managemnet company strategy managemanet Succeeding as a First-Time Manager

Succeeding as a First-Time Manager

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HANNAH BATES: Welcome to HBR on Leadership, case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, hand-selected to help you unlock the best in those around you. Leading others comes with a lot of stress. But often, that stress comes from misconceptions of our own role. Today we bring you a conversation about becoming a manager for the first time — with the help of three women who’ve recently moved into management roles. They speak candidly about being newly in charge of other people: the surprises, the rewards, and challenges. If you’re a new manager yourself, you’ll get some ideas for building trust with your new team and getting feedback from the people you manage. And if you’re not a boss yet, you’ll learn how to prepare for that transition. This episode originally aired on Women at Work in October 2022. Here it is.

AMY GALLO: Amy B., remind me how long you’ve been a manager.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I have been a manager for about 30 years.

AMY GALLO: That’s a long time.

AMY BERNSTEIN: 28 years, yeah.

AMY GALLO: And have you managed both people and projects that whole time?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, both, and they were inseparable. So, projects, it was managing a section of a magazine, that sort of thing.

AMY GALLO: Right. Did you find one more challenging, being responsible for a project for the first time or being responsible for someone else?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Oh my god, well, managing people is infinitely more challenging.

AMY GALLO: How so?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Getting a project done has a beginning, middle, and an end, and then it’s over. But managing people is ongoing, and the sense of responsibility you feel for their wellbeing in the workplace, I really take it seriously that I want people on my team to want to be part of that team, and to want to do the work every day, and to feel really proud of what they do. And for their development, insofar as they need help with that, you know?

AMY GALLO: Yeah. So, when you first started out though, did you have that same sense of purpose and vision about what you wanted to do?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Absolutely not. All those years ago, I don’t recall anyone learning about management, thinking about management as a separate pursuit from getting a magazine out, or getting a TV show produced, right?

AMY GALLO: Right, you were just focused on the end game, not the process.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Right. Exactly, it was all about the thing we were doing, not about how we were getting it done.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. I have one more question about this transition you made; in the early days of being a manager, what did you find most challenging?

AMY BERNSTEIN: In the very early days, you’re hit by so many new expectations, that just getting them into focus and understanding what’s going on here is hard. But I do remember early on, just having this realization that I had gone from, as a solo contributor, really having to fight for myself, to reorienting to the idea that I’m fighting for the people I work with, who work on my team, but also for the organization. That my responsibilities extend way beyond me. You’re listening to Women at Work from Harvard Business Review. I’m Amy Bernstein.

AMY GALLO: And I’m Amy Gallo. Learning to lead other people is a stressful stretch assignment. Much of that stress stems from the misconceptions that individual contributors bring into the job, misconceptions around how much authority they’ll have, where power flows from, which outcomes they’re responsible for, and the key challenges to come. Then they start doing the work and realize they don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into because no one told them the truth about what it means to be in charge. These are findings from research by Linda Hill, a Harvard Business School professor who’s an expert on the experiences and failures of first-time managers. She’s also described how new managers she’s studied pushed through and became effective and successful leaders. After you finish listening to this episode, you might want to check out her book, Being the Boss, and really anything she’s written for HBR.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, Linda is amazing. Other researchers have covered how gender bias makes the growing pains more painful for women. A lot of people unfortunately still don’t see women as cut out for leadership, even if they never say so to your face. Subtle acts of exclusion can prevent us from developing a firm identity as a leader, especially if our companies aren’t taking certain actions to support that development. We’ll touch on one of those actions a little later.

AMY GALLO: On a related note – sorry, just one more downer, but I promise it’s all uphill from here – becoming a manager increases men’s job satisfaction, but not women’s. The researcher behind that finding, Daniela Lup, thinks the gap has to do with women, being the human beings that we are, underestimate the probability that bad things like sexism will happen to us. And so, she recommends that any woman considering entering management get a realistic assessment of the difficulties encountered by female managers. The more they are aware of these difficulties, she says, the more they can prepare for them.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Which is why we’re bringing in three women who can give us a realistic assessment. They’ve all been managers for less than a year. They’ve been dealing with these difficulties, and they’ve gained so much wisdom along the way. Taniya’s an electrical engineer in the public transportation industry in Boston. Maddie is a business analyst at a nonprofit in London, and Greta’s a scientist in Madrid working for a global climate tech startup. So, first, I want to thank all of you for joining us.

