27 September 2023

Smoothing the path to team leadership

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Kathy Caprino* outlines the pitfalls that can trap inexperienced managers in their first leadership role — and how to avoid them.

I’ve seen that it’s very common for unseasoned managers to feel doubt and insecurity — and experience imposter syndrome — about their work.

I certainly did on the first few times I was in a managerial role.

When we haven’t managed before and don’t have past successes to draw on, it can be a daunting experience, especially if we have no support from within the organisation.

Many new managers feel they are going at it all alone, and that’s a frightening prospect where failure looms large.

Many have said to me something to this effect:

“I just don’t know how to manage managers or my huge team, and I’m afraid to come down too hard on them because I’m so new at this. I’m over my head.”

There are five big mistakes I’ve seen unseasoned leaders and managers make, despite their commitment to their own success and that of their people.

Failing to offer clear, effective communication and feedback.

A two-way communication process with your teams and employees is essential if you want people to succeed in their roles.

You need to meet them regularly, share any concerns openly and clearly, and allow them to candidly discuss their projects, tasks, processes, what they may be struggling with, and what they need more help with.

You want to elicit their direct input as well, on all manner of things that could be improved or modified, for them to hit their goals successfully.

Typically, under-performers know they are failing but don’t know how to adjust what they’re doing to improve.

If they feel afraid to speak their mind to you, or if they don’t respect you enough to be open with you, more problems will ensue.

Finally, if you have a staff member who is failing at their work and projects, it must be addressed.

Talk to HR about your options, including putting the individual on a specific, time-based performance improvement plan and having a very straightforward conversation with them about what has to change.

Not engaging in appropriate boundary-setting.

For younger people, this can be a harder task, but it impacts seasoned managers as well.

You need to be very clear about your boundaries (what you will and will not accept, tolerate and allow) and your non-negotiables.

When people violate your boundaries, you need to make sure they understand that and tell them it has to change.

You need to make it clear to the organisation and other teams what your specific employees and team(s) need and deserve in order to succeed.

Boundaries are the invisible barriers that separate you from your outside systems and the world around you.

Boundaries define who you are, what you value and stand for, and they keep you safe and secure, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Having well-developed, healthy boundaries ensures you’re protected from behaviour and actions that are injurious, disrespectful, or invasive.

People with healthy boundaries know their limits and are able to enforce them with quiet strength and authority.

Neglecting to foster a cohesive team that understands their role and the role of others.

I’ve been astounded lately by stories I’m hearing of managers who fail to do what’s necessary to build a cohesive team.

Yes, individuals are important, but it’s teams and team efforts that typically make the largest positive impact in the success of an organisation.

A big error new managers make is that they manage individuals in a silo, failing to help those people understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

Without meeting with your teams together regularly, they can’t understand what others are working on and why those projects are important and how they impact everyone.

Feelings of resentment, disconnection, jealousy, and misunderstanding can often grow between team members if they don’t have regular opportunities to meet each other face-to-face to connect and share.

Failing to stand up powerfully for what they believe and think, to their staff, managers and leaders.

Another challenge for younger professionals and new managers is their reluctance to speak up to share their ideas, input, and constructive suggestions.

New managers often hold back and miss opportunities to contribute, fearing that their ideas or suggestions may not have merit.

They’re often intimated by more senior people.

It’s critical that you begin to use your voice more powerfully now, and share your ideas and suggestions.

Not asking for the help they need.

According to my latest survey, 71 per cent of professional women claim they are isolated from influential support.

An even greater number (83 per cent) of professionals between the ages of 18 and 24 are not connecting with mentors and sponsors or building a support network.

One of the single most important things you can do to succeed in your career and role is to get help when you need it.

That includes fostering mentorship relationships within your organisation as well as outside of it, and connecting with sponsors.

Sponsors are people who serve as mentors and are happy to offer guidance and advice, but they also have power, influence and clout.

It’s sponsors — high-level, influential people who can help elevate you and connect you with new opportunities you can’t access on your own — who can truly help you move the needle in your career.

*Kathy Caprino runs a leadership and career success coaching and consulting firm dedicated to the advancement of women. A trained therapist and coach, she has worked with more than 10,000 emerging women leaders. She can be contacted at kathycaprino.com.

This article first appeared at forbes.com.

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