You’ve proven your skill and the promotion is yours. But the step from executive to manager can be a significant change in responsibilities. You’ll need to lead in areas you may never have experienced, usually whilst developing a team of future experts. As a manager myself, I found the change from ‘doing’ to delegating particularly hard; but when you find your flow, it’s incredibly rewarding – and without embracing your new position, you’ll become quickly snowed under. With this in mind, these are a few ideas that helped me make the take the step up.
Believe in your ability, but never stop learning
When I was promoted to a manager position, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like an imposter. The step from strategist (in my case) or executive can be a large one, so it’s perfectly natural to feel like you’re not ready. Remember that you’re in the role because somebody – the hiring team or your line manager – believes you can do it. Take confidence from this and know that you’ll be supported throughout the transition.
On the other hand, being a manager is not a mark of completion. As a manager, you are expected to lead on key projects and solve issues. But you are not expected to know everything; even the very best marketers would never claim to know it all. Take every opportunity to develop your knowledge and continue to soak up new ideas and inspiration from those around you, regardless of whether they are more senior or junior than you.
As a manager you’ll take a leadership role in client and senior management discussions and strategy. For many, this is the most noticeable difference in the role. Everyone develops their own style when working with clients or senior leaders, but a reliable manager will be enough into the detail of everything, from the status of upcoming deliverables, to knowing the likes and dislikes of the people they work with. This level of expertise enables you to make decisive, informed decisions, with confidence and conviction; how you communicate them, is up to you.
This can be tricky to start with; while now I aim to retain as many of the details as I can in my head, initially, I needed to write things down. That said, at any stage, it pays to have a ‘written’ plan – whether this is a top line deck of key projects and timelines or a detailed Gantt chart of week by week actions. I often create both, as different audiences will require information in different ways, but the key is to make your forward-facing clear, digestible and always up to date.
Develop, delegate, trust and support your team
There is a complex that every new manager will face; you may be adept at ‘completing’ the work, but now either do not have the time or are discouraged from doing so. But how can you guarantee your personal quality standards and approaches are maintained? I believe the answer is in a cycle, centred around four key principles – development, delegation, trust and support.
First, you must make time to train your team, particularly if they are newer to the industry. You may be able to complete projects faster or to a higher standard than those less experienced. Without explaining how and why you do things the way that you do, your team will never learn to replicate or innovate on your ways of working. You should then delegate deliverables that you would have otherwise completed personally, to allow them to use the skills you have given them on real-world examples. Again, this may be a less effective or efficient route to completion, but it’s essential to your team’s development.
The next part may be the hardest part of the cycle – you must trust your colleagues to deliver a great output. This means allowing them to make mistakes, not micromanaging – and importantly, to deviate from your ways of working. As manager, your role is to ensure the deliverable is consistently of an exceptional quality, delivered on time and solves your clients problems. This is the criteria you should judge the work on, not ‘did the person who made it do it my way’. Embrace new ways of doing things and adopt enhancements across the whole team.
Where standards are not met, you must support your team, not chastise. Mistakes can happen often and your feedback is valuable – so make sure you build in time to review and provide constructive criticism for all delivery estimates. If the output continues to be poor, work more closely with the person completing the project and help them to understand where they might be going wrong. You should not complete it yourself, unless you absolutely have to (e.g., due to time constraints). More often than not, low quality output is due to a lack of training – hence the cycle starts over again.
Build better processes, not quick fixes to problems
As a manager, you’ll be expected to troubleshoot and solve the the tougher problems that your team faces. In worst case scenarios, you’ll need to know when to escalate this to your own manager. Many problems can be avoided before they’ve happened. A team leader is uniquely placed to see the issues on the ground and solve them, not with one time, quick fixes, but with actionable processes, fed into by those that will carry them out.