GRETA: Well, thank you so much for the conversation.

TANIYA: Thank you, Amy.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I want to start at the beginning with a question to all of you. Tell us how you became a manager. Let’s start with you, Taniya.

TANIYA: Well, so, I’m an engineer. So, on a day-to-day basis, I’m helping solve complex engineering problems. And when I got into the industry, I started working and I started doing my engineering things. And pretty soon I realized that it wasn’t just solving problems that interested me. It was also how you deal with people that really interested me. So, I figured that let’s try and explore that. And I shared that with my managers, and when the opportunity knocked on my door, I opened it and I was like, Here I am.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Terrific. And what about you Maddie?

MADDIE: I kind of fell into it. I did not follow my university planned career path. My background’s in music and I very quickly realized that’s not a career for me. And I ended up working for higher education roles, where I slowly got given more and more control over projects, and realized that that was something I enjoyed doing and that was something that I seemed to be naturally quite good at. And so, I slowly transitioned into being more of a business analyst and I saw this role come up that I do now. I kind of applied for it on a whim and I never thought I was going to get it, because I always think I’m not quite qualified enough. I had the interview and it felt like the perfect job for me, and I kind of fell into becoming a people manager. It was not really something I had set my sights on, but it’s been a few months. I’m quite enjoying it. It’s been going okay so far.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. And what about you, Greta?

GRETA: So, a little bit like Maddie. It just kind of fell by working in a startup, and suddenly the startup grows and it needs to have management. And in my case, they gave me the space to inquire a little bit what it meant to be a manager for a few weeks. And then, people ops did their job on, is this the right person to become a manager? With a little bit of hindsight, before working at the startup, I was working at a company that was self-managed. So, I think without knowing it, I became a manager by being my own manager, and that was pretty tough. I think I’m pretty difficult to manage actually, for myself.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I want to go back to you Taniya. Tell us about how you prepared to step into the role. You really didn’t fall into it. It was something that you took aim for. So, how did you prepare?

TANIYA: I think my preparation for being a manager was kind of twofold. When I let my managers know that this is what I was interested in, they started giving me small things to deal with. Maybe they were lower stakes, but it was to say they gave me the freedom to explore how I would deal with the situation. So, that was one thing that I did. And secondly, it was, I think also knowing that because I wanted to be a manager, I also wanted to get my technical base to be really strong. I really wanted to know what I’m talking about. When I talk to people, I should know what I’m talking about. I really do not want to be one of those people who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or that appear to not know what they’re doing. So, trying to figure out what to do, and also trying to know what I’m talking about, if that makes sense.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. So, I’m wondering when you first stepped into the role, you came in from the outside, right, Maddie?

MADDIE: I did.

AMY BERNSTEIN: What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced?

MADDIE: I think my biggest obstacle, because I’m quite a bit younger than some of my team, was proving that I am capable of doing the job, and that I will be good as a people manager as well as heading up the team. So, my previous team, I’d been promoted a few times, but I worked there over the course of five years and I kind of worked my way up. So, everybody knew me and knew my strengths where I was coming in from outside into heading up a team. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on me to prove that I’m highly capable and worthy of having that management role, given that I am quite young.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, let’s dig into this question of building trust, because that’s really challenging. And I recall facing that as well when I first went from being an individual contributor to managing people. I’m wondering what you’ve learned about building trust as you’ve become more comfortable as a manager. Taniya, any thoughts about that?

TANIYA: I think for me, the basic way of building trust is to also show that you have respect for the other person. And I think in turn, you start getting respect. The issue that Maddie faces, that’s exactly how it is with me too. I am probably one of the youngest people in my team and everybody I manage, it ranges from people maybe a year older to me versus somebody who’s 30 years older to me. I think I have figured it out where if I generally do have respect for them and I show it to them, they kind of build that respect and trust towards me as well. And then, I think another key to build someone’s trust is to also show that you’re not there to just prove your authority over them; you’re here to learn as well. And every single day you ask them questions, and they feel like they can put their trust in you because even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you would go back and ask them, what their opinion is.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Maddie, how does Taniya’s approach sound to you?

