Am I a good manager? Advice for first-time leaders.

Managing a team, whether you are a seasoned professional or stepping into a leadership role for the first time, will without a doubt be challenging. Challenges come with the territory. Personalities, work styles, opinions and changing culture dynamics all contribute to the nuanced discipline of being a team manager. When you take on a director or manager role for the first time, it’s not as much about eliminating challenges but more so how you work through and handle them.

If you are in this new position now, you likely have a thousand questions swirling in your head such as, “What if my team doesn’t think I’m a good manager?” Or, “If I mess up, will they be mad at me?”

“What do I do if they won’t accept my direction or suggestions?”

“How do I handle conflict?”

Whether you are one week or five years in to your leadership role, you may face these internal questions every day. And, there are plenty of experts out there who have written books on the most effective way to lead teams. Below are just a few of the tips relevant to me and our team here at Obsidian PR. We’re fortunate that we have a very positive culture here, so team issues are very rare, and hopefully, that’s in part to these management strategies.

Walk in their shoes

The saying, “walk a mile in my shoes,” could not ring truer here. If you’ve held the positions of your current team, you’ve already got a leg up. If you haven’t, try to create opportunities where you can experience their perspectives. This is incredibly valuable for creating objectivity. When presented with a challenge, approaching it objectively shows your team you’re not a dictator.

Practice empathy

This is pretty simple. I hold firm to the belief that some of the very best leaders practice empathy. People respond well to those who understand their feelings and take them into consideration. Everyone is different! We all have different struggles and sensitivities. So how you work with each team member has to be adapted to their unique traits. If you don’t agree with a team member or need them to accept the direction you are giving them, you can still do so while being empathetic. Empathy also comes a little more naturally if you’ve “walked a mile in their shoes.”

Guide from experience

The first two pieces of advice lead perfectly into this third strategy. Using past experiences of your own to present options, examples, approaches, etc., creates confidence in you as a leader. So, you must know the ins and outs of each of your team members’ roles yourself. You may not know every single detail, but knowing how to do their jobs gives you the ability to see their perspective, lead objectively and with empathy.

Lead by example

How many times have we all heard this? Well let me tell you – it’s important. Your team is going to follow in accordance with how you lead them. Are you ducking out early for no reason at all? If so, why shouldn’t your team do the same? Your actions, your work ethic and your attitude directly effect how your team performs. It sets the expectation at the forefront of your work culture. We work quite hard here at OPR, but our owner, our culture manager and I work equally as hard to recognize and reward the team’s hard work by way of flexibility, generous PTO, fun team outings and so much more. But those things don’t come until the work is done, and that’s where you lead by example – in the trenches, so to speak. There are so many considerations to work through as a first-time manager. You are not going to get it right 100 percent of the time. That’s OK because your team isn’t perfect either. It’s how you handle challenges together that creates a cohesive partnership and great work outcomes. This familiar quote originating with the poet John Lydgate sums it up perfectly – “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”