Promoted to a leadership position, but have no clue how to manage people? Here’s some nontraditional advice from a 20-something manager.

Our generation is entering management positions decades earlier than those before us. And let me tell you, lack of experience and training in management is a dangerous combination.

I was promoted to a leadership position at 26, less than one year after I’d been hired at entry-level. I sucked. I had no clue how to manage people and had a team under me, plus people I oversaw abroad who were twice my age with twice as many degrees.

Management is a skill both inherent and developed, and while I was born with natural management finesse, I was never taught the skill of managing people. But I took this challenge as an opportunity for growth and spent a year learning how to be a great manager.

Here’s some nontraditional advice from a 20-something manager so you don’t make the same mistakes I did:

Don’t learn by example

Not knowing what to do, I copied my boss’s management style because we had a fantastic and productive working relationship. It was a disaster. There’s no cookie-cutter style for managing people, and part of being a good manager is reading people.

Use what worked for you as an employee in the past as information, but don’t replicate it exactly and expect success. Try different techniques, and pay attention to what works until you create your own style.

Ask for help

When I realized I was drowning as a manager, I reached out to our HR consultant for guidance. We had meetings every month for me to ask questions and get feedback on specific issues. I read articles and books. I asked friends what they liked and didn’t like in their managers and got advice from people who have been managing for decades.

Stand in your power

At 26, I didn’t believe I was supposed to be a leader. I lacked confidence, and since the people I was supervising were my peers or older, I felt inadequate to be their manager. I quickly became a pushover. When I finally gained some confidence and tried to assert some authority, it didn’t work because the pattern was already established.

Stand in your own power and authority from day one, even if you don’t think you deserve it. Fake it until you become it. No one will be the wiser.


Odds are you didn’t stand in your power from day one. Who does the first time they manage people? Manage your mistakes with grace. Admit you’re not perfect, and reboot.

I took the opportunity of someone joining my team to create a new culture. I set the tone instead of letting the culture set itself. I asked my team what they wanted and needed. We drafted a team charter outlining our values, how we worked together, our expectations of each other and their expectations of me as their leader.

I created real, meaningful connections with them by making quarterly, day-long off-sites a team requirement. These took several different forms depending on our needs: targeted work sessions for a specific project, brainstorming new ideas and discussing challenging situations in the larger environment of the company.

These touch points were invaluable. Our team was spread across two offices, and although we were in contact almost daily, we needed in-person time to really connect and ensure effective collaboration when we were apart.

If you’re unhappy with a pattern that has been created, find an opportunity to reboot and get back in control.

Ask for feedback

During our quarterly off-sites, my team would review the charter, and I made sure I was living up to their expectations and asked if there was anything more I could be doing. I had our HR consultant conduct a review of all the people I’d ever supervised so I could learn what people thought of me as a manager and how I could grow. I learned my strengths, weaknesses and areas for growth as a manager.

But equally as important, I demonstrated commitment to being a good leader and modeled that leaders can be open for criticism and need input to grow. Many managers and supervisors think the only way to gain respect and authority is by making themselves untouchable. Take the opposite approach: Make yourself human to your team and show your vulnerability.

Look outside the box for inspiration

I drew from my personal interests in food, yoga and productivity to bring our team together. During our off-sites, we would cook a meal together as a team-building exercise. Passion is an immediate way to create a connection.

How can you bring in your outside hobbies and interests and use them to bond with your team?

Support growth and be transparent about your shortcomings

Growth is a necessary factor in job satisfaction. I was clear with my team that I was not the be-all-end-all for information and growth. I was committed to their learning and tried to find innovative ways for them to grow, from pairing them with others in the organization with more experience to suggesting workshops and online courses.

Rather than make it seem like you know less, connecting your team with other experts will show your insight and intelligence.

Within a year, I had completely turned the ship around. I had a connected and efficient team; leadership in the organization saw it was one of the strongest teams. Taking the time and energy to become a good manager early will benefit you throughout your career. Do it by intentionally learning and connecting with the people you manage.

Martine Holston left her dream job to “retire” at 30 and build her dream life and now teaches people how to do the same—whether that means leaving their job or learning to love the one they’ve got. (Take this quiz to find out what you should do.) Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see what “retired” life looks like.


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  2. Che

    This posting is right on time for me. I too am blessed with the task of being a young boss and I am in the stage where I am not confident in standing in my truth. I am looking forward to incorporating your helpful advice right now!

    Would you mind letting me know what books you read to get you through .

  3. moujahid

    hh always ask for feedback

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    • Martine

      Agreed. It’s the only way you know what is working. But in order to get good feedback, you have to have a good, trusting relationship with the people around you (otherwise they will only tell you what they think you want to hear), so establishing good and honest communication is essential.

  4. Vipin Ramdas

    Good article Martine. I would probably add one more item to the list. That would be to Find a Mentor. This is something which helped me a lot during my initial stages when I was asked to step up to a Leadership role when I was 28. Cheers

    • Martine

      Great suggestion Vipin. In my situation, I found that there wasn’t any particular person to mentor with, so I took the best from a variety of people. But I think we both know the most important thing is to have at least one person that you can turn to for solid advice.

  5. johnzaci

    Great article:)
    I am also Manger but after reading it i thought i need a lot of skills that are in pending I was also offered Position in but couldn’t manage:) But now i will!!!
    Always seek positive response:)

  6. Career Coach,

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience Martine! It’s inspirational to see how you were able to grow into your leadership role so well.

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    Thanks for the share! I know when I first became a manager I really struggled with reading individuals emotions. As stupid as it sounds it was really hurting my effectiveness as a manger since I was unable to properly accommodate and motivate my team. Seeing that I was struggling another manager referred me to these emotional intelligence training courses. While it is still a work in progress I have definitely seen a change in myself and my team after taking that course.

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  13. Exam Bird

    Sean has made it clear that he expects to be promoted. The problem is, I feel like he expects to be promoted based on only his length of service. There are others on his team that are more focused on their career development, and even though they’ve not been here as long, it’s likely that they will be promoted before him.

  14. Dada

    You know what I really liked this stuff, and I would be reading more of it from your blog. Thanks for sharing Answer Keys 2014 and Results Wave

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