MADDIE: I think it sounds good. I think the asking questions is something that I’m slowly getting better at. When I first came in, I think I told myself that I shouldn’t ask questions, because I should know everything. But obviously, every company runs completely differently. I changed sectors when I changed jobs. So, there are a lot of things that I didn’t know, and I think I was afraid of coming in and looking like an idiot, like I didn’t have any clue what I was doing. But I think that level of openness and maybe even some vulnerability is really key when you’re trying to forge those trusting relationships with your team.

GRETA: But for me, at the very beginning, what helped me a lot was that I said, “Do you have any questions for me?” So, I felt that the only way of getting answers was to first prove that I was going to give also information, because I found the topics that had to be covered, some can be difficult to share for some people, like mental health, work-life balance. And only someone is going to tell you that they’re going through something difficult or hard if maybe you’ve said the same at some point. So, when the word vulnerability was said, that really resonated with me of even my myself saying, “Ask me questions, I’ll answer.” And that for me was very important to do.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And this sounds like this need to be vulnerable to win trust seems like something that the three of you kind of learned in the moment, on the job. I’m wondering, and I’ll put this to you Maddie, when you became a manager initially, what did you realize you were wholly unprepared for? What part of the job did you realize you really needed to think hard about?

MADDIE: I think for me it was, I had worked in the same kind of level for such a long time that I was so used to being involved in every little detail of things that were going on. I’m a bit of a control freak. I really like to know what’s going on. I really like to be able to keep my eye on everything. And when I first came in and my team has multiple projects on the go, I physically do not have the capacity to keep an eye on every single little task that’s going on. And I was so wholly unprepared to give up the level of control that I was used to and trust that other people do actually know what they’re doing. I had to kind of ease off a bit and focus on the high level, but learn to trust other people with the day-to-day running of these projects, which was really difficult when I first started. I really like being in control of them.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. Taniya, what about you?

TANIYA: When I was offered this position, the first thing I said was, “Wow, that’s a scary thought.” I was like, Wow, is this really happening? And then the manager, he just said, “Well, you can do it, and we are here for everything you need.” But even in that moment, I knew I could do it on a day-to-day basis, but I was totally not prepared to have a vision, to have a strategy on how I would do this long term. And I think I’m still trying to figure it out, but that’s kind of what I was not prepared for, even though I always wanted to do this.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Greta, what part of managing took you by surprise when you first started?

GRETA: I think the whole thing. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. And so, everything was a continuous discovering of like, Oh, this happens. Okay, great. Next. Next. So, I think the whole thing took me by surprise. I don’t think I had expectations, good or bad. So, I took everything a little bit of a discovery. I think what took me by surprise is how difficult it is to be a people manager whilst not being a work manager. So, that’s my case. I do not manage the work of people. So, I actually, not only what Maddie was saying about hoping that people know what they’re doing, it’s like I know very little of what people have to do. Each of them have their work, and then I also have my work as an individual contributor. So, what was interesting for me was to create a network with other people from the company to understand what was the ecosystem that was happening for each of those people, and try to see how they could get that feedback, that has to be a little bit continuous. And then, what has surprises me as well is that I struggle to get feedback from the people I manage. I think I’m doing, it seems, like a good job because people love to tell me, “No, you’re doing a good job.” I’m like, Okay, great. So, let’s continue.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, you know you’re doing good jobs because people are telling you you’re doing a good job.

GRETA: The team, like the people operations team, but not necessarily the people I manage, I think.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And what do you think is getting in the way of your getting feedback from the people you manage?

GRETA: I think it’s just I am their manager. So, it feels a little bit tricky to evaluate a person that has some control of certain things, even if it seems as small as approving holidays. So, I think that’s a little bit of a blocking. But I also think maybe in my particular case where I manage scientists, and they may not have had a manager before, is what to expect from a manager. So, it’s difficult to calibrate what is good, what is bad, what it’s okay.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Mh-hmm. So, Maddie, I’m wondering if you have any advice for Greta about how to deal with this challenge of getting feedback from the people you manage and how to calibrate. Any thoughts?

