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Episode 1: Taking the Lead (transcript)

SONIA KANG: Congratulations..on the promotion. You are about to become a new manager leading a small team. It’s what you’ve been working toward your whole career. but here’s the catch: in a recent CareerBuilder survey, 58% of managers said that they received ZERO leadership training. None. In a Deloitte study, only 13% of surveyed companies said that they did a good job of preparing their new managers for success.

And this could become an issue, because the job that you excelled at before, the one that got you the promotion, is no longer the job that you have. You need to trade in those older, technical skills for softer ones. Soft in this case because they’re harder to quantify. They’re like the je ne sais quoi of leadership: communication, empathy, collaboration. At the same time, you also have to handle the gap between your millennial team members and the older ones. And, you might have to oversee a hybrid team. That’s a lot of stuff to manage.

I’m Dr. Sonia Kang and this is season two of For The Love Of Work, an original podcast about the employee experience, made possible by Rogers.

In the next six episodes, we are looking at what it means to lead during this unprecedented time. And we’re not entirely sure yet, where it’s headed. But we do know this: the need for leadership, and opportunities for it, have never been greater. So as we build to an episode about the best ways to deal with a hybrid team, we are gonna start by looking at what it means to be a first time manager.

New this season, we asked you to send in questions and stories about the things you’re dealing with at work. Here’s the first one.

UNKNOWN CALLER: Hi Sonia, I do feel I do fairly okay for a new manager but I have trouble with people skills because I’m really introverted. I have four employees or I guess team members and it’s pretty hard to deal with them sometimes. They’re driving me crazy. They want to do things the way they did in the past, not what I’m asking them to do. I’m looking for a way to get better at being a better manager and learn some leadership skills.

SONIA KANG: Hey new manager…I totally feel you. I dealt with this same struggle when I finally became a professor, after years of study. I started my own research lab which was awesome. Something I always wanted, right? But, that also meant I was now the manager of several researchers, all in different kinds of positions and contracts and I was responsible for budgeting and scheduling and, you know, making sure the whole thing didn’t implode. A million different things I didn’t really know how to do. So, I spent a lot of time wondering what if they figure out I don’t know how to do this?

BASIMA TEWFIK: When we typically think about imposter syndrome, we typically think that it is sort of this fear of being found out.

SONIA KANG: Basima Tewfik is a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. We’re talking to her first because, given the new manager challenges we just listed, it’s easy for anyone to feel overwhelmed or nervous, and in some cases, like mine, deal with straight up imposter syndrome. To help get over it, Basima says think of them more like imposter thoughts, rather than a syndrome, because thoughts are less scary-sounding and can be flipped.

BASIMA TEWFIK: What’s particularly interesting is that when you look back at the original work on this phenomenon, it was originally defined as the belief that others overestimate your competence.

SONIA KANG: This is an interesting distinction. Being found out suggests that you are impersonating something you’re not. Sorta like the occasional story we hear about someone with no medical training pretending to be a doctor. But, in a lot of cases, even though you might feel like an impostor, you’re actually qualified in many ways to do the new job, you just don’t see it. You were probably promoted for a reason. That’s what happened to me. I wasn’t paying attention to my talents and all of the stuff I did know. Basima discovered that same kind of misguided perspective when she studied a group of doctors.

BASIMA TEWFIK: It seemed to be that those doctors who had more frequent imposter thoughts were being much more..other focused. So, they were nodding a lot more. They were making better eye contact. They were asking follow-up questions. Those doctors who had more frequent imposter thoughts were actually rated by their patients as sort of being more interpersonally effective.

SONIA KANG: Basically, they were doing a better job because they worried about not doing a good job. The lesson here, new manager, is that you might think you’re doing a terrible job when you’re actually doing a great job.

SONIA KANG: Another thing Basima suggests, and it might seem counterintuitive, is even if you don’t think much of your own abilities try to help other people. When you do that, you’ll probably notice that some of your coworkers actually don’t know what they’re doing, but feel fine about it. Often folks who’ve always held power get to make mistakes without it shattering their confidence and taking over their entire lives. Compare that to women and people from other underrepresented groups who are constantly made to feel like frauds and like they have to prove themselves over and over again. And the worst part is, rather than acknowledging the role that the work culture plays in reinforcing impostor thoughts, all of that gets attributed back to something about them — their impostor syndrome. But you don’t own this problem, or at least not all of it – remember, 87% of workplaces say they don’t do enough to prepare new managers. A lot of this is actually on them.

