Modern Leaders: Becoming a manager panel discussion

Post adapted from Women and Color’s post on their panel event: Modern Leaders: Becoming a manager

Our Modern Leaders event series explores the path of a modern leader with the purpose to equip managers for their journey in tech. Dayana Cadet, Content Manager at Women and Color, summarizes our first event below thanks to Sandra Riano for her thorough notes.

We see this time and time again — people are placed in management positions without the proper training. That is why our first Modern Leaders event focused on what it takes to be a successful first-time manager through the lens of our experienced panelists as they cover:

  • what series of events led to their promotion

  • the challenges they’ve faced and

  • what they’ve learned from their mistakes.

Our panelists

Moderated by Elisha Gray, Senior Human Resources Consultant at Bright + Early.

Takeaways: becoming a manager

Learn how our panelists’ experience shaped their personal life and get tips that are as invaluable as they are actionable.

On dealing with going from team member to people manager…

As a first time manager, you need to evolve from ‘I need to get my tasks done quickly and correctly’ to ‘how can I guide my team to get these tasks completed, even if it takes longer at times’. As you delegate tasks, you need to be aware of the different work styles and competency levels that exist in your team. You need patience.

As Swapna mentioned, it is important to understand the process of teaching and coaching. Being patient and guiding your team is how you will grow together. You need to easily see and measure progress as well:

Your team is a reflection of you, so you need to make sure that your team is up to date, empowered and experienced. Documenting what you learn in your meetings is also important to ensure your team progresses and you do, too.

In the end, you need to see your own role more about influencing others rather than managing tasks. It’s about enabling a team. Usman mentions:

As a people manager, you need to get out from the mindset that you’re the smartest person in the room. You’ll be surrounded by a team capable of doing their job, [take advantage of] the wealth of new information available to you.

Tip #01: Observe other experienced managers to learn and get ideas from.

On addressing the challenge of employee engagement and retaining employees in a competitive marketplace…

It’s more than money. People need to feel and see their impact on a greater scale. They need an environment where they can be successful, grow and be satisfied in doing so. Usman brings up a great point:

Ownership and the opportunity to make an impact are more important. Remember: people don’t leave their job, they leave their manager.

It’s about building your employees and ensuring they feel both challenged and supported. Otherwise boredom and lack of confidence can lead to burnout. Swapna recommends getting to know each person reporting to you and creating the best environment for them,

It’s important to understand what your team members are looking for, their pain points, what they want to learn, and where they see themselves going. It’s also vital to connect them with other mentors if you’re not the right fit or if they need skills outside of your expertise.

Tip #02: Create a peer relationship with your team. Trust them, give them freedom and empower them. Make decisions together.

On creating a process to check-in with you team…

Using approaches like SKS (Stop doing; Keep doing; Start doing) and recording the results for both manager and team member to see helps to visualize progress, see changes and prepare for improvement. Andrea suggests:

Setting aside weekly or biweekly one-on-ones (30 minutes) to cover: What went well? What didn’t go well? What are the next steps? Doing these check-ins frequently means you don’t lose touch with your team. Make sure to space out your check-ins to properly digest and consolidate feedback.

Tip #03: Keep track of the positive and negative feedback you are giving. Document all decisions and next steps.

On managing conflict resolution and making decisions in tough situations…

The tough situations are…tough. One example Swapna mentions is making a tough decision when your team doesn’t agree or it’s an unpopular decision:

You can mitigate [conflicting opinions] by hearing everyone else first, listening to their perspectives, and speaking last. Ensure you don’t confuse collaboration with consensus. You can’t ensure all decisions have 100% buy-in so learn to live with that. You can influence decisions, but sometimes you can’t, and that’s okay.

Elisha offered a great tip for maneuvering conflicting ideas and making sure you can get your point across well:

If you want to sell an unpopular decision to your team, take a look at how the decision aligns with the organizational values and ensure you position it that way to your team. This will make it easier for them to digest.

Another tough situation is providing critical feedback to your team where they need to correct behavior and make improvements. Andrea suggests,

Sometimes it’s best not to sugar-coat it and to get straight to the point. Let your team process it and then have a follow-up meeting to chat. As a manager you don’t always need to give solutions; empower your employees to find a solution.

Tip #04: When delivering tough news, let people process and then have another meeting to chat.

On overcoming uncertainty with decisions…

Swapna suggests:

Accept that it’s okay to make mistakes — it’s a good learning experience that will make you a better manager in the long-term.

Usman follows with:

There are no absolute certainties, so you must learn to be fine with making wrong decisions. If at all possible, make easily reversible decisions earlier on in the process because the longer you wait, the bigger the chance it’ll be that the decision will not be easily retractable.

On improving your management style…

Andrea sums it up nicely with:

Have a mindset of learning — become comfortable with reaching out to sources, shadowing them, and learning from them.

Tip #05: Talk to others, read books and listen to podcasts; spend time perfecting the skill of management.


At the end of the day, remember that these relationships you hold as a manager are about treating each other with respect.

Elisha Gray