MADDIE: I have not by any means cracked this, but I’ve made some progress by, I have weekly or biweekly catch ups with my team, depending on where they’re at and what level of support they need. And we’ve always started with what’s something that you’re really proud of this week, and what’s something that you could have done with my support on, like I wasn’t aware it was going on, or I just wasn’t there when they really needed it. And so, that’s been a way for them to be able to highlight where they’re having problems, but also they’ve just been able to celebrate their successes so they might feel a bit happier about being open about, You’ve really dropped the ball on this, I had to chase you three or four times to get it done… that kind of thing.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Something you just said was really helpful, which is instead of saying, “What do you think of me? How am I doing,” you gave them a very specific question; “What could you have used more support on,” right?

MADDIE: Yeah, I think they were a lot more open about work-specific things where they might need help, that I’ve kind of then been able to, over the last four or five months, figure out where there might be areas where, as a manager, I need to develop if it’s… I’m not very responsive when they’re tagging me in DevOps issues, or I’m not very good at replying to emails, or picking up messages on time, and that’s causing them delays. That’s kind of an area of feedback that I’ve slowly seen that I can then pick up on. And I think they’re a lot more comfortable providing work-related examples than just being honest about, You don’t reply when I send you a message, or, it just takes too long for you to do something.


TANIYA: Right. I actually-

AMY BERNSTEIN: Go ahead, Taniya.

TANIYA: I just want to jump in, because something that Greta said really, I think resonated with me when she said that it’s tough to go to somebody you manage and ask them for how you’re doing as a manager, because what are they even supposed to say? What, “You didn’t approve my vacation and I’m angry at you”? So, how do you really go ask someone about how you are managing them? You could ask for specific things, like, “How can you use my support,” but what other kind of feedback could you ask them that validates that you are being a good manager?

AMY BERNSTEIN: I have several thoughts about this, because management to me has two dimensions. There’s managing people, and we’ve really been focusing on managing people, and then there’s managing projects. And for the latter, you know that you’re doing a good job if the job gets done well. But you want to make sure that in the course of getting the project done well, that the team doing the project is feeling good about their work and good about their collaboration, and is really proud of the outcome. And so, I’m going to pick up on Maddie’s theme of the specific question, How could I have supported you better? Even an after-action review can be a form of feedback. What were the barriers? How could we have removed the barriers? It doesn’t actually have to be about you. And then in the moment, you don’t have to actually say, “Give me feedback” to get feedback. You can see in the way people engage with their work, you can see it in the way that they engage with each other. And if you can read from their demeanor and the way they show up that they seem to be happy doing what they’re doing, then something’s going right. And you don’t actually have to have someone come back to you and say, “You know what Greta, you are an awesome boss.” “Taniya, I don’t know where I’d be without you.” You can see it in the way they engage with their work and in the way the work is getting done. That’s just one thought. It’s sort of reading signals; they’re indirect rather than direct. I do want to ask you guys a question. It’s such a change to move from an individual contributor role to a management role. And Taniya, I wonder how you’ve experienced that shift and how that feels to you personally.

TANIYA: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think being an individual contributor, all you’re thinking about is how do I get this done? And really, you’re just washing it off your hands and giving it to somebody else to take care of. But I think as a manager, you’re getting that work for, I don’t know, as many people as you manage. So, for probably the 20 or 30 people that I manage right now, that’s what I’m getting. And then I’m trying to figure out how do I strategize this? What’s my vision? I take the work of 30 people, I put it together, but what does it really mean? So, I think I’m trying to figure out personally what that transformation looks like, because I think maybe I should have a certain kind of managerial style, where I try to be helpful, but also I switch hats and I become the manager. But that transformation is something that I struggle with, because I also feel like I should be me and I shouldn’t change who I am, because I got this role because somebody must have thought I’m capable of doing it. So, maybe that’s a question to Greta and Maddie as well; how did you deal with that transformation? How did you mentally think differently when you became a manager?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Maddie, you want to take a swing?

MADDIE: Sure. I certainly felt the same way as you, that I had to become a “Manager” when I became a manager, and that it was going to be, effectively, I had to find another side of my personality, or something had to change. But then I did come to that realization that you were saying, Taniya, that I was given this job based on who I am. And so, it took a while and I’m still not totally comfortable with it, but I think I’ve started to just try and be more authentically myself. And it’s tough, because there are times when I’m like, Oh, maybe if I’d been firmer about something, where maybe I wasn’t clear enough and if I’d been more of a stereotypical male manager and just been very blunt or to the point, we may not have had delays or a confusion. But I think that’s just kind of something I have to take as a learning experience. And fundamentally, that can only be me.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Right. Well, have you ever heard of the double bind, any of you?



