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How New Bosses Can Lead Without Experience

Trusted leadership is built upon your track record. But what if you don’t have one?

How New Bosses Can Lead Without Experience
[Photo: Flickr user emdot]

One of the biggest tasks a new boss has is building trust quickly. This is no easy feat; by its very nature trust is developed over time, sometimes years.

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But when you’re thrown into a management position without much experience, you don’t have this luxury. Your team will look to you for guidance now and your peers need to know you’re going to get the job done. While your old job was about managing yourself, your new job is about managing relationships.

As a new boss you’ve moved from managing something measurable to something more vague—now you’re managing a network of amorphous, ever-shifting individual personalities. And while I could give you advice on how to deal with managing your relationships, this would likely be guesswork since each relationship has its own particular idiosyncrasies, history, and potholes.

Instead, here are a few tips that will help you prepare to tackle each new relationship:

1. Work On Emotional Intelligence

A big part of being a manager is gaining self-awareness and practicing self-improvement. This is why great leaders are said to have an advanced level of “emotional intelligence.” They have the ability to perceive how their words and actions are affecting those around them and can adjust accordingly.

2. Map The Social System

Projects, initiatives, goals–they’re all attached to actual people. This is important to understand. If you can get to know the people behind the projects, you’ll have a much deeper understanding of the business issues and how to solve them.

This will aid in your integration and your ability to see not only your team’s projects but also the bigger picture. If you understand what others are working on and can practice empathy, people will respect you.

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3. Be Cool With Ambiguity

This is the thing you learn very quickly as a first-time manager: You have very little idea of what you will be working on on a day-to-day basis. As much as you have projects and meetings lined up to complete, much of your work will be putting out fires, squelching inner-team eruptions, or changing goals midstream based on new directives from above. The sooner you can be okay with ambiguity, the better your response.

4. Keep It Real

Bosses tend to use bold declarative statements and manager jargon. There’s a certain natural authority that comes with your move into a management position. This natural authority kindles a desire to maintain and constantly prove that your authority is earned. But your team can smell your fear, and trying to constantly prove your authority has the opposite of its intended effect. It is much better to admit that you, too, know nothing, and, despite this uncomfortable fact, you can be counted on to be decisive, communicate clearly and honestly, and steer the ship through the fog.

5. Learn How To Influence People

Since your job is about managing relationships now, take some time to learn about human behavior, psychology, what motivates people, and how to influence others. Most organizations are matrixed in their structure, and therefore your direct authority will only go so far.

When becoming a manager for the first time, it’s okay to feel vulnerable. Focus on communicating clearly, being transparent, building trust, and fostering relationships. With an emphasis on people over projects your transition will be that much easier–and more fun, too.

Scott McDowell helps creative teams and leaders be happier, more productive, and less stressed. He wrote New Manager Handbook to help leaders in transition panic less. Find him on Twitter.