Learning to Lead: Lessons From Being a Young Manager

Learning to Lead: How to Succeed as a Young Manager

Learning to Lead: How to Succeed as a Young Manager

An email came through my inbox today with an article that discussed the difference between managers and leaders, making a case that they are not one in the same. Leaders do things like ask questions, give praise and give others credit while managers give answers, forget to praise and want all the credit. Obviously, the former is considered more productive than the latter. While I’m no longer in the management position that I held with my previous company, I did see this as an opportunity to reflect on what it was like being a young manager in the workforce and what it truly means to lead.

When I became a manager, I was just 23 years old. The trickiest thing with becoming a manager at a young age was that I was responsible for giving clear direction on tasks, communicating company goals and guiding people in their roles – and I still had so much to learn about all the above myself! Not to mention I had much to learn about my industry (at the time, that was journalism), so when I became a manager I did not feel qualified. Deep down, I wasn’t sure I could talk the talk nor walk the walk.

At one point, everyone I managed in our small newspaper office was older than me. Some were totally ok with me “leading” them, others not so much. Needless to say I learned very quickly how to be the best leader I could be.

But I did go through some growing pains. Because we learn mostly from our mistakes, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you what I learned as a young manager not to do.

Leaders do not gossip. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting those who you manage to see you as a fun, nice and laid back person. Trust me, I wanted so badly to be everyone’s friend. But suddenly, being a manager meant I couldn’t participate in the whining about our modest salaries or the salesperson who drove everybody crazy. I’m going to be honest and say it was very hard not to carry on this type of chitter chatter with those who used to be my peers. But it was important to me that our office be an upbeat place where we all could feel valued, appreciated and happy. And I knew enough to know good leaders simply do not gossip. It’s trashy and immature – not the qualities of a leader. Always set the example; don’t worry, it does not mean you can’t be the fun young person you are. There are other ways for your personality to shine through.

Leaders are not wishy-washy. I mentioned that I experienced some growing pains, right? Let me tell you a little story. I had one great reporter who was very good at getting her job done. There’d come times where, as her editor, I needed her to cover a story late at night or take photos on the weekend. I was terrified of asking her to complete these duties even though they fell within her job description. I recall the way I’d give her — no, ask her, sheepishly — to do the assignment. I don’t know why, but I felt uncomfortable telling someone what was expected of them. I wondered often, if my wishy-washy direction was apparent to me, could she sense it too? I did not want to be that kind of a leader. I committed myself to working on how I gave direction.

Leaders do not talk themselves down. I cannot stress this enough. The number one mistake that screams “I’m not qualified to lead” is saying that you are (or acting) unqualified. This goes for body language too. I caught myself having to hoist my shoulders back, quit stumbling over my words saying things like “sorry, I wasn’t sure if I should ask you this or not but…” If we’re not constantly telling ourselves we can act like a leader, where will the confidence come from otherwise? You cannot rely on a title to give you this courage or the compliments from others saying “she’s a great manager.” Visualize the type of leader you want to be, and start making it happen.

Leaders do not procrastinate. Often, when we have managers, we can put a question on hold or a task on the back burner until we can ask them what to do. For the most part, that all goes away when you’re given the title of manager. That’s not to say you can’t turn to a senior person, but as a manager you’re expected to think on your own feet. The best, best, best skill I learned was how to figure things out on my own and be decisive. When you’ve got no other option, you’ll find a way. And you have to, because those who report to you need to know what to do. And those outside the company have plenty of questions, too. I ultimately enjoyed the challenge of being asked a tough question on the spot.

Leaders do not act like they know it all. Nor should they feel they have to fake knowing it all. It’s one thing to fake your confidence until you are confident, but it’s not realistic to be or pretend to be all-knowing. I am not all-knowing, but I still got a newspaper out each week, with the help of my team. I had to embrace what I was good at, and not so good at, and delegate where necessary. Leaders need to be willing to learn. You know that saying, “listen more, talk less?” Listening + learning = leadership. Likewise, don’t be afraid of making mistakes or to let others make mistakes. It’s usually not a sign of ignorance but of learning, growth and taking risks.

Manager or not, I think learning what not to do as a leader comes in handy whenever you’re wearing your career hat…or maybe even in other aspects of your life where you find yourself in a leadership position.

1 Comments

  1. WOW! Great advice Steph! Incredibly insightful, especially for such a young career woman!

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