AMY BERNSTEIN: So, the double bind is this trade off that women in leadership roles have to deal with, where they have to balance the need to demonstrate competence with the need to be likable. There’s a great article that we ran a few years ago called Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers, and I learned a lot from this article. But that double bind feels so real to me where, you said Maddie to manage like a man, which no one thinks ill of a guy for being firm, and for stating his view, and for moving along without being super collaborative, and taking into account the views and feelings of everyone in the room. And so, I think when you think about this double bind, one of the things that the authors of this article recommend is that you settle on a purpose as a leader. Who do you want to be? I think that’s something you said, both of you, Taniya and Maddie, and I would love to hear what you think of this Greta, but who are you as a leader? How do you want to show up as a leader? That will help you navigate that double bind. Greta, how does that sound to you? Does that ring any bells?

GRETA: So many. And I read the article and it was really shocking. So, in my previous job, because of being a self-managed organization, a lot of self-reflection has to happen. And one of the important things that the person of people operations there taught me was find your own purpose. So, after being in the company for a year and a half, I spent a whole week self-reflecting, and I asked for lots of feedback and somehow I managed to get a purpose out of it. And that has been helping me to make decisions since then. And I think maybe I may not have struggled so much, because I had that homework done before, that I’m pretty amazed of how much return of investment I’ve got just from doing that exercise. So, it was really nice to read about it and be like, “Oh yeah, actually it seems like I did the right thing following this research.”

AMY BERNSTEIN: Terrific. I’d love to ask you, I wonder if any of you would be willing to share a managerial challenge that you’re dealing with right now, and let’s see if we can help you. Maddie, I saw you nod your head.

MADDIE: Yeah, I have a couple, but I think the biggest one I’m trying to deal with at the moment is we’re about to hit appraisal season. So, I’ve been starting to have more structured discussions with my team about what we’re going to be looking at in their appraisals. And I have a member of my team who is phenomenal, they’re incredibly experienced, but they’ve been in this role for probably 18 to 20 years, and they have no desire to change role, and they don’t really have any identified development goals, if there’s learning they want to do, or if there’s a different type of project, or if we’re looking at coding stuff, if there’s a new language they want to learn. And I find it quite difficult to understand that as someone who’s always… I have 93 courses on the go at any one time to stop myself from getting bored. But also in terms of how I’m going to do this appraisal, we always have to set development goals, and just trying to find something… I want to push them to develop, but I don’t want to push them so far outside of their comfort zone that they don’t thrive. I want them to continue doing this incredible work that they’re producing, but it’s a tricky situation to try and balance.

AMY BERNSTEIN: All right. How would you handle it, Taniya?

TANIYA: Well, I think I would probably ask this person what it is that they want to do. Maybe this is not the situation that you are in, but I also have someone similar. But when I asked them what they want to do, they told me they were pretty content in their role and that they were not really looking for a challenge. So, I think that helped me scale back and say, well, if they don’t want more, then what is it that I can give them?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Mh-hmm. What about you, Greta?

GRETA: So, the way I see it is you can also just enjoy the slow journey with them. It’s a little bit of being by their side and… yeah, as a little bit of a journey companion type of thing, but I don’t know if it works from my own experience.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I think it’s such an interesting challenge, particularly if you are so focused on your own growth as a manager and this new role. But you have to remember that part of your job as a manager is to make sure you are setting up the people you’re responsible for, for success, and that success takes place in organizational terms, but also in very personal terms. So, understanding what this individual really wants. I think you could have a conversation ahead of the appraisal Maddie, where you say, “It’s not a secret it’s appraisal season, but I’d love to know ahead of time what your ambition is, where do you want to be so I can do well by you in this appraisal,” in that spirit. I would have that conversation. You never want to have an appraisal that’s a surprise to the person being appraised. The other thing is, if what the person says to you is, “You know what, I am in the job that makes me happy and I don’t want to take on more responsibility,” then you have to calibrate your feedback to that fact that this person is really happy and, to something else that you pointed out, that this person really does a great job. You want this person to continue to do the great job, and you are responsible for ensuring that this person enjoys doing that great job, and wants to stick on this team. So, one thing I sometimes do in appraisals is I actually ­– I hope our people leader isn’t listening, but sometimes I ignore the category on top of the box, and sometimes I just ask in the appraisal, “What would help you do your job better? And how do I set you up for the success you have in mind? Because frankly, you’re doing a great job and you’re not looking for a promotion, and you’re not looking for a change of responsibility. So, what’s missing for you, and let’s talk about that.” So, it’s really calibrated to the individual because I know that this person is valuable, and I want to make sure that this person is happy doing what this person is doing. I hope that’s helpful to you.

