Dealing with young managers is great. I can spot the anxiety, nervousness and stress of inexperience like a mask of fear, mostly because I was once in their shoes.

I was not a "natural leader" early in my career, I was lucky to have managers believe in me and give me opportunities through promotions. During these times, while transitioning from a subordinate into a management role, I made my fair share of embarrassing mistakes -- more than I care to recount.

When young managers are promoted and thrust into a leadership role, missteps will happen. It is challenging to lead a team or department full of people who may be older or were once your equal colleagues.

The first thing I tell these young leaders is to find a mentor, someone with much more experience and who will be an objective but brutally honest sounding board for you.  

When I mentor young leaders, here are four simple priorities we discuss from the start.

1. Asses Your Environment

Analyzing a department or a team from the outside, as a manager, is much different than understanding it from the inside as a colleague. For instance, using deprecating humor was fun when you all went to happy hour after work, but now that you are a manager, this approach could degrade your credibility and authority.

Look at your colleagues as team members instead of friends and understand their professional personalities. Because you worked with them, you probably know the type of leadership style they want and that motivates them.

Recognize also that you are moving into a position with the authority to have an impact on their careers, so be sensitive to your own professional strengths and weaknesses and areas you may need to change.

2. Talk With Everyone Individually

The worst thing you can initially do is instantly try to lead by herd mentality. While you need to be sharp and lead by example, devote time to meet with each team member and have an honest conversation with them.

In these meetings, let them know that their jobs are safe -- even in light of the holiday party "secrets" you know -- and that both of your successes depends on working together. Set some expectations and let them know your boundaries.   

More important, keep this one-on-one communication going on a regular basis.

3. Listen

An inexperienced new leader often feels like the right thing to do is to start inspiring. In this new team dynamic, this can be effective initially when bringing the team together, but ultimately the best tone to take is one of a listener.

Ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening. Your colleagues should understand that you are responsible for the team -- and part of that team -- and they need to be able to trust that they can be open with you.

4. Critique in Private

Because you may have been previously working with individuals you knew were not carrying their weight or slacking off, it may seem tempting to use your authority to put them in their place or call them out. Now is not the time for that.

Instead, pull these members aside and in private apply the "You Suck Sandwich" method of delivering feedback -- tell them that you appreciate his or her efforts, provide constructive feedback with a roadmap for success, and close with letting him or her know you are both on the same team.

No team is perfect, and no approach should be generic. With differing and changing personalities, personal goals and attitudes, every leadership style will -- and should -- inevitably evolve.

From the start, however, applying these simple four priorities can get any inexperienced leader off in the right direction.

What other tips do you have for new leaders transitioning from subordinate to manager? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Published on: Feb 28, 2018