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36 crucial lessons I learned as a first-time manager

Andrew Citra Prasatya
Andrew Citra Prasatya

Head of Content Marketing for Southeast Asia at iPrice Group

Kuala Lumpur  /  Mon, June 10, 2019  /  01:50 pm
36 crucial lessons I learned as a first-time manager

Good bosses win the respect of their subordinates by owning up to their own mistakes and taking responsibility where necessary. (Shutterstock/File)

You are now in the third or fourth year of your career journey. You did really well at your role as an individual contributor and you want to get more. The company valued your contribution, so they promote you to become a team leader. You are super excited and super optimistic that you will be doing great.

But things don’t go as smooth as you’d expect. You don’t feel as energetic as before when you handle your own work and you are the superstar. Your stress level is higher and the relationship with people that used to be your teammates slowly changes. You start doubting yourself and you feel like you’re not achieving anything in this role.

This is the feeling I had when I first started leading the content marketing team at iPrice Group. When I was in a senior content marketing executive role, I could say that I did pretty well. We produced great content, obtained publication and organic links from top publishers, both local and international.

When they promoted me to become a team leader, I thought I was doing well.

I was 100 percent wrong.

The team dynamic was not good, people were leaving the team, I didn’t know what to do and felt very frustrated.

By the end of last year, I talked with my direct manager, who was the CMO, and the COO of the company. I told them that maybe I should just stop being a team leader and go back to being an individual contributor. But both told me that the managerial skill set was one of the most complicated ones, which even senior people struggled with. So, they encouraged me to stay, and I did.

Here, I want to share everything I've learned as a first-time manager. Everything I write here is based on my direct interaction with my team members, discussions with fellow managers at iPrice, reading books, watching videos and listening to a podcast. As a bonus, at the end of the article, I’ll share all the great resources about leadership and management.

1. Not everyone wants and should be a manager

A managerial role is like being a parent: It comes with a huge responsibility. So not everyone is ready to handle the responsibility and not everyone should go for it. Remember that a good individual contributor doesn’t necessarily make a good manager, as the latter position requires a totally different skill set.

2. Have empathy for people you lead

To be a great manager, you need to genuinely care about the growth of your people. If you don’t have this, your journey will be quite challenging.

3. Your success is measured by the growth of your team members

A great leader is the one who can really grow and develop the people that work with them. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about your team members.

4. A manager’s day is like a roller coaster

One day you will feel like this is the best job in the world, but the next day, you will feel like you are doing a terrible job. That’s totally normal. If you feel down, go home, have your dinner and get some good sleep.

5. You don’t need to understand every topic

As a leader, you don’t need to understand every detail about all the topics. If you don’t know, you ask for help. This is also the reason you hire new people to your team.

6. Admitting your weaknesses to the team

The mistake I did as a new manager is that I wasn’t being honest with my team members. When it came to numbers, it took me longer to understand, but I didn’t admit it. Pretending to be good at something you’re not is a terrible idea. Be honest about what you can’t do and ask for support.

7. Your relationship with your team members will change

If you start from the executive and are later promoted to be team lead like me, you will feel that the relationship between you and the other teammates slowly changes. Some of us might say that “We still can be friends”. The reality is your working relationship with them will change. At some point, you will disappoint them with your decision. Take this as one of the consequences when you choose to go this path.

8. You are a public figure

You might not aware of this, but people are really looking at the way you behave, the way you dress up, the way you communicate, the way you treat others and so on. Be more aware of this.

9. People will talk (and even complain) about you

Since you are a public figure, people will have a different opinion about many topics about you. And most of the time they will do it behind your back. This is perfectly normal.

10. You need to protect your team members

People are extremely effective and productive when they feel safe while working. So, your role is to create this safe working environment for them. Safe to share a different opinion, safe to give honest feedback, safe to fail, safe to ask for help, etc.

Read also: Could a bad boss make you a better leader?

11.  It’s a lonely journey

When you are at the executive level, you have at least two people who share the same role with you. So, you have people that you can complain to about your boss. But when you are in the managerial role you have the pressure from your direct reports and also your direct manager. If you have a problem, you can’t just complain as easily as when you are in a more junior role.

12. Leadership is a skill set

No one is born to be a leader. It’s hard, but if you really put your energy and time into learning about it, I am sure you can succeed. You just need to know what to read, watch, or listen to and where to get that information.

13. People who feel good about themselves produce great results

It’s important to make sure people understand if they are doing a great job. Because confidence plays a huge role in people’s motivation to exceed expectations.