BASIMA TEWFIK: I think it’s really important to start to think about how you can flip the narrative. And it starts with trying to remind yourself that maybe the reason you’re having these thoughts is because you’ve actually put yourself in a growth position. And if you’re realizing that those causes have to do with a recent promotion, a new project at work, that’s a good thing.

SONIA KANG: Right? You’re paying attention to your performance and you care about getting better. And being in those growth positions triggers more and more impostor thoughts, especially when you’re in unfamiliar territory.

BASIMA TEWFIK: I really recommend creating, I know this is going to sound very silly, but almost your compliment jar. So, looking back every email you received, or every conversation that you’ve had that has really told you that you are really great at what you do, and sort of remind yourself that you are successful and competent. Take a look at that, take stock of that.

SONIA KANG: Flipping the narrative is something that takes consistent work, but in general, imposter thoughts don’t follow you around forever. It tends to be a phenomenon mainly affecting the new and the young. And over time, you will become less new and not so young. You won’t be the new manager forever. And as that happens, your compliment jar will probably start filling up. Even if you’re the last to notice it.

WANYEE LI: The first time I became a manager, I didn’t have imposter syndrome.

SONIA KANG: Really? Wow…where was that? Wanyee Li: I was 18 and it was at Starbucks.

SONIA KANG: This is one of my producers, Wanyee…She basically coordinates everything I do on the podcast…But years ago she had a very different job.

WANYEE LI: I started as a barista and then after three months or so then I was promoted to a shift supervisor.

SONIA KANG: I know..barista, 18, you’re maybe sitting in your new office going “what?” But her story is a good example of a supportive workplace culture. Something other workplaces could emulate.

WANYEE LI: They kind of came to me and they’re like, “Hey, we’re thinking of putting you in a shift supervisor position. What do you think about that. I basically said, “Yeah, sure. But, but I don’t know how to do that.”

SONIA KANG: Right. But what Wanyee’s managers said next was key.

WANYEE LI: They’re like, “Yeah, don’t worry. This is not going to happen right away. We’re kind of just giving you a bit of a heads up and if you feel okay with that then there’s a whole bunch of training and coaching that we’re going to do with you.” So after that, I felt pretty good about it.

SONIA KANG: Training. Becoming a new manager can seem like the culmination of a goal, and it is, but it’s also the very beginning of a new challenge, often a steep learning curve, so learning and training is key to moving forward.

WANYEE LI: The training was in very digestible steps as well, so I never, at any point in time, felt like, “Oh gosh, this is too much. they’ve made a terrible mistake. I can’t do that.” you know? So just, it just felt very empowering..

SONIA KANG: So basically by the time you got that promotion, you kind of already knew how to do the job?

WANYEE LI: I wouldn’t say that I knew how to do the job? I guess in simple terms, it’s like imitating right? You kind of go out on the floor and you basically shadow someone who is already a shift supervisor and I hear another team leader saying to a barista, “Oh, hey. That was great. But next time, remember to do this one small thing.” And then when it’s my turn to do the similar thing, and so I kind of already had an idea of what that might look like.

SONIA KANG: Wanyee didn’t feel nervous or overwhelmed, or like an imposter because she wasn’t making it up, and she wasn’t made to feel like she wasn’t meeting expectations because her managers knew what she could and couldn’t do, and adjusted for it.

WANYEE LI: It’s kind of hard to feel imposter syndrome when other people are trusting you with the situation, right?

SONIA KANG: Listening to Wanyee, the irony isn’t lost on me that she got tons more help building the skills of a coffee shop supervisor than I got, to actually run a research lab at a major university.

WANYEE LI: A lot of people do say that the leadership position that they had at a young age, at Like McDonald’s. That’s the first time that they were like, “Yeah, I can be a leader.”

SONIA KANG: That kind of slow, careful leadership development doesn’t always extend into the corporate workplace. And as I said before, organizations need to do better when it comes to building their managers’ skills at any level. But there are some ways you can take a leading role in your own development.

RACHEL PACHECO: So the challenge is really, how do you build the skills of being a manager before you actually get management responsibilities?

SONIA KANG: Rachel Pacheco teaches at the Wharton School and is the author of Bringing Up The Boss: Practical Lessons For New Managers.

RACHEL PACHECO:  Most companies, most organizations I’ve worked with promote excellent performers, so someone who’s great at their function. What ends up happening though, is that that person who’s excellent at coding or excellent at marketing or excellent in finance hasn’t yet built the skills to be a great manager.

