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36 Crucial Lessons I Learned as a First Time Manager

You are now in the 3rd or 4th year of your career journey, you did really good at your role as an individual contributor and you want to get more.  The company valued your contribution, so they promote you to become a team lead. You are super excited and super optimistic you will be doing […]

You are now in the 3rd or 4th year of your career journey, you did really good at your role as an individual contributor and you want to get more. 

The company valued your contribution, so they promote you to become a team lead. You are super excited and super optimistic you will be doing great!

But things don’t go as smooth as what you’d expect. You don’t feel as energetic as before when you handle your own work and you are the superstar. 

Your stress level is higher and relationship with people that used to be your teammate slowly change. You start doubting yourself and feel don’t feel achieving anything in this role.

This is the feeling I had when I first start leading the content marketing team at iPrice Group. When I was in senior content marketing executive role, I could say that I did pretty well. 

We produce great content, obtained publication and organic links from top publishers both local and international.

When they promoted me as a team lead, I think I was doing good. I was 100% wrong. The team dynamic was not good, people are leaving the team, I don’t know what to do and I feel very frustrated.

End of 2018 I talked with my direct manager he is the CMO and also the COO telling them that maybe I should just stop become a team lead and back to be an individual contributor. But both told me that managerial is one of the most complicated skill sets that even senior people struggle with it. So, they push and give me support me to stay, and I stay.

In this article, I want to share everything I learn as a first-time manager. Everything I write here is based on my direct interaction with my team members, discussion with fellow managers at iPrice, reading books, watching videos, and listening to a podcast. 

As a bonus, at the end of the article, I’ll share all the great resources about leadership and management.

1. Not everyone wants to be a manager and should be a manager

Managerial is like being a parent, it comes with a huge responsibility. So not everyone is ready to handle that and not everyone should be one. 

Remember that a good individual contributor doesn’t necessarily will be a good manager. It required totally different skill sets.

2. You must have empathy for people you lead

To be a great manager, you need to genuinely care about the growth of your people. If you don’t have this, your journey will be quite challenging.

3. Your success is measured by the growth of your team members

A great leader is the one who can really grow and develop the people that work with them. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about your team members.

4. Manager’s day is like a roller coaster — up and down

One day you will feel like this is the best job in the world. But on the other day, you will feel like you are doing a terrible job. It’s totally normal. If you feel down, go home, take your dinner, and have a good sleep.

5. You don’t need to understand everything, and that’s okay

As a leader, you don’t need to understand every detail about all the topics. And that’s perfectly okay. If you don’t know, you ask for help. This is also the reason you also hire new people to your team.

6. Admitting your weaknesses to the team can make you a stronger leader

The mistake I did as a new manager is that I wasn’t being honest with my team members. When it comes to numbers, it took me longer to understand. But I didn’t admit it. Pretending to be good at it. This is a terrible idea. 

Be honest about what you can’t do and ask for support. That is totally okay.

7. Your relationship with your team members will change and that’s okay

If you start from the executive and promoted to be team lead like me, you will feel that the relationship between you and the other teammate slowly change. Some of us might say that “But we still can be friend right”. 

The reality is your working relationship with them will change. At some point, you will piss them with your decision. Take this as one of the consequences when you choose to go this path.

8. You are a public figure, everything you do is become the focus of attention of team members

You might not aware of this, but people are really looking at the way you behave, the way you dress up, the way you communicate, the way you treat others, and so on. Be more aware of this.

9. People will talk (and even complain) about you

Since you are a public figure, people will have a different opinion about many topics about you. And most of the time they will do it behind your back. This is perfectly normal.

10. You need to protect your team members from external and internal danger

People are extremely effective & productive when they feel safe while working. 

So, your role is to create this safe working environment for them. Safe to share a different opinion, safe to give honest feedback, safe to fail, safe to ask for help, etc.

11. It’s a lonely journey…

When you are at the executive level, you have at least 2–3 people that share the same role with you. So, you have people that you can complain about your boss. 

But when you are in the managerial role you have the pressure from your direct reports and also your direct manager. If you have a problem, you can’t just complain as easy as when you are in a more junior role.

12. Leadership is a skill. To be great, you need to consistently learn about it

No one is born to be a leader. It’s a skill just like other skill sets. It’s hard, but if we really put our energy and time to learn about it, I am sure you can. 

You just need to know what information read, watch, or listen and know where to get that information.

13. People who feel good about themselves, produce great results

It’s important to make sure people understand if they are doing a great job. Because confidence really plays huge in people’s motivation to do things beyond expectation.

14. You can’t motivate people. Because motivation comes from the inside not outside

How to motivate my team members?” 

The answer is you can’t

What you can create an environment where people can get motivated by different things that are relevant to their interest.

