BY LIA BOSCH
It’s not uncommon to experience impostor syndrome and a whole host of other emotions when taking on a new leadership role.
Although it was over 25 years ago, I clearly remember my first job managing the work of others. I was half the age of some on the team and had even less experience. I was thrilled for the opportunity but intimidated to say the least. At my first team meeting, I blabbed on about HR theories to prove my mettle. Impostor syndrome? You bet! Who was I to tell them what to do? What did they think of me? Did I really know what I was doing? My concerns matched what many new managers experience, but there are ways through it that can place you on the path to extraordinary.
She began to mistrust her team and managed to assert her authority. In response, team members listened less and mistrusted her more. Her behavior made them feel incompetent. Although they shared her concern for safety, they were rebelling against her approach. She turned this dynamic around after considerable personal reflection and by taking concerted actions to re-build trust with the team.
Taking on a new role as manager comes with having to prove yourself again. It’s like resetting the rules and starting over. If you’ve never done the job before, how do you know what to do? You might expect your organization to prepare you through special assignments or training, but many organizations don’t. With reduced training budgets and compressed timelines for filling jobs, companies are promoting employees without enough training or experience. If you find yourself in a manager role for the first time, feeling intimidated and out of your depth, here are three principles to guide your journey from newbie to extraordinary manager:
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Take the pressure off your need to be the expert. The role of the manager is to facilitate and support team members to achieve organizational goals. Remember that team members are adults who bring experience and skills to their work, and like you, they want to feel respected and appreciated for what they bring to the job. They likely don’t need you to tell them how to do their job, rather they need context, including information about how their work contributes to the whole, along with access to people and resources to get it done. Aim to create a strong self-directed team where people believe in what they are doing, where they feel connected to each other, and where, if they choose, they can grow their skills. Do this by communicating clearly and often about how their work connects to the organization’s mission and why it’s important; get them working together on cross-team projects; and show employees that you believe they are capable by trusting them to get work done without watching over their shoulders.
A large part of your role as a manager is tending to relationships. Whether it be with your team, others in the organization, or customers, build relationships that are meaningful instead of transactional. Don’t communicate only when you need to assign work or resolve an issue. Get to know your employees. Ask about their families, what they enjoy doing in their spare time, observe what makes them angry or excited. Ask how they are and really listen to the answer. Be sure to share information about yourself as well. This is not an interrogation but a way to create connections and mutual trust. In times of need, you can rely on strong relationships to get you through the challenges.
OWN THE STUFF THAT IS ABOUT YOU
Expect to learn and grow for the rest of your career if you want to be extraordinary. It takes guts to look within, humility to accept what you see, and kindness to forgive yourself for not being perfect. (By the way, no one is!) It’s easy to look outside and blame others when things go wrong. Owning your piece is about stopping to look at yourself and admitting when your actions may have contributed to a negative outcome. However, it’s not about owning everything that goes wrong; that’s martyrdom. Instead, looking honestly at the part you played can help you avoid repeating unhelpful behaviors in the future. Practicing self-awareness is about getting to know your hopes, fears, and common patterns, including what triggers you. All of us have blind spots hidden from our sight but often not from others. Ask “what can I do better?” Then stop talking and listen.