Have you been promoted to your first leadership position? Congrats!

The first foray into leadership is always a pivotal moment in anyone’s career, a culmination of years of hard work and dedication. 

For a short time, it can feel like the conclusion of your journey; you sit back and think, “I made it!” However, like most of life’s new milestones, all too quickly, it becomes the beginning of a brand-new journey – often within a very short timeframe.

This new journey is often unlike anything you’ve seen before, a unique position with peculiar challenges requiring a significant mindset shift. Navigating the transition to a management role can be overwhelming initially, but it's also an exciting opportunity for personal and professional growth. 

This article aims to provide a practical guide for new leaders, covering essential topics such as understanding your new role, building and nurturing your team, and developing the crucial skills needed to succeed in this pivotal position. Specifically, we're going to look at:

The new leadership paradigm 

The first of these challenges, usually arising within a few weeks, is to understand how to fit between two lines of reporting. 

The transition to a leadership role brings about a significant shift in perspective. You'll find yourself navigating a new paradigm, juggling the dual crucial necessities of keeping your team motivated, engaged, and high-performing while also ensuring you accurately translate and implement instructions from your own manager, for which you are now accountable.

The importance of middle management

It’s crucial to recognize and embrace the new dynamic (seems obvious, right?) and adapt to the new situation. A new manager can sometimes feel sidelined by their teammates, who are often former peers. 

Now, the new manager finds themselves as the new conduit for requests and demands towards senior leadership, having to trickle down instructions from top management. It sometimes feels like sitting between two chairs without belonging anywhere. 

Never forget that mid-management leaders are critical elements in an organization; not only are they subject matter experts with an intimate knowledge of both their colleagues and the product, but if they’re able to smoothly navigate the various communication channels, they’re ideally positioned to understand how to translate a strategy into an operational reality. 

As such, anyone in middle management has an important role. This unique position affords many advantages, which, if properly leveraged, can significantly contribute to their success.

A CSM’s transition from an individual contributor to manager
The transition from individual contributor to management isn’t exactly the simplest one; there are some fundamental shifts that you need to make when you go from dreaming about this career move to making it a reality.

Transitioning into a new management role

So, how can you comfortably transition to your new role?

Avoid repeating past mistakes

A word of advice: do not force things! Instead of going to painstaking lengths to live up to your version of the perfect manager, you should instead focus on avoiding any missteps and undesirable behaviors you experienced from previous leaders. 

Life lessons aren’t solely learned from our favorite managers; bad leaders can also teach us precious lessons! Remember these managers and ensure you don’t follow in their footsteps.

Essential characteristics of good leaders

If you still feel like you need some basic guidelines, here are some straightforward pearls of wisdom:

  1. Stay true to yourself
  2. Be empathic, reliable, and pragmatic. 

These are essential characteristics for a manager and advice you’ll have undoubtedly heard before. Let’s put them into practice.

Be available and reliable

First of all, you must always make time for your teammates. One-to-one meetings with your direct reports are never optional. While unforeseen circumstances can crop up, you should always endeavor to reschedule a one-to-one at the earliest convenience, never canceling them outright. Your team is your most important concern. 

My advice? Practice active listening, maintain transparency, and always put your mouth where your money is. When you tell direct reports you'll "check with HR, product or sales and get back to them," note it down, follow up within hours, and provide that timely feedback. It's all too easy to get sidetracked and forget we're all human. But even a minor lapse on your part could be a big deal to someone who has placed their trust in you to advance their requests.

Be prepared

Take decisive action and execute swiftly – don't delay. Always strive to be well-prepared by leveraging your unique viewpoint. You understand the dichotomy of the workplace and be the bridge between those on the frontlines and leadership expectations. You can foresee potential scenarios that may or may not play out, so have contingency plans ready for the most likely ones. 

Encourage a collaborative approach – though you may know the right solution, a good manager should initiate an open discussion. Listen to your colleagues' innovative ideas and input before providing your perspective. Problem-solving is teamwork.