MADDIE: Yeah, definitely.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Taniya, tell us about a challenge you’re facing.

TANIYA: Okay. So, as I mentioned, I became a manager about three months ago when I took over the role from my former manager, that I still work with. I work with him on a daily basis. So, obviously this person has been through pretty much everything that I’m going through on a daily basis, so I’m inclined to go ask for help, and I get the help every single time. What now happens is that because there’s a lot of pressure to get things done right, so managing a multimillion dollar project, any mistake you make can cost you a lot of money. So, it comes down to the fact that sometimes the struggle with, well, when should I continue asking for advice, or when should I not ask for advice and do this on my own? Because granted the advice is going to be great, but then it kind of goes back to, Is this really who I am? If my former manager would suggest, “Well, this is how I would deal with the situation,” and I don’t agree with that, maybe I have the option of not doing that. But then I think, will I make a mistake by not listening to them? If I do this my own way, is it going to come back and bite me? I struggle with when should I ask for advice, when should I not? And of course, somebody else’s experience is my gain. So, if I can learn from them, that’s the biggest learning that I can have, too. So, I don’t know, does that makes sense?

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, it’s when to ask for advice and when not, but also whether you have to take it once you’ve asked for it.

TANIYA: Yeah, and they always say find your own path, which makes sense. But then what does that really mean? What is your path, or where are you going?

AMY BERNSTEIN: All right. Maddie, your turn. How would you help Taniya?

MADDIE: I think I certainly did this at the start of more maybe my project managing than people managing. And I would ask my former manager, “How would you deal with this? Have you dealt with things like this in the past?” And he was actually the one who told me that the best thing for me to start feeling more confident, and to start taking more responsibility for my decisions, was he wouldn’t give me advice until I basically had to sit down and say, “This is what I’m thinking. These are the pros I’ve identified, these are the cons,” and not “What would you do,” but, “Have I missed anything?” So, it taught me that I can trust myself, I do know what I’m doing. And over time, it meant that I would actually go to them less and less often for advice, because I’d go, “Oh, well this isn’t exactly the same situation as what I’ve dealt with before, but last time we did this, can I maybe shape what I’m thinking of doing now based on the decision that I made before?” So, being forced to do all of the work myself and then just say, “What have I not considered? Is there some blindingly obvious thing that I’ve just completely overlooked,” really helped me to start to not ask for advice, but also just feel confident in saying, do you know what? Actually, I don’t agree with that. I see it completely differently, and-

AMY BERNSTEIN: And the confidence is such an important part of it. But this question of whether you have to take advice, that’s where figuring out who you want to be as a leader, and how you want to show up, and where your compass is. If being kind is important, if showing your competence is important, if fairness is important, you set your own priorities and that will help you figure out whether or not to take the advice. Because if a piece of advice doesn’t sit well with you, then you owe it to yourself to ask why and really examine that. And that means you have to engage emotionally and intellectually with who you want to be as a manager. How about you, Greta?

GRETA: My question is how does management gets showcased? As an individual contributor, I think is fairly easy to do a cover letter, for example, or to ask for… not necessarily a new job, but a grant or a scholarship, and to list all the deliverables. But because I think there’s this confidentiality included in being a manager, and often the challenges and the wins come from people improving or learning, you don’t want to single out people and be like, “I helped this person from being this to being that.” And is it just by saying, “Oh, I have this many years of experience as a manager”? For me, it feels like very little. It’s not data based and maybe I’m a bit of a data junkie.

AMY BERNSTEIN: But you can show how the people for whom you are responsible have grown, have taken on new responsibilities, have accomplished whatever it is they’ve accomplished. I know you’re not in charge of a task or a project, you oversee people. But I assume that it means that you oversee their growth and their engagement. Showing that people haven’t left under your management, that somehow your management has enhanced the reputation of your team internally, your organization externally. Does that seem feasible to you?

