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How to prepare for and successfully execute a new leadership role.

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Man, every time I turn around I hear about someone moving to another company.

In the old days, my grandmother wrote my family’s addresses in pencil in her address book because we moved around so much. I need a service to automatically update my contact cards because they keep going out of date. 

One friend had an okay job. It paid the bills, but she was bored. So, instead of just continuing to punch the virtual time clock, she jumped ship for a new job she loves. Another friend just got promoted from manager to mid-level executive. He’s figuring out his next moves to be successful. If you’re in the same position — or you want to be — my column this month is for you.

The work landscape is shifting

We’re seeing a lot of change, not just in email marketing but in the broader marketing industry. So many of us are asking, “What do I do next?” The pandemic and the resulting business upheavals have prompted many of us to re-evaluate our life choices, what motivates us and what we need to change in our lives to be happy.

I did that when I left the corporate world to start an email agency. I haven’t looked back.

According to Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, one in four workers is preparing to look for opportunities with a new employer once the pandemic threat has subsided. And more than 40% of people who responded to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, a global survey of over 30,000 people in 31 countries, said they are considering leaving their employers this year.

This movement in the email industry is par for the course. Email marketers usually last two to three years in specialist or manager roles and then move on to something cooler (although after being in email for 23 years, I can tell you email is still pretty cool).

This means we are re-educating people every time they come through the door. But it also helps us re-evaluate what we do and keeps our industry fresh.

A lot of people have found new paths — new job, new career, new industry. But what do you do next after you finish your HR orientation and figure out where the bathroom is? What should be your first step as a new leader, and how can you avoid repeating the mistakes of the people who had the job before you?

These three actions can get you started the right away:

1. Redefine your management and motivational styles

If you’re a new manager, know that the work world has changed thanks to COVID-19. People discovered they aren’t willing to work 60-, 70- or 80-hour weeks, time after time after time.

Sure, there will be occasions when people have to put in extra hours to get a job done. But it also means managers and supervisors and executives have to think about work-life balance for their employees. And that’s real work-life balance.  Not the catchphrase that’s thrown out there as the exception, not the rule.

How will you help your team members enjoy their lives outside work? Or will you be like so many others who considered an 80-hour week the symbol of employee loyalty?

As you get to know your new team members or direct reports, figure out what motivates them, what brings them joy on the job and what frustrates them. Then, tailor your relationships individually for each employee.

Some employees will appreciate an extra day off or flexible work hours. Others want to be recognized publicly. Some will ask for extra training or conference attendance. An on-site team might enjoy a surprise lunch or after-work party. How will you balance the needs of a hybrid team, where some are in the office, some are 100% remote and others are a mix?

What we learned over the COVID crisis is that motivation is not a singular event. The care and concern you showed your employees during that stressful time should continue.

Here’s one management secret no one tells you until it’s too late: You are the roadblock keeping the company crazy train away from your team. 

We all have crazy moments, like people from other departments screaming down the hall a week before the holidays demanding an unscheduled email campaign. As a leader, you field the feedback, directives and general insanity of day-to-day company life and help your team understand and work on it to do what’s needed or to push back on their behalf.

2. Block out calendar time for strategic thinking

I reserve blocks of time on my calendar to plan strategy for clients, catch up on my own work  or just stare out the window at my newly sodded yard and think without interruption. 

These moments of Zen will be important to you in your new work role because your job is different now. You’re no longer the person who executes the plans. Resist the temptation to say, “Here, just let me do it.” That’s not your job anymore. 

Your job is to teach people. Find out how each person learns best. Some like video. Others would rather read directions, and some want to learn as they go along. 

It might take longer to get the job done. but that’s part of the process. So is letting them make mistakes. Be prepared for the mistakes and help them see how not to repeat them.

You can use your private time to think about how to motivate your team, optimize systems and facilitate team happiness and satisfaction. It will help you find the right path to achievement by knowing when to step up, when to step back or aside, and evaluate what works and what doesn’t.

You also can use that time to talk informally with each team member to see how things are going, or to schedule a group call

If you want to spend some of that quiet time looking for leadership guidance, I recommend Gary Vaynerchuk’s books, especially #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness.

3. You don’t have to know everything right away

Memorize this phrase: “Help me understand …”

Every new job or title comes with things you have to learn. You don’t have to know everything on Day One. Part of your job is to surround yourself with smart people who will help you solve problems and achieve your goals, have your back and keep you informed.

My friend who is moving up in digital marketing will be adding direct mail, push and SMS marketing to his email smarts. He doesn’t know everything about those other channels, but people on his team do. His job is to empower his team to educate him and to work to the best of their abilities. 

As a leader, you must be humble and ask for help when you need it. That’s better than pretending you know more than you do because your team will know you’re faking it. And when things go right, when praise comes down from above, credit your team.  I cannot tell you how important it is not to take credit for the work your team did.

Wrapping up

Not every career is fulfilling or life-changing. The important thing is that you find out what makes you happy. Your job is part of that. Your personal life is another. How much time and energy does your job take, and how do you balance that with your personal life? 

Trust me – your employees will be asking themselves those same questions.

Are you managing people or marketing channels the same way you did 18 months ago? If so, my friend, you are painfully behind the times. 

The question no longer is “Why do people want to work for this company?” It’s “Why does my team want to work for me?”

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Ryan Phelan
As the CEO of RPE Origin, Ryan Phelan's two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for global leading retail, FinTech and technology brands as well as ESP’s.

In 2023, Ryan received the industry’s top honor of Thought Leader of the Year Award and is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on email marketing.

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