The blueprint for building an elite customer success team
Your customer success team is the beating heart of the customer experience, so building a high-performing customer success operation must be a top priority for any customer-centric organization.

Building and nurturing your team

On top of finding your authentic leadership style (as if “finding your own style” wasn’t hard enough!), you must also build and nurture your team, whether you’ve been blessed with a well-oiled machine or somewhat cursed with a lacklustre group.

Identifying top performers

Identify your top performers first – they'll be your benchmarks for elevating the rest. 

Personally speaking, I wouldn't recommend being too data-driven here; metrics like tickets solved or CSAT never quite tell the full story. Instead, I suggest pinpointing those colleagues who make your life easier through ownership, critical thinking, and being your go-to for major projects or complicated issues.

These stellar teammates don't hide issues but don't indiscriminately dump problems either. They’re the first person you think about when you have to dispatch this “big project” or this “complicated customer.” They excel in ownership and proactively manage escalations, or avoid them altogether. They follow processes while openly suggesting improvements, rather than going rogue. You can trust their organization, reliability, and consistency in looping back. 

Once identified, empower and value these model performers to proliferate their best practices team-wide.

Hiring and developing the best customer success team
Whether you’re building out your customer success team for the first time or looking to take an existing one to new heights, these strategies and principles will help guide you on your journey.

Develop a clear, strategic plan

Middle management is often discarded and pigeonholed as merely the "tactical" side of business operations, while senior leadership handles "strategy." Regardless of whether this divide exists in your organization, it's critical to have a well-defined plan for the path forward. You need to foresee potential scenarios, forecast challenges, and devise contingencies to help steer your team in the intended direction.

However, ensuring your plan's clarity is just as vital as formulating it. Ask your team probing questions to verify if they can articulate the strategy in their own words. We can sometimes convince ourselves everything is straightforward after spending weeks crafting a plan. But often, your colleagues are seeing it for the first time and may not understand it as naturally as you, its creator, do.

Repetition and refinement are usually required before the plan fully resonates and gains team-wide adoption. But don't make assumptions; have an open dialogue and reiterate when needed.

Ultimately, your strategy must be comprehensively understood across your entire team. Should one of your team members be asked what next quarter’s strategy is in an impromptu conversation like a coffee break, each member should be able to clearly explain when asked. Achieving this level of cohesive understanding is paramount.

Build your network and find a mentor

While you have your team and a direct line manager, it’s important to ensure you don’t become siloed. Remember, there are other teams and managers around you in your organization, so proactively network with them; have regular check-ins to stay in the loop. You can't address unknown blindspots if you stay in your own bubble, remaining insular. Mingle cross-functionally to gain visibility into happenings across the organization.

This internal networking provides the added benefit of sourcing prospective mentors. You might be lucky enough to have a line manager who’s also an exceptional mentor; if so, that’s great! However, if that’s not the case, don't hesitate to find someone whose guidance resonates with you. The most valuable mentors are those already a few steps ahead on their leadership journey, who can share hard-won wisdom from those experiences you're just beginning.

Leadership in a nutshell

Continually sharpen your organizational knowledge. Understand the dynamics and undercurrents beyond your immediate surroundings. 

As you expand your perspective through mentorship, you'll discover profound personal growth from venturing outside your comfort zones for a sustained period. Although stressful at times, trust that this challenging process facilitates invaluable professional development.

Want to level up as a customer success leader?

If you enjoyed reading what one of the world’s brightest CS leaders had to say, you might want to enroll in our Customer Success Leadership Accelerator program and become one of tomorrow's champions of customer success.

What to expect in this nail-biter of a course

🧠 Non-stop, actionable insights

🔧 Practical applications every week

🤫 Total privacy with your closed CS leadership group

👥 Tons of networking opportunities

📚 Hands-on coursework activities

💡 Endless ideas from your peers and presenters

🔥 Fuel to shape your gold-standard CS strategy