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Sit down with a woman at the top of the retail industry and you’ll likely hear about a career journey that started with an entry-level, in-store role. The convenience store industry is especially known for moving women from behind the checkout to the store manager’s office — and on to positions of even greater influence.
It isn’t easy to transition from being a great individual contributor to an effective leader of others. A step up the ladder can be exciting, empowering — and uncomfortable — for women or men who are hesitant to embrace authority, or place special value on their workplace friendships.
Once-friendly peers become distant direct-reports. Performance is evaluated less on easy-to-measure “doing” and more on harder-to-quantify “leading.” What you say and how you say it is constantly judged by your team, your new peers, and your boss.
Here are five ways to make the shift successful:
1. Ask for the leadership development you need
First-time managers often step into their new roles with little leadership training. Add in the delicate task of redefining work relationships, and first-time managers can find themselves tossed on the waves of new responsibility.
The faster you become an effective manager, the fewer problems your friends and former coworkers will have adjusting to your new role. You probably made your mark getting things done, but are you able to delegate to others effectively? How are you at establishing goals that align with the company’s business goals? How about coaching others so that they can reach their full potential? Do you need to beef up your communication and team-building skills?
2. Step up with confidence
Projecting confidence may not feel easy, but it’s necessary for first-time managers — especially women, who are often judged more severely than male peers who take on a new role.
3. Prepare yourself for losing a work friend
Research by the Center for Creative Leadership found the primary concern of most first-time managers is the move from friend to boss. One of the nearly 300 first-time managers participating in the research summed up the challenge: “It’s hard for me to adjust to managing people who used to be my coworkers. Sometimes I feel that people don’t take tasks and projects as seriously as they should because they think they can use their friendly relationship with me to their advantage. I’m having a hard time drawing this line because we used to work at the same level.”
If you’re navigating the transition from friend to boss, be proactive. Set expectations and work boundaries with every direct-report. Be clear about your vision for the group. Have an honest conversation with work friends about what management expects from you and your desire to meet those goals. It may feel natural to spend more time with direct-reports with whom you’re friendly, but be sure your time, company resources, and rewards are allocated fairly.
4. Earn credibility
No first-time manager has all the answers. Don’t fake it. The more authentic you are, the faster you will build trust. You’ll earn respect through honest, direct conversations about your vision for the team. Don’t push problems you may have inherited under the rug; it’s OK to question the past practices. Be sure to ask each direct-report how they like to be led and how they see themselves contributing to the group’s goals.
5. Ask for honest feedback, early and often
Effective leaders need to hear the truth about team dynamics, business strategies and results. I know few women who have the courage to offer the boss the unvarnished truth.
Amy Gallo, author of the Harvard Business Review’s “Guide to Managing Conflict at Work,” offers a few tips to build trust and get the feedback you need:
- Explain how you’ll respond to the feedback.
- Don’t wait for review time to ask for input.
- Don’t rely on one source for feedback. Turn to a few trusted people who can tell you what others really think about your performance and ideas.
- Don’t assume you’re going to get 100-percent honest feedback, especially at first. Start by gathering feedback anonymously to show your direct-reports you’re receptive.
Moving from peer to boss can be tricky, but the convenience store industry will benefit when it advances more women leaders. And so will you and your team.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.