GRETA: It helps, but then I have another question which has to do with the speed. So, delivering a task could be within a sprint of two weeks, but delivering the growth of a person, I don’t think that happens in the sprint of two weeks. So, there is that lag. I’m enjoying it, I have a great time, but maybe this is a misconception; people don’t understand actually how much energy and effort is put in that one person growing.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So much of the challenge of people management is that it is very hard to measure, and that’s why they have 360° feedback, for example, what are people saying about you, the people who come in contact with you? What do your direct reports say about you? But it’s very hard to measure how well you’ve set up someone for success, and you have to be able to find a way to make that part of your job gratifying to yourself in some way. You know when it’s not working. You see that in direct feedback. You can tell when people are unhappy, and people can be unhappy for a million reasons, only one of which is they’re not happy with the way Greta’s managing them, right? I mean, it’s just a constant engagement with the people you’re responsible for.

GRETA: Okay.

AMY BERNSTEIN: But I don’t think what you’re asking for is how you get credit – it’s how do you measure success, right?

GRETA: Both.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Both. Well, getting the credit, well and also measuring success… there are tools out there that are designed for that. And it’s not hard numbers stuff. It’s mostly the soft feedback, the 360° feedback. It’s looking at how stable your team is, how many of your team have gotten promoted, how much more they’re taking on, how engaged they seem. If your organization measures engagement somehow, if there’s some kind of Net Promoter Score exercise, they will look at your team, they will look at those scores by manager. So, that’s one way that happens.

GRETA: Okay.

TANIYA: So, Amy, how would you quantify something like this on your resume? So, I think when Greta just shared, that would very well apply for an internal sharing of achievements probably. But how do you put that on a resume? Say that, I’ve been a manager for X years, and I feel like as you grow up in your professional career, people’s resumes start shrinking, because there’s just so much you do. And I was updating my LinkedIn a few days ago and I was just like, I don’t really know what I should put down anymore because I feel like I do everything. So, what do you put on your resume? I’m a people manager, but that could mean very many different things for anybody

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, this is more about the story you want your resume to tell. If it’s a story about progress and learning and taking on more and more responsibility and delivering on your assignments and expanding your influence, that’s how you frame it all, right? You have to figure out what story you want your resume to tell about you. And I’ve been a manager for 10 years. Okay, did you get excited by that? I think I have taken on bigger and bigger teams, managing larger and larger budgets. And I’m sorry Greta, because this is about a project, and this project that I managed, we delivered it on time and under budget, and the results were $20 million extra to our bottom line or something like that. You can show the impact of your work that way.

TANIYA: But can you put these numbers in your resume? I mean, does that sound too bold?

AMY BERNSTEIN: It’s not bold to state the facts. It’s kind of self-defeating not to state the facts if they make your argument for you. There’s a big difference between saying, I managed a $1 million budget on a project that exceeded all expectations and give the metrics. There’s a big difference between saying that and saying, “I am an awesome manager, trust me.” Right?

TANIYA: Right, absolutely.

AMY BERNSTEIN: This has been a great conversation. You guys kind of knock me out with the level of self-awareness you’ve shown, and your candor, and I really appreciate your willingness to be so honest with us in this conversation.

GRETA: For me, it’s been so great to see other new managers going through similar issues. It’s been really nice, and sharing them in a way that maybe it means more people/women become managers. Because I think it’s exciting and challenging, but it’s difficult to explain how it is that it’s exciting and challenging. So, it was good to get different points of view for it.

TANIYA: Thank you everyone.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, here’s to more women managers and more women managers like you. Thank you.

GRETA: Thanks.

AMY GALLO: What stood out to you in your conversation with them?

AMY BERNSTEIN: They were, each one of them, so thoughtful about being a manager and they took their responsibilities of management so seriously, even the couple who were kind of thrown into it.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. And you can imagine being in that role. I mean, I managed people early in my career, very briefly, thankfully. But I remember just thinking, I just don’t want to mess it up. I wasn’t thinking, How do I do this well? All the questions and thoughtfulness that they brought to the role – I was just like, Please don’t mess it up, please don’t mess it up.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, we don’t know that they weren’t thinking about that, and everyone wants not to screw it up. But that kind of cautious approach guarantees you won’t make a difference, right?

