3 tips for first-time managers to support strong leadership
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3 tips for first-time managers to support strong leadership

by Freya Lucas

June 13, 2023

Being a first-time manager is an exciting time in the professional life of early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals, but also a time of transition, which comes with some challenges. 


In the piece below, Beyond Barriers CEO Nikki Baura shares three tips for first-time managers, which The Sector has adapted to an ECEC context. 


“When I stepped into a manager role for the first time, I failed miserably. As a high-performing individual contributor,” Ms Baura shared in a piece prepared for Fast Company


“I had been eager to get promoted to manager. But when I finally got there, I struggled to delegate and took on everyone’s jobs, only to feel overwhelmed. I was impatient with my team and set impossible goals without empowering them to get there. Even though I didn’t communicate my vision, I got frustrated when my team misunderstood expectations. While I’d put on a brave face in front of my team, deep inside, I felt like an imposter who didn’t know how to do the job.”


Ms Baura said she expected management to come easily to her, but instead found it incredibly challenging. 


“I didn’t understand the complexities and nuances of the role, and it eroded my confidence daily,” she said. 


“That’s when I sought the advice of my mentor a great manager who helped me develop the right mindset, skillset, and toolset to be effective.”


In a perfect world, she continued, the best way to learn how to be a great manager is to learn from a great manager. For those who don’t have great managers at their disposal, she offers the following advice. 


Shift your mindset


Ms Baura has three suggestions for new leaders in the mindset space: 


  • Learn the difference between ‘getting things done’ and ‘getting things done well’: “New managers often feel like they need to do everything themselves to have a positive outcome,” she said, warning that failing to delegate and let go of perfectionism is a path to burnout. 

  • Be open to learning, and instill that in the team: Here, Baura recommends a growth mindset, and creating a team space where risk is good, where people learn from failure, and where feedback is both sought and freely given. 

  • Relationship first: This recommendation will be familiar to the ECEC sector put people before tasks, and focus on connection. “People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers,” Ms Baura warns, saying team empowerment over task management should be the focus. 


Grow your skillset 


Managers are responsible for setting priorities, and for communicating these effectively with their teams, something which is more than just writing them on a whiteboard, or sending an email. 


“Honing your communication skills is critical,” Ms Baura believes. 


“What is your vision for the task at hand? What are the steps needed to get there? What expectations do you have? Defining success to the team involves reiterating these messages more often than you think necessary to ensure everyone is collectively aligned toward the goals.”


Being able to tap into the potential of your team, and help them grow their own skillsets is also important, she said.   


Get to know your team members and ask questions to understand what makes them tick. What drives them to succeed? What makes them feel fulfilled? Tap into their intrinsic motivations so you can align their focus to their strengths and passions. When people are aligned with their true north, success becomes inevitable.”


Her final tip is to ensure that you are truly delegating which doesn’t mean handing off a task and making it someone else’s problem. Once you give a task to someone on your team, she said, you need to go back, check in, and support them with any aspects of the task assigned, offering feedback and suggestions about how it could be refined, if needed. 


Build your skills


As well as being highly competent, great leaders are also great coaches. Rather than handing out solutions, strong leaders coach, and guide people to find their own answers. 


Ms Baura recommends pausing when you’re asked a question, and responding with an open-ended question in return, something she believes helps team members to discover solutions, become self-reliant, and gain confidence. 


In an ECEC context, this could look like: 

Educator: “Hey, when do the Award wages kick in? I’m a 3.2. What will my new pay rate be?”

Leader: “I wonder if I’m the best source for that? I think I saw some information about that on The Sector, would you like me to find it and send it through to you?”

Another aspect of skill building in this space is courage. 


“My mentor told me that everything I want is on the other side of an uncomfortable conversation,” Ms Baura recalls. 


“While it’s easier to avoid uncomfortable conversations, avoidance also prevents you from getting what you want and building stronger relationships. Establish 360 feedback loops so you can give and get candid feedback. Conduct one-on-one meetings with your team members and provide constructive feedback with specific examples. Always close the loop on how the feedback moved the team forward.”


Finally, she recommends that wellbeing for managers is prioritised. It can be all too easy to get caught up in doing for others, and this can come to the detriment of your wellbeing, workload and work life balance. 


To avoid being overwhelmed, her tips are to ruthlessly eliminate low priorities, distractions, and multitasking. 


“Manage your energy by following a healthy daily regimen that works for you. Your ability to show up for others depends on how well you prioritise your own wellbeing,” she said.  


“As you step into this role, making mistakes is inevitable. Replace your expectation of perfection with an attitude of continuous learning,” she said. 


“Becoming a great manager involves developing new mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets to empower your team and unlock their greatest potential. Your future is in their hands.”


To read this story in its original form please see here

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