If you’ve finally reached the management level, but you aren’t sure exactly what to do, you’re not alone. Research has shown that there is a confidence gap between men and women in management. And according to a 2018 study, 67% of women report needing help to develop the self-confidence to move into senior-level management.
Fortunately, we've got a few expert tips that can help new managers not only excel, but thrive:
1. Lean into empathy.
Surprisingly, one of the most important management skills is empathy. “Being a responsive and empathetic communicator is the best tool you can have,” says Dr. Fatimah Rashad, founder of business consulting firm Live Travel More. According to Rashad, employees want to feel as though they are heard and understood, so it’s important to cultivate active listening and other empathy-based skills.
Empathy has also proven to be a critical management skill for Courtney Allen, CEO of global design firm 16x9. Learning how to be more empathetic has had practical benefits for Allen, who grew her firm from one corporate contract to a globally recognized company. “Self-awareness, empathy, intention, and tact have brought me far in uplifting my employees, resolving conflict, and gathering feedback to become a more effective leader," she says.
2. Limit the self-criticism and focus on growing into the role.
It’s normal to feel a bit isolated and self-critical when you’re new to leadership, no matter how supportive the team surrounding you is. But if feeling like you're not good enough is keeping you from your performance goals, it’s time to take action.
Introspection and positive self-talk can go a long way. Rashad uses both of these tactics to deal with what she calls “the tiny, miserable critic in your head." When the critic’s voice gets too loud, Rashad recommends thinking about what you're really trying to express, acknowledge the truth (if any), and then remind yourself of what she have accomplished.
3. Get support from a mentor or other management peers.
Leaders are made, not born. Women in management can benefit greatly from networking with other professionals. Rashad speaks directly to this, saying, “I’ve found that being in community with other women in leadership helps to combat the isolation I sometimes feel. Knowing I’m not alone in the things I’m experiencing, being able to bounce ideas off of others, or even to vent without judgment has been helpful for me.”
Allen co-signs, with an extra note about how important it is to use professional services to learn better management skills. Corporate leadership is worth learning, she says, and mining the expertise of others can result in a richer skill set for women in management. “Investing in leadership and teamwork coaching from experts in those spaces [is] invaluable."
4. Boldly use your voice and confidently take up space.
Even the most successful women have had moments where they struggled with self-doubt. Michelle Obama famously admitted to a few in a 2009 interview and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has also said that she spends time “looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up." It's important to note that not every workplace struggle is "imposter syndrome," a popular term often talked about in relation to women in leadership. Sometimes, negative feelings are a legitimate response to coping within environments where issues of racism, xenophobia, classism, or other institutional biases are prevalent. When this happens, the solution is not to give up, Rashad adds. Take up more space and do your job with confidence. Remind yourself that you deserve to be where you are.
In fact, taking up space can help to close the pay gap and raise productivity for women in management, according to a study by the Center For Global Development. While the overarching systemic issues that make it harder for women to achieve equality in management obviously need to be addressed first, changes often begin when women in leadership speak up, support each other, and ask for their performance to be rewarded with recognition.