Transitioning into a managerial role comes with a host of challenges and opportunities. For women, the challenges can be particularly acute since leadership positions are still primarily dominated by men. In technology, women in management must often blaze entirely new paths for themselves, as they account for only 9% of management positions.
We asked three women leaders in technology to share with up and coming leaders what they wish they knew about transitioning into leadership positions:
- Mireille Mallou, Product Owner, Twitch
- Sabrina Eldredge, VP, Product Management, POPSUGAR
- Sherrie Clark, CTO, Embedded Solutions, General Electric
Learn to Support Your Team
Most managers achieve a promotion by being the strongest technical person on their team. The challenge for their transition is switching from execution to planning, facilitation, and advocacy. Soft skills are key. “As a leader, you need to recognize and be empathetic to your peers and, most importantly, to your team,” explains Mireille Mallouh, a Product Owner at Twitch. “This is a core soft skill for any leader, no matter the industry.”
Sherrie Clark, CTO for the Embedded Solutions business unit of General Electric, shared a common challenge she experienced – having a manager swooped in and took over solving a technical problem alone in a moment of pressure. Because a manager typically has high technical skills this can be tempting, but it alienates reports. “I quickly learned the lesson on how to provide assistance, so my team could be part of the solution rather than have them be told what to do,” she says, “and I have made sure never to make this mistake again.”
Sabrina Eldredge, VP of Product Management at PopSugar, concurs: “The most challenging part is knowing when to give the project/team room to breathe. As a Project Manager you’re often looked at as the one with the answers, but you’re just the one with all the information. Allowing the teams to have input is the most critical thing you can do.”
Brush Up Your Time Management Skills
One thing managers should strive to master quickly is balancing their own workload with their new duties. “The first time I had direct reports it seemed like my workload increased exponentially,” warns Clark. “The reality was I didn’t know how to manage my schedule and plan time for managing the team and reserve time to work on my own deliverables.”
In preparing for this challenge, those who expect to move in to management should work on honing their time management skills. They can also help others on their team learn details of their job functions in case those responsibilities will need to be covered down the road. By preparing ahead of time to redistribute their work, managers will be less likely to find themselves overwhelmed and dropping the ball.
Seek External Guidance
An effective way to smooth career transitions is to connect with someone who has been there before. “I wish I had known it was okay to ask for help and sought out mentors who had gone through some of the same struggles,” says Eldredge. Clark adds, “It is very difficult to be successful completely by yourself.” Mentors can help fill gaps in a new manager’s knowledge, build their network, and get them ready to build leadership skills.
All three women agreed that if you’re interested in establishing a mentoring relationship, go ahead and ask. “If there is someone in your field at your company ask them to coffee and come with some specific questions,” encourages Eldredge. “If there’s no one in your immediate circle, reach out. Not everyone is going to have the time to respond to a coffee invite, but it can’t hurt to ask.”
Be An Effective Protégé
If someone agrees to mentor you, make sure you are doing your part to maximize the relationship and respect their time. The logistical responsibility of the relationship falls on the protégé, who “needs to take the initiative, set up meetings and have goals and objectives for what they want to get out of the relationship” according to Clark. “I will make time to work with and assist someone who is engaged and values our time together.”
In Eldredge’s eyes, a good protégé is also someone who, “is willing to listen to your perspective, but also ask questions and share their experiences. I appreciate it when someone questions my advice and doesn’t take it blindly.” Even though the protégé’s goals are foremost, good mentoring relationships are conversational, where both parties get to share experiences.
Protégés should also look for opportunities to provide value back to their mentor through their perspective, network, or skills. They may not realize it at first, but it is common for mentors to leave a partnership feeling they’ve grown and benefitted from it as well.
Take On Mentoring Yourself
“Make yourself available for all mentorship opportunities internally as well as externally,” advises Mallouh. “In my view, it is vital for women leaders in the technology field to share their stories. We need more women involved in shaping the current and future leaders.”
For those who are moving into managerial roles, you already have a collection of experiences which can benefit others. “You definitely have advice to give,” says Eldredge. “Pay it forward to the next generation. Even if you think you’re not qualified, you are.” It’s not simply about feeling good either. By acting as a mentor, you strengthen your soft skills such as active listening and empathy, all while building your network. This prepares managers to be stronger, more effective leaders over time who possess a broad perspective.
To the playbook of managerial skills, Mallouh encourages adding a final page from great leaders and communicators: Work on the art of storytelling. “They always start with a current story and are amazing at breaking down the dynamics of the problem so that anyone could understand,” she explains. “Knowing how vital storytelling is, I should have spent more time practicing the art of storytelling with my peers, business units, and my team early on in my career.”
Expert storytelling is a powerful way to connect with people and communicate. Chances are, new managers will run across many challenges, but being able to build relationships is instrumental to success. “Everyone’s path is different, but we can all learn from each other,” concludes Eldredge. “Keep seeking out new connections and opportunities. You never know where you’ll end up!”