SONIA KANG: She is gonna teach us a bunch of stuff: how to communicate, give feedback and listen effectively as a new manager, how to lead with vulnerability, and how to manage colleagues more experienced than you…She says you should start practicing leadership long before an actual promotion.

RACHEL PACHECO: Yeah, there are so many things folks can do to prepare to be a manager before they ever have a direct report. And that’s because management involves a whole bunch of different things. It involves motivation, how do you structure work, giving feedback, having really difficult conversations. So there are a whole bunch of skills that one can practice without ever having a direct reporT.

SONIA KANG: Soft skills, being able to interact with people positively even when things are tough, can be practiced by anyone. And you can practice it first on your manager and colleagues before you are leading a team, because much of it has to do with communication. Communication is your ticket to being a good manager.

RACHEL PACHECO: The most important skill for a new manager to learn or to focus on is how to set clear expectations with their team members. And that means articulating what you expect for a work product, for a work behavior, for how you operate in a group or how you operate on a team and what great looks like in doing that activity.

SONIA KANG: This is called making the implicit explicit. Avoid assumptions when talking to your team. It’s even more important in a remote or hybrid work environment when communication and interaction is so fractured. Rachel breaks down this “being explicit” approach into four different areas. Things you should say to your reports.

RACHEL PACHECO: The first is, what’s the objective or the end goal of this task. Why are we doing it? What’s the point of it, what’s the impact that it’s going to have? The second is, what does good look like? So I’ve given you this task. The end goal is to build a customer database and what does good look like for our customer database? The third step, which seems deceptively simple and obvious is when do I need this by? And a lot of times, especially for new managers, they’re really hesitant to put a firm deadline in place because there’s a fear or concern about being perceived as bossy or pushy. And so often we say, “Hey, whenever you can. Whatever works for you,” but it creates a lot of confusion. And then the last is, provide examples, if possible. So a lot of times new managers are managing newer employees, folks who haven’t been working a long time. So this becomes even more important.

SONIA KANG: The byproduct of all of this clear communication is that it helps you, the new manager, stay on track. Next, let’s talk about a common managerial trap: micro managing.

RACHEL PACHECO: The reason why people micromanage is a feeling of a loss of control and not having all the answers. And so what we do is we become hyper-focused on what we can control, which is other people’s work product which is often the activities and the tasks that we used to be doing in our old job before we got promoted to being a micromanager. So, we then make our employees’ lives miserable because we get really involved in these activities that we’re familiar with and we feel like we have a sense of control and agency over.

SONIA KANG: I mean, this is fascinating. If you aren’t set up for success as a leader..then you might revert to what you were really good at: your old job. Which can have disastrous effects.

RACHEL PACHECO: Managers have the potential to make their direct reports lives absolutely miserable. People leave because of bad managers. So the stakes are incredibly high for new managers and for organizations to prepare their new managers.

SONIA KANG: So once you’ve been explicit with your team members around expectations, it’s often time for you to just stop talking.

RACHEL PACHECO: One of the most important things for a new manager to do is to listen to what their team members are saying.

SONIA KANG: By 2024, something like two thirds of millennials will be in management roles. And not long after that, Gen Z will join them. Often leading older generations of colleagues. And listening to older team members is a great opportunity for learning.

RACHEL PACHECO: What people hate with their new managers, especially their new managers that might be younger than them or have less experience, is they hate that cocky confidence, that person knows exactly what they’re doing and they are the expert at being a manager, when the team members know that you’re a new manager, they know that you don’t have the experience

SONIA KANG: This is a lost opportunity for productive listening. The interesting thing is that multiple studies have found that there isn’t as big of a difference between generations as some people think. If you’re a millennial leader, on balance, a Gen X team member thinks you’re qualified to do your job. It’s only when we buy into negative stereotypes about our own age group that it affects our confidence and behavior.

RACHEL PACHECO: So vulnerability breeds trust. And as a new manager, you want to show that vulnerability to your direct reports, and you want to share that you might not know everything, you don’t know everything yet about being a new manager. You want to hear from your team about what you can do better and you want to change when that feedback is given, and you want to be vulnerable about that.

SONIA KANG: Leading with vulnerability is extremely effective, and it models the kind of behavior you want from your team. It’s the essence of psychological safety. Focus on the things you and your older colleagues do share, instead of fostering an “us versus them” divide. Remind them of your shared work goals. Lean on their experience. Even let them lead sometimes.

