January 1st marked the start of a new year, but for me, it was the anniversary of a major career milestone: becoming a manager. One year ago, I was promoted from an individual contributor to a manager, and every day since has been an opportunity to learn and grow in my career. And while there’s a lot of great career advice about landing the promotion, there’s not always clear next steps about what to do once you get it.
Managing and leading others is a huge responsibility and a privilege. My first year as a manager introduced me to many firsts, like hiring for the first time and providing regular feedback. It also came with both highs and lows. For instance, I’ve gained so much fulfillment in my career by providing support and career growth opportunities for others. I’ve also been challenged like never before as I learned how to delegate and balance my responsibilities with those of my team. While I’m nowhere near perfect at it, managing is a skill set I look forward to continuing to develop.
Most of the career lessons I’ve learned can be difficult to identify in the day-to-day but often become clear in hindsight. I hope that by sharing the lessons I learned as a manager, I can inspire a new leader to have a fulfilling first year. Here are five lessons I’ve learned throughout the past year that can set you up for success, too:
Just because you’re good at doing doesn’t mean you’ll be natural at leading.
Exceptional performance as an individual contributor doesn’t always equate to exceptional performance as a manager. You get promoted because you have the skills, but being a manager requires more than being great at your job; it requires inspiring others to do their best work. Some people may think they’re one and the same, but this past year, I learned they’re absolutely not.
Exceptional performance as an individual contributor doesn’t always equate to exceptional performance as a manager.
Managing others has flexed a muscle I’ve never used before in my career. Sure, I’ve led interns or projects throughout my career, but to be responsible for fostering someone else’s development and career growth was an entirely new ball game. I’m fortunate to have enjoyed learning how to use that muscle and building it throughout the past year. Some newly promoted managers may give it a try and realize they don’t like the new responsibility and are better suited as an individual contributor, which is totally fine. It takes experience and intentionality to be a good leader. It also takes time to cultivate your skills. As a stellar individual contributor and new manager, allow yourself the space and grace to become a great leader, especially if it doesn’t come second nature to you.
The best way to learn is by doing.
You can read all the professional development books (and trust me, I have), but nothing prepares you to be a manager quite like doing the work. It’s common to make assumptions about roles and responsibilities you’ve never done first-hand. You may even think, “If that were me, I’d never do that. I’d do it this way.” It’s easy to make up stories about situations we’ve never found ourselves in. But it’s harder to do the work once you get there. You can plan and strategize your way to success before getting into a new role, but practical application is key to letting those important career lessons really sink in.
The good thing about managing for the first time is that you can draw from your experience on the other side. Throughout my career (and I’m sure you’ve done the same), I’ve noted great leaders and not-so-great managers. I have first-hand experience of how it feels to work with a great leader and examples I can draw from to lead with the same poise. While I believe the best way to get good at something is by doing it, I’ve had inspiration to help me be successful throughout my first year as a manager—the rest I’ve had to learn the hard way, through doing the work.
Building trust is just as important as building skills.
People often get promoted into management roles because they’re awesome in their line of work, and they show potential to grow and succeed with a company. While a balance of hard and soft skills is essential no matter your position, individual contributor roles are based more heavily on the hard skills (i.e., the technical skills of fulfilling your job responsibilities). This looks like creating an awesome slide deck or writing a well-thought-out communication. But as you develop as an employee and build your legacy at a company, building trust with others and cultivating relationships becomes equally as valuable as knowing how to get the job done.
Roles and teams don’t operate in a vacuum. It’s up to employees to collaborate for the company to succeed. Just as a server at a restaurant wouldn’t have food to serve a customer without a chef and everyone in the prep kitchen, a manager needs individual contributors, managers, and company leaders to thrive in their role. No matter what career stage you’re in, but especially as a first time manager, take the time to connect with others at your organization. That includes those on your team, people you collaborate with, and others with valuable insight to share about your company or industry.
While it might feel awkward to send an email asking to connect with someone you usually don’t interact with, I know from experience that people are more welcoming and open to the idea than you’d think. Taking the time to build trust with others is crucial because there will come a time when you’ll need to rely on each other to accomplish a goal, and you’ll have already laid the foundation of a fruitful relationship.
As a leader, asking for what you need is still important.
You might think that as a team leader you need to have all the answers and everything you need to succeed. But that’s simply not the case. Since managers have the crucial responsibility of supporting and developing others, they need to ensure that they have what they need to perform well in their roles.
Yes, some managers of managers will offer suggestions and guidance unprompted, but that’s not always the case. People are not mind readers, so ask for what you need. Do you need support on a project? Ask. Do you have questions you’re struggling to answer? Make it known. Do you need training, or are you interested in a professional development opportunity? Gather the details and ask your manager for their support. We can’t rely on others to anticipate our needs. So, don’t be afraid to speak up.
People are not mind readers, so ask for what you need.
Don’t forget to allow yourself to be new.
If you’ve recently been promoted, congratulations! That’s a huge deal, and chances are this is the first time you’ve been in this specific role at your current company. You don’t need to have it all figured out. No one is expecting you to. Remember, you’re new, so allow yourself to be new.
This may feel hard, especially if you want to appear like you have it all together. I know it was for me. But think about what you’d expect of the people you manage. Would you expect a new hire to come in and know exactly what they’re doing from day one? Of course not, they’re new. Allow yourself the same grace. It’s okay not to know what you’re doing and ask for help. It’s okay, and even encouraged, to ask questions to better understand your role and responsibilities. You’re only new for so long. Use it to your advantage and as an opportunity to learn and grow.
These are a few of the valuable lessons I learned during my first year, and I imagine there will be many more lessons awaiting me in the future. If I can offer one final piece of advice to support you in your first year as a manager, always remember you’ve got this. You were promoted for a reason. You’re meant to be here. You deserve to be here, and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things you’re going to accomplish.