal?  

If we were accomplishing what we needed to get done, I needed to stop focusing on unnecessary details. I needed to pick my battles on what detail to change, and what to accept. And sometimes, as one of my associates reminded me: “done is better than perfect.”

2. One size doesn’t fit all.

Don’t manage people the way you like to be managed. Management isn’t a one size fits all approach. You have to flex your style and meet the other person halfway.  I don’t like to be micromanaged. But I have learned to understand when people need more hands-on guidance, and when to give them a gentle push to go and drive an initiative and lead on their own. I don’t like to send detailed, lengthy emails. But I have learned there are times when it’s important to lay out the details, rather than talking it through everything live, depending on how the individual likes to receive information.  I don’t like to build decks together — I would rather divide the work up and reconvene.  But I have learned sometimes there is value in brainstorming together, outlining the story we want to tell and spending that time bonding together.

3. Feedback is a gift.

It is a privilege to manage, coach and guide people. And with that comes great responsibility to give feedback continuously.  To give the great feedback and to give the not-so-great feedback.  As Jill Katz of the Assemble HR has taught me, feedback must be given with candor, courage and care. Not receiving the feedback you need can have devastating consequences on your career. Treat people the way you want them to treat you —  let them know what they need to be working on. And at the same time, don’t forget to remind them of all the great things they are doing! Don’t underestimate the importance of positive feedback — recognizing and valuing teams.

4. People know when they make stupid mistakes.

I’ll never forget when one of my managers told me this: People know when they make stupid mistakes.

Unless there is a certain pattern forming and there’s specific feedback to give, let it go. We all make mistakes. Ask yourself what the benefit is of pointing out the typo, the wrong date or the fact that they sent out the wrong file if they have already acknowledged this. What’s your intent?

5.  Everyone is meant to do something great.

Sometimes people aren’t meant to be in the role they are currently in.  And that’s okay.  Because I believe that everyone is meant to do something great.  It just might not be on your team, at your company, in this moment.  We all know when we are struggling, and we aren’t happy.  Sometimes we give it our all and it’s just not meant to be because we are destined for something else.  It’s our job as leaders to have that courageous conversation and say: You don’t seem happy. This doesn’t seem to be unlocking your potential and capabilities. How can I help you find what you are really meant to do? 

When I found the dose of courage to have these conversations, my entire relationship changed with many individuals.  We could have the honest conversation about how they were feeling and what they wanted to do next.  And in some cases, it helped them find their next exciting chapter.

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