This isn’t to say that you should ignore the wider department’s ways of working; but you’ll be the key person to translate the overarching strategy or proposition into the day to day activity of your team and to innovate on them where appropriate. You are also the main person to build new processes, based on the situations your team finds itself in. Always late on deadlines? Find a better way to communicate progress internally. Constantly being asked what’s happening on your projects by your seniors? Build a shared tracker or implement a weekly reporting strategy. It’s up to you to champion the developments that will make your team more effective and coherent; so do not be afraid to run with these.
Learn to communicate clearly and concisely
The further you progress within an organisation, the more information you will have to take onboard and make decisions upon. As a manager, you’ll report into someone who will have several managers reporting into them – who will have several reports of your managers level reporting into them. The ability to communicate clearly and decisively is an art form – but the sooner you can master it, the more useful your information will be seen by those above you. Instil this principle across your team and you’ll save time a large proportion of your on admin.
A simple way to action this is to use bullets wherever you can; if your bullet runs on for more than two lines, start a new one or summarise. If it’s an email, you can always attach documentation with data; or in a presentation, you can include an appendix. Always start your longer documents with an executive summary and when proposing action, remember to simply answer the three critical questions your audience will have – what is it; why should I care; what do I do next?
Good communication should not just benefit those above you or your clients. When used carefully, being direct or straight-talking can be useful to giving your team a clear direction or points of feedback to hone in on. However, a caveat – if every communication you make is to the point, you may come across as cold. In this case, the focus will shift from what you’re saying, to discord at how you said it. This rarely solves anything.
A final point on communication; never be afraid to commit to something. If you’re asked for an answer, give one (with caveats). At this stage in your career, you should be an expert and making critical decisions will be a frequent part of your day. Trust in your knowledge and make a call; if it doesn’t work, admit it and find out why you were wrong. In my experience, it’s better to stand for something and be wrong than never make a decision for fear of not being right. If you ever need justification for this, I highly recommend reading Ben Horowitz’s ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’.
Be authentic and know when to lighten up
Leadership opportunities can be approached in many different ways; from ruling with an iron fist to enabling organised anarchy to take place. These are, of course, two extremes at opposite ends of the management spectrum. But the point here is not to try to be something because you ‘feel you have to’. Finding your leadership style can take years and is likely to change frequently based on your team, clients and pressures of the time. The key thing to remember – and to remain consistent on – is to be yourself.
There’s plenty of resources on how to be a leader, so I won’t dwell on this; although for starters, I recommend watching Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on the subject. The important thing is that, however you lead, you do so in a way that comes naturally to you. If you’re looking to earn the respect of your team, you will find this easier if you are honest and do not pretend to be a person which you are not. While there are a number of ideas on how a ‘good’ manager should act, it doesn’t mean that each one will be right for you.
Above all, remember to enjoy the experience and openly show that you are to others. As a manager you will have a platform to develop further in your chosen field and to show your passion and ability, with the goal of inspiring them to emulate your achievements. I’m a firm believer that positivity leads to further positivity; at times you may need to be firm or critical and not everything will go as planned. This is all part of the role and your reaction to setbacks will set the tone for future failures. Take things on the chin, be human and show that you have a lighter side.
Remember you’re a part of a larger team
As you progress within an organisation, it’s easy to lose yourself in the new responsibilities that you will have, particularly as you become more involved with conversations at a senior level. However, you must never lose sight of how you got there – someone more senior believed, developed and promoted you to this level. As such, it is your responsibility to pay this forward to your team members.
Where good work is achieved, praise and advocate it within management circles. Where work needs improvement, take the time to develop and encourage your colleagues. When something unfortunate happens, solve the immediate issues and console the team member(s) it impacts. Act with compassion and do not own the limelight. Empower your team to achieve great things through providing a platform from which to elevate themselves, inspiration to keep driving things forward and someone to rely on when they need support.
As a new manager, this may seem like a daunting list of things to remember; but no one will expect you to have mastered it on day one. Being a great team leader takes practise and you’ll develop more from your mistakes than you will from when things go well. Keep learning from everything and everyone around you and approach your new responsibilities in a way that is authentically you; the rest, will follow.
Do you agree with my advice? Share your ideas and experiences below.