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Our generation is entering management positions decades earlier than those before us. And let me tell you, lack of experience and training in management is a dangerous combination.
I was promoted to a leadership position at 26, less than one year after I'd been hired at entry level. I sucked. I had no clue how to manage people and had a team under me, plus people I oversaw abroad who were twice my age with twice as many degrees.
Management is a skill that is both inherent and developed, and while I was born with natural management finesse, I was never taught the skill of managing people. But I took this challenge as an opportunity for growth and spent a year learning how to be a great manager.
Here's some nontraditional advice from a 20-something manager so you don't make the same mistakes I did:
Don't learn by example
Not knowing what to do, I copied my boss's management style because we had a fantastic and productive working relationship. It was a disaster. There's no cookie-cutter style for managing people, and part of being a good manager is reading people.
Use what worked for you as an employee in the past as information, but don't replicate it exactly and expect success. Try different techniques, and pay attention to what works until you create your own style.
Ask for help
When I realized I was drowning as a manager, I reached out to our HR consultant for guidance. We had meetings every month for me to ask questions and get feedback on specific issues. I read articles and books. I asked friends what they liked and didn't like in their managers and got advice from people who have been managing for decades.
Stand in your power
At 26, I didn't believe I was supposed to be a leader. I lacked confidence, and since the people I was supervising were my peers or older, I felt inadequate to be their manager. I quickly became a pushover. When I finally gained some confidence and tried to assert some authority, it didn't work because the pattern was already established.
Stand in your own power and authority from day one, even if you don't think you deserve it. Fake it until you become it. No one will be the wiser.
Odds are you didn't stand in your power from day one. Who does the first time they manage people? Manage your mistakes with grace. Admit you're not perfect, and reboot.
I took the opportunity of someone joining my team to create a new culture. I set the tone instead of letting the culture set itself. I asked my team what they wanted and needed. We drafted a team charter outlining our values, how we worked together, our expectations of each other and their expectations of me as their leader.
I created real, meaningful connections with them by making quarterly, day-long off-sites a team requirement. These took several different forms depending on our needs: targeted work sessions for a specific project, brainstorming new ideas and discussing challenging situations in the larger environment of the company.
These touch points were invaluable. Our team was spread across two offices, and although we were in contact almost daily, we needed in-person time to really connect and ensure effective collaboration when we were apart.
If you're unhappy with a pattern that has been created, find an opportunity to reboot and get back in control.
Ask for feedback
During our quarterly off-sites, my team would review the charter, and I made sure I was living up to their expectations and asked if there was anything more I could be doing. I had our HR consultant conduct a review of all the people I'd ever supervised so I could learn what people thought of me as a manager and how I could grow. I learned my strengths, weaknesses and areas for growth.
But equally as important, I demonstrated commitment to being a good leader and modeled that leaders can be open for criticism and need input to grow. Many managers and supervisors think the only way to gain respect and authority is by making themselves untouchable. Take the opposite approach: Make yourself human to your team and show your vulnerability.
Look outside the box for inspiration
I drew from my personal interests in food, yoga and productivity to bring our team together. During our off-sites, we would cook a meal together as a team-building exercise. Passion is an immediate way to create a connection.
How can you bring in your outside hobbies and interests and use them to bond with your team?
Support growth and be transparent about your shortcomings
Growth is a necessary factor in job satisfaction. I was clear with my team that I was not the be-all-end-all for information and growth. I was committed to their learning and tried to find innovative ways for them to grow, from pairing them with others in the organization with more experience to suggesting workshops and online courses.
Rather than make it seem like you know less, connecting your team with other experts will show your insight and intelligence.
Within a year, I had completely turned the ship around. I had a connected and efficient team; leadership in the organization saw it was one of the strongest teams. Taking the time and energy to become a good manager early will benefit you throughout your career. Do it by intentionally learning and connecting with the people you manage.
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