Diana Brandl shares her top tips for leading a team as a new manager
Four years ago, I jumped into a role that was different to all the jobs I had had in my previous career as a C-Level Executive Assistant. I took a position at a start-up business in Berlin, Germany as a senior Executive Assistant working for the founder and the managing director. But there was something else about this role that attracted me. I was going to be managing three office managers. Three? Hell yes.
Me, a Manager?
Imposter syndrome kicked in straight away. Many of us know that feeling where you believe that you are not strong enough or competent enough for such a role. And this was the exact same feeling that I had. Was I ready for this challenge? Although I did have many doubts at the time, I felt that this was an opportunity I could not pass up.
I had no experience at all leading a team. I had supervised an intern in the past but that was all. From being in a role where I was the one reporting to an executive, suddenly, I was the executive for somebody else. The pressure was on.
The closer I got to my start date the more questions kept popping into my head. Would they like me, would they follow me, would I be good enough?
So, what did I do?
Here are my top five tips that that helped me to become a leader and establish an environment of trust:
We all know how important communication skills are. I remember many situations when I was hoping that my managers were better in terms of communication, so I knew that I wanted to be an expert in it. Once a week, we had our touch base meeting where everyone had the opportunity to share ideas. We talked about highlights and lowlights and the things we needed to improve. Everyone had a voice, it wasn’t just me talking and guiding, we included everyone. We had a clear agenda and goals. And we wanted to meet those goals.
Every six months I organized a strategy meeting where we did a deep dive into new topics. I wanted the company to see the value in us and to show that we had an impact in our roles. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Of course, I had to fight for our visibility, but I had great supporters by my side from the leadership team. I am forever thankful to them.
For me it was crucial to be an open and transparent leader from day one. It is important to talk about successes but also failures. I kept my team informed about the strategies, mission and vision of the company and made them aware of the roles they played in the organization.
My team new that it was OK to make mistakes – as long as they did not happen twice. I told them when I was satisfied with their work but also when I was disappointed. Once, I had to give out a warning letter. I felt horrible but it was part of my own learning process to become a leader. I was nervous before I talked to my team member about her misbehaviour. Was I making the right decision to give her a warning? In the end, I knew it was right, but emotions are part of our human nature and sometimes they can get in the way of making logical decisions.
I have been in many situations where I was “just the secretary” and I knew that I never wanted to let this happen to my office managers. They were all very young, inexperienced, came from different industries and were still on their learning curves. So, it was my duty to show them how valuable they were. I was protection, in many ways a shield, because the executive leadership team was not always easy to handle. Their expectations were sometimes higher than the level at which my team was able to perform. Managing this took a lot of energy. Sometimes I had doubts that I could manage all this properly, but my motivation was strong, and I wanted to achieve the best results.
I challenged my team every single day to become more visible and more vocal. I assured them that I had their backs. Let me reflect a moment on this and ask myself if my managers always had my back. The answer is no. A clear no to be honest. How about you? Can you clearly say yes? Think about it.
4. Be a Role Model
Who is your role model? I bet there are a few names that come to mind. Everyone has them. I have many role models and yes, I truly wanted to become one for my team. I wanted to guide them and be a good example. Demand from yourself the same level of professionalism and dedication that you would expect from others.
I offered professional guidance. A good manager and leader is sometimes an important mentor at the same time, so make yourself available and show interest in their career development within the company. Don’t overlook the motivational power of positive reinforcement – your team will appreciate your commitment to their progress.
I will never forget the feeling when I was called a role model for the first time. It was like double chocolate and vanilla ice-cream with butterscotch sauce on top. And then add sprinkles to it.
5. Value Your Team
My ultimate last recommendation for ambitious new leaders out there is that you should never see your workers as staff. See them as a team. Because this team will run many extra miles for you and the company. Take time to value them from day one and have the right attitude towards the principles of leadership.
There are No Limits
There are truly no limits to what we can achieve in the future. The year has just begun, it is all in your hands. Grow your leadership skills. It does not matter if you are leading one, two or three team members, the first step is the most important one. Be strong, be passionate. Set the benchmark. Blaze a trail for others who feel that they are not ready yet to lead.
Discover Your Strengths
Many Assistants have not yet fully discovered their strengths and abilities with regard to management skills. We need these skills in order to shape the future profile of our industry. Everyone will be thankful for the path you will walk and the stories you are going to share. Do not wait for an invitation to lead, take each opportunity and take your seat at the table.
Find your sounding board, a trusted mentor or coach who helps you succeed in your role. It will be a new feeling, but you will love it as you continue to discover new possibilities. Have a clear vision and strategy in place, be prepared for a rocky ride, but the real fun starts on the rollercoaster, right?
Reading all of this again gives me a warm and satisfying feeling about this incredible role I had. I do miss being an Assistant, I truly do. However, being an Assistant prepared me in many ways for the path I am walking now. I am an entrepreneur, a solopreneur to be correct. I fight alone. Having a leadership mindset was and is important.
Your Future Leadership Role
I am excited to learn what principles you may discover in your future leadership role. Although this may seem to be far away, you never know when a new opportunity will arise. My advice here is: grab it. Even if you are afraid of it. The adventure starts when you say “Yes”. Believe me, I know exactly how it feels when you are afraid of failing. But never forget that failure is part of our growth process. There were certainly decisions and initiatives I took that were simply wrong, but I learnt from them, mainly through working with a mentor.
Get ready for a new chapter in your career, as it may come sooner than you think. You can make this year successful by leaving your comfort zone.
It’s Never About the Title
Never forget that being a leader is never about the title. There are tons of fancy titles out there, but on the inside, we do not always see leaders. We see great managers, but not leaders. It all starts with the right attitude. You do not need a PHD for that or a certificate from Harvard. The best leaders lead with their hearts.