14. You can’t motivate people

“How to motivate my team members?” The answer is you can’t. What you can do is create an environment where people can get motivated by different things that are relevant to their interest.

15. Understand the interest and career goal of each team member

Different people have different career aspirations. Have an open discussion with each of them to understand this and work to help them achieve that.

16. Involve the team

It’s super important for people to know “why” they are doing something. Ask their opinion and also a suggestion for it. When people are involved in the decision-making process, they will be more committed to achieving this.

17. Ask instead of telling

People don’t like to be spoon-fed. Their opinion matters. So, when you want them to do something, ask their opinion about it not just directly tell them what to do.

18. Different people, different approaches

I work with people from different countries and different age groups. It’s important for me to always adjust my approach accordingly.

19. Understand the “skill” and “will” of each direct report

At the end of the day, you want your team members to be successful. Using the same development approach for all people is a bad strategy. You want your team to have high “skill” and also high “will”. But some people might have a high will but just an OK skill, others very high skill but low will. By understanding this, you can adjust your approach to help them.

20. People do a remarkable job when they work as a team

What makes human beings unique and more successful than other species is that we can work together in a team.

Read also: Common behavior of the worst bosses

21. Proactively share good learning for your team members

You might find a great relevant article, video or podcast. Do share that with your team members, publicly and privately. It seems simple, but it means a lot to them. It shows that you really care about them.

22. When you give praise and feedback make it extremely specific

“You are doing a good job!” or “The work is really bad” are the example of very bad feedback. You need to be very specific when praising someone or giving feedback. Explain what, when, why, who, where and how.

23. It’s important to promote the work of your team members

Exposing the work of your team members to external parties is good for them as it’ll help them gain trust and credibility from other people in the company or also industry. And they will appreciate your effort on this.

24. When you see unexpected behavior from your members, tell them about it

Don’t wait too long to redirect your team members. Because you and the person might forget about it. You can either use digital communication or have a five-minute face-to-face discussion.

25. When you give feedback, be super explicit about your intention

Let’s face the truth, by default no one likes to receive feedback, especially the hard one. So when you need to do it, make sure you tell them very explicitly that you are doing this to help them grow further in their career and personal journey.

26. Praise both in public and private but criticize only in private

When your team member did something great, always remember to praise them in public and also private. But when there is something you want to criticize, always do it in private. No one likes to feel shamed in front of people.

27. It’s important to have your weekly 1-1 meeting

This is the time for you to talk about their career growth, share your feedback for them, help them with their projects, and last but not least, to also proactively ask their feedback about you. Because you also need to learn from them.

28. When you ask feedback from your team, show them that you are not only listening but also doing it

When you ask for feedback and people gave it, do it. Don’t just ask and do nothing about it. You need to practice what you preach.

29. Don’t be defensive when your team criticizes you

If you start being defensive, people will stop giving you feedback. If they give feedback, it means they care.

30. Hiring skill is super important

When you hire people, it’s like inviting new people to become your new family. Do it right and you will see the improvement in the team members. Do it wrong, and you will see the team’s dynamic become really bad.

31. Involve your team members when you hire a new person for the team

One new strategy that I started doing in the past few months is to involve the team members to do the group interview with the potential candidates. It’s like the “ask them anything” session. After that, all the members will share the pros and cons of the candidate. I found a lot of great insights from all of them.

32. “Trust” – giving and earning it is super important to lead an effective team

As an effective leader, you need to give your trust to the team members and also earn their trust. If they don’t trust you, your leadership journey will be uphill.

33. Involve them in more “strategic” activities or projects

Everyone loves to work on something “important”. So, give each of the team members a chance to work on a strategic project in the company. It might not be directly relevant with the daily task, and that’s okay.

34. Never expect people to “know” what you mean without explaining it in detail

Most communication problem happen because you as a manager “expect” your team to know what you mean. If you have more than one direct report, they might have a different understanding, different starting point or be at a different stage. So, instead of directly “expecting” them to understand, explain a bit more detail and ask if they understand it or need more explanation.

35. Have a debate, focus on the goal not the “ego”

At some point, you will have different opinions with your team members. Healthy debate is always good. But the question is how we can do that. One thing I learned is to set a clear goal of what we want to achieve in the debate. What problem do we want to solve?

36. When you really protect your people, your people will do the same for you

This is just how human beings work. When we really protect other people, they will also protect us.

As promised, here are some great resources where I learned about and got my inspiration for this leadership topic.


Andrew Prasatya works at iPrice.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.