Take the lead: What I’ve learned as a first-time manager

Doubt. Terrible, isn’t it?

I’m not somebody who naturally doubts myself. I’ve got an exciting job in an industry I’m passionate about.

Two and a half years ago, I started at Pleo as an Account Manager. Before long, I took leadership of one of our sales teams.

Now I’m heading up our partnerships team in Denmark, Sweden and the UK.

When you’re new to leadership, it’s natural to ask yourself: What am I even doing?

Stepping into a leadership role has been a fun ride, but doubt was unavoidable. And the question I return to in my moments of doubt is a simple one – but also a big one.

What am I even doing?!

I’m figuring out how to answer that question and deal with those doubts.

So I wanted to share some off-the-cuff thoughts that might help anyone else who’s managing people for the first time.

Don’t forget your strengths

One thing that helps me in those moments of doubt is to remember what got me into this position: I wanted to be a leader.

I saw our team needed someone to take charge and I started to do just that. The title came afterwards.

Seeing people grow? That’s the most rewarding thing.

And I’ve loved so many aspects of leading. Seeing people grow is the most rewarding thing ever.  Helping people to learn new skills, to overcome challenges, is an amazing motivator.

In those moments of doubt or stress, reconnect with why you wanted to lead in the first place. Put your focus on the most rewarding elements of the role.

Concentrate on the questions, not the answers

As a novice manager, it’s tempting to believe that I always have to lead the way. To imagine that my team need me to have all the answers.

It would be scary if that was true!

Instead of firing off an answer when my team comes to me, I’ve learned to try to ask the right questions.

It’s OK for me to admit when I’m stumped.

But where I don’t have answers, my team often does. Tell somebody what to do and you don’t get the same investment as when you guide them to developing their own answer – even if they want your backing.

It’s OK to admit when you don’t have the answers right away.

So even when things are running smoothly (rare for any manager I know!), prompt your team to uncover their own potential improvements.

Show them their input is valued, even in small things, and you’ll be encouraging their ability to think for themselves.

An empowered team is the kind of team I want to lead. I bet you’re the same.

Begin again

A beginner’s mindset is something that you hear a lot of people talk about in business – and especially start-ups.

For me as a leader, it means observing my team closely. Talking to them about what is and isn’t working. Learning from the way they perform best. No assumptions.

Challenge yourself to investigate new ways of working.

Sometimes it’s easy to think that because something worked for you, it will work for your team.

A beginner’s mindset means challenging yourself to be open to other ways of working.

Here’s an example of how to embrace the beginner’s mindset.

Ahead of a meeting, list the questions you want to be answered. Even though they might seem obvious, ask them.

And use silence. Often when we shut up, we get much more valuable information – handy when you’re a beginner.

Feel the fear… and give feedback anyway

It can feel really weird to give feedback for the first time.

What’s the best way to do it? Feedback that will benefit the employee, the team, the company and me… all at the same time?

Obviously, good feedback is great to deliver.

It’s the negative feedback that really presents the challenge. Imposter syndrome can set in: who am I to tell somebody this isn’t right? What do I know?

Here’s my advice: Just start doing it.

When giving feedback, offer lots of space for the other person to share their thoughts.

In my experience, people can appreciate feedback that’s delivered from a place of wanting to help them. At the start, you might feel like you haven’t nailed exactly what you wanted to say, but that’s OK.

Give lots of space for the other person (or people) to have input.

And get feedback on your feedback. A few days later, follow up with the person and see if they found your input helpful or if it’s raised any questions. Encourage honesty.

Look after yourself

If you’ve read this far, you might think that being a young leader in business sounds exhausting.

Guess what? It can be!

The most important lesson so far? Don’t be afraid to take a break!

Overthinking and analysing is part of the role (at least for me), which can be draining.

The benefit is that I feel I’m constantly improving because I spend so much time reflecting.

The downside is I need to remind myself to take a break. That might be the most important lesson I’ve learned so far.

For me, that involves daily meditation, adding breaks in my calendar (so that I will actually stick to it) and sharing my thoughts with people outside Pleo.

Doubt the doubt

That’s been my road into leadership so far.

One of my guiding principles is to be real and to be myself. That kind of transparency is vital to me and to Pleo.

And I hope that by sharing some of my doubts – and my strategies for coping with them – I’ll help shake up the old ideas about what management involves.

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