AMY GALLO: Right. Yes, right.

AMY BERNSTEIN: It means you only show up in the negative, when something goes wrong.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. I heard this quote in a podcast. It was about leadership, but, “you have to be brave today to be confident tomorrow.” And I do feel like with managing, you do have to sort put yourself out there in a way that you’re really uncom… you could hear in Taniya and Maddie and Greta’s voices, the discomfort of trying to figure this out, right?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. Well, you’re constantly putting yourself out there, and it’s a very vulnerable place to be if you want to make a difference. And if the difference you want to make is in helping people get where they want to go, and helping the organization succeed, and just helping people feel really proud of what they’re working on with you. It’s very uncomfortable, but you also develop a thick skin and the discomfort stops being so discomforting, if you know what I mean?

AMY GALLO: Yeah. I will say one thing that surprised me about the conversation is that none of the women mentioned conflict or negotiation.


AMY GALLO: Granted, I’m conflict obsessed, so-


AMY GALLO: But I was surprised that none of them found that to be an unexpected part of the job, having to give negative feedback. It’s constant diplomacy, negotiating what one person needs versus another person needs, telling someone they can’t have something, setting boundary, all of that.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And constantly asking yourself, What’s a win here?



AMY GALLO: Yeah. But none of them named that as a skill.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I was a little bit surprised by that.


AMY BERNSTEIN: I have no idea why. I’m sure if we did the dealing with conflict as a new manager episode, we’d have five hours to air.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Our colleague, Nicky, who’s been on our show before – she manages here at HBR, but she’s managed in previous jobs. And she’s told me that, and again, I’m conflict obsessed, but she’s told me that was the most surprising thing about becoming a manager, was just the number of difficult conversations you have to have on a daily basis

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, and learning how to become a soft target, if you know what I mean.

AMY GALLO: No, what do you mean?

AMY BERNSTEIN: What I mean is when someone comes at you with… and I had this happen in my first couple of weeks as a manager. It was someone who at the same time as I was promoted into the management role and inherited this person, he was taken off of a column that he had written… every week. This was not my doing, but it was apparently my fault.


AMY BERNSTEIN: “I cannot believe that you take over this job and you relieve me of my responsibilities,” and I couldn’t point a finger and say, “Hey, I had nothing to do with this.”


AMY BERNSTEIN: I knew that.


AMY BERNSTEIN: But what I had to figure out was how to move from wanting to defend myself to helping this person deal with the pain and disappointment of losing a column, right?

AMY GALLO: Right, yeah.

AMY BERNSTEIN: I’m not sure I was even remotely successful, but making that shift was important.

AMY GALLO: Right. It’s a lot about managing your ego, I think, because I would’ve been like…

AMY BERNSTEIN: It’s not my fault.

AMY GALLO: Not my fault.

AMY BERNSTEIN: It’s not my fault that you lost the job.

AMY GALLO: Right, you should have written better columns.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, exactly. They were a little boring. Yeah, you can’t go there.

[new outro music starts fading up under convo]


AMY BERNSTEIN: Because that’s really not the point. You really spend a lot of time asking yourself, What’s really going on here?

AMY GALLO: Mh-hmm. And I love that, what’s a win? That’s a great question to come back to.

HANNAH BATES: That was Amy Bernstein and Amy Gallo in conversation with three new managers on Women at Work. If you liked this episode and you want to hear more about how gender shapes our careers, check out Women at Work wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll be back next Wednesday with another hand-picked conversation about leadership from the Harvard Business Review. If you found this episode helpful, share it with your friends and colleagues, and follow our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, be sure to leave us a review. We’re a production of the Harvard Business Review – if you want more articles, case studies, books, and videos like this, be sure to subscribe to HBR at This episode was produced by Amanda Kersey, Anne Saini, Ian Fox, and me, Hannah Bates. Tina Tobey Mack edited the original episode. Music by Coma-Media.  Special thanks to Rob Eckhardt, Maureen Hoch, Adi Ignatius, Karen Player, Ramsey Khabbaz, Nicole Smith, Anne Bartholomew, and you – our listener. See you next week.

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