RACHEL PACHECO: I think we often conflate leader, manager, boss. Manager, I think of as someone who has direct responsibility and authority over another employee. We’d love our managers to be great leaders, but we’d also love our managers to be great followers. So there’s a lot of different ways to be an exceptional manager.

SONIA KANG: At the same time, part of making the implicit explicit is learning how to give good feedback. It’s a serious skill, not something that is always intuitive. And usually harder when your team doesn’t quite trust you yet.

RACHEL PACHECO: Giving great feedback means being timely, so giving the feedback about the behavior whether it’s positive feedback or constructive feedback as close to when the behavior happened as possible. It’s not because “I’m the manager I’m right, and the behavior you did was wrong.” Starting from an objective place of data and observation about what the behavior is as opposed to starting from a place of emotion which ends up making people feel really defensive or confrontational. And then, great feedback also explains the impact that someone’s behavior had on the giver of the feedback, on the team, on the client. And then lastly, great feedback suggests a change in behavior.

SONIA KANG: Rachel uses the example of an employee who’s chronically late for meetings. She starts by neutrally mentioning the facts – showing up late to meetings has become a pattern. Then she says why that matters.

RP: The impact that it had on our team was that it disrupted the flow of the meeting…The person might come back and say, “Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. The bus schedule was delayed.” Or the person might come back and say, “I just have a really hard time juggling all all my obligations and then that might become a discussion of how can you help your direct report figure out how to better prioritize their time and work to clear up their schedule? Or the person might say, “I don’t think your meeting’s worthwhile” and that’s a whole other conversation. But the important thing is that you started from a place of objectivity, and you just stated the action that the person took, as opposed to starting from a place of accusation or a place of emotion.

SONIA KANG: As complex as this interpersonal communication stuff can be for new managers, the hybrid office and distributed teams are an added challenge.

RACHEL PACHECO: I think the biggest thing a manager or a new manager can do in terms of the hybrid workplace is think about this concept of inclusivity in building community.

SONIA KANG: So you’re having a team meeting. A few people are in the office relating directly to each other and to you. You’re in a groove but there’s like two colleagues on video, or even phone, and they’re feeling left out.

RACHEL PACHECO: So in examples like that, I like to use what I call the least common denominator method. And that’s if one person’s going to be on video for a meeting where a discussion is happening, then put all people on video. If one person’s going to be on the phone and everyone else is going to be on video, maybe think about having everyone on the phone. So it’s really this idea of how can we make sure people are included and that we’re building a community with every action that we do?

SONIA KANG: In some ways how we adjust to the hybrid workplace is similar to how we organically build our leadership skills on the job.

RACHEL PACHECO: It could include looking for role models and modeling your behavior over other great managers in the organization. And then the other type of training that works really well is just practicing some of these skills. And the challenge with practicing in the workplace is that you’re going to fail, you’re going to do them poorly, at first, and your employees might suffer as you’re practicing. So practice having the difficult conversations, practice being clear with expectations, ask your team members for feedback if you aren’t clear so that you can practice again. Practice motivating people in different ways, try things out. And over time, you’ll get better at what you’re doing and you’ll hone in on what your management style is. But it’s really about immediately applying things to your day-to-day work.

SONIA KANG: I guess this trial and error type approach that Rachel is describing is short term pain for long term gain. And in that trial period, it can be helpful to use Basima Tewfik’s techniques for reframing your impostor thoughts, and flipping the narrative to keep reminding yourself of your many talents.

And remember the need to make the implicit explicit while also being vulnerable as you learn. And as you get over your impostor thoughts, like I have mostly managed to do, pay it forward by creating more inclusive and psychologically safe workplaces for those coming up behind you. It could be something as simple as making a junior colleague feel seen and appreciated, or taking on a more substantial mentorship or sponsorship role, and always always pushing for structural changes that will make the workplace better for everyone. One of the takeaways I got from Rachel is how important it is to genuinely care for your team and to communicate that to them. We will go way deeper into that in an upcoming episode about Emotional Intelligence.

In the meantime, that last thing Rachel said: over time, you’ll get better at what you’re doing and you’ll hone in on what your management style is — makes me think that all of that practice and trial and error, those techniques might be the same for everybody. But where we get to, what our management style can be, will be somewhat unique to our own personalities. Our own leadership style. And only we can figure out what that is.

Thanks for listening. I’m Sonia Kang. And this is For The Love of Work, an original podcast made possible by Rogers. Find us at…for the love of work dot c-a. Talk soon.