15. Understand the interest and career goal of each team members and give project/ task that will help them in achieving that

Different people have different career aspiration. Have an open discussion with each of them to understand this and work to help them achieved that.

16. When setting up a goal for the team, involve the team that will execute that

It’s super important for people to know “why” you guys are doing something. Ask their opinion and also a suggestion for it. 

When people involved in the decision-making process, they will have more commitment to achieve this.

17. “Ask” instead of “Tell”

People don’t like to be spoon-fed. Their opinion is matter. So, when you want them to do something, ask their opinion about it not just directly tell them what to do.

18. Different people have different preference to think and also to act

If you are like me, I am working with people from different countries and also different age group. It’s important for me to always adjust my approach when I work with them.

19. Understand the “Skill” and “Will” of each direct report

At the end of the day, you want your team members to be really successful. Using the same development approach for all people is a bad strategy. You want your team to have high “skill” and also high “will”. 

But some people might have a high will but ok skill. Some very high skill but low will. By understanding this, you can adjust your approach to help them.

20. People do a remarkable job when they are working as a team

What makes human being unique and more successful compared with other species, is that we can work together in a team.

21. Proactively share good learnings for your team members

You might find a great-relevant article, video, or podcast. Do share that with your team members, publicly and privately. 

It sounds simple, but it means a lot for the them. It shows that you really care about them.

22. When you give praise and feedback make it extremely specific

You are doing a good job!” or “The work is really bad” are the example of very bad feedback. 

You need to be very specific when want to praise someone or share your feedback. Explain: what, when, why, who, where, and how.

23. It’s important to promote the work of your team members to other people inside & outside the company

Exposing the work of your team members to external parties is good for them as it’ll help them to gain trust and also credibility from other people in the company or also industry. And they will appreciate your effort on this.

24. When you see unexpected behavior from your members, tell them directly about it

Don’t wait too long to re-direct your team members. Because you and the person might forget about it. 

You can either use your digital communication or have a 5 min face to face discussion.

25. When you give feedback, be super explicit about your intention

Let’s face the truth, by default no one likes to receive feedback, especially the hard one. 

So when you need to do it, make sure you tell them very explicitly that you are doing this to help them further grow in their career and personal journey.

26. Praise both in public and private but criticize only in private

When your team member did something great, always remember to praise them in public and also private. But when there is something you want to criticize, always do it in private. 

No one likes to feel ashamed in front of people.

27. It’s important to have your regular weekly 1–1 meeting

This is the time for you to talk about their career growth, share your feedback for them, help them with their projects, and last but not least, to also proactively ask their feedback about you. Because you also need to learn from them.

28. When you ask feedback from your team, show them that you are not only listening, but also doing it

When you ask for feedback and people gave it, do it. Don’t just ask and do nothing about it. You need to practice what you preach!

29. Don’t be defensive when your team criticize you

If you start being defensive, people will stop giving you one. If they give feedback it means they care.

30. Hiring skill is super important

When you hire people, it’s like inviting new people to become your new family. 

Do it right and you will see the improvement in the team members. Do it wrong, and you will see the team’s dynamic become really bad.

31. Involve your team members when you will hire a new person for the team

One new strategy that I started doing in the past few months is to involve the team members to do the group interview with the potential candidates. It’s like the “ask them anything” session. 

After that, all the members will share the pros and cons of the candidate. I found a lot of great insights from all of them.

32. “Trust” — giving and earning it is super important to lead an effective team

As an effective leader, you need to give your trust to the team members and also earn the trust from them. If they don’t trust you, your leadership journey will be super hard.

33. Involve them in more “strategic” activities or projects

Everyone loves to work on something “important”. So, give each of the team members a chance to work on a strategic project in the company. It might not be directly relevant with the daily task and that’s okay.

34. Never expect people “should” know what you mean without explaining it in detail to them

Most of the communication problem happens because you as a manager “expect” your team should know already what you mean. If you have more than one direct reports, they might have a different understanding, different starting point, and different stage. 

So instead of directly “expect” them to understand, explain a bit more detail and ask if they already understand or need more explanation about it.

35. It’s good to have a debate with your team members. Focus on the goal no the “ego”

At some point, you will have a different opinion with your team members. Healthy debate is always good. But the question is how we can do that? 

One thing I that learn is to set a clear goal of what do we want to achieve in this debate? What problem we want to solve?.

36. When you really protect your people, your people will also do the same for you

This is just how human being works. When we really protecting other people, they will also protect you.

As promised, here are some great resources where I learn and get my inspiration for this leadership topics.

Books: Radical Candor — Kim Scot; One Minute Manager — Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson; Leaders Eat Last — Simon Sinek; The Culture Code — Daniel Coyle.

Website: First Round Capital, Farnam Street, Harvard Business Review.

Podcast: WorkLife by Adam Grant; HBR IdeaCast; Tim Ferris Show.

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