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Every manager has a first day. Walking into a new role as the leader of the pack means more than greater responsibility; it’s a whole new way of thinking about work. 

We posed the question to the Support Driven #leadership community:

Do you have any good tips/ words of wisdom for someone transitioning over to a leadership role in support? Anything that caught you by surprise, or that you simply wish you knew before taking the reins of a team?

Support industry leaders from Tumblr, Flickr, and more chimed in. Here are their top five words of wisdom to new leaders.

1. It’s all about the team

The first step of learning to lead can be somewhat surprising: it’s not about your personal performance anymore. As a manager, it’s worth noting early, it’s all about your team’s success. 

I went through a period of time feeling like I wasn’t doing anything productive because I wasn’t cleaning out a queue full of tickets. – Claire Talbott

As Robbie Mitchell, Head of Operations at frame.ai told us, “Your work up until this point has been geared toward being the best at what you do. Now you have to switch to getting the best from everyone around you.” 

Shifting focus from your own personal goals to the responsibilities of a group takes practice.

“Target the pain-points your team feels in the early days; focus on addressing the things that cause them pain/frustration, rather than the things that cause you pain/frustration,” says Paul Tucker, Director of Customer Care at Accountable2You.

It may also make you feel like you’re not doing it right, but that’s all part of the transition — how you measure productivity changes. As Claire Talbott, Support Manager at UserVoice puts it, “I went through a period of time feeling like I wasn’t doing anything productive because I wasn’t cleaning out a queue full of tickets.”

It’s easy to think of leaders as the team’s standout performers — even the top clearers of tickets! However, the secret to truly effective leadership lies far from the day-to-day spotlight: the most effective managers focus on setting their teams up for universal success.

2. Advocate for your team

The next stepping stone for new leaders to note can be called a lesson in spirit. Now that you’re in charge, your responsibilities range beyond simply producing good numbers — they also encompass overall wellbeing. 

For Tess Dixon, former Director of Support at Tumblr, great leadership has a lot to do with being the best possible cheerleader. “Be proactive about touting your team’s wins,” she emphasizes. “In support it’s really hard to make sure your accomplishments get the recognition that other teams get by default. Go to bat for your team and make sure you’re bragging on them as much as possible.” 

That dedication rings true in both words and resources — Robbie Mitchell adds: “Lobby for a small budget, or implicit approval, for occasional coffees or meals with your reports.” 

At the end of the day, a great leader should be the biggest advocate in the room for their team. If you provide genuine support for your people, they will feel seen — and their work will show it.

In support it’s really hard to make sure your accomplishments get the recognition that other teams get by default. Go to bat for your team and make sure you’re bragging on them as much as possible.  – Tess Dixon

3. Meetings matter

A leadership role comes with a range of new time commitments. While a manager’s personal ticket count may drop, the calendar gets a serious boost — of even more meetings. But for managers, meetings carry more importance than ever.

“I totally recommend having 1:1 meetings to specifically hear what’s not working, frustrating, cumbersome to manage, etc. — then start tackling those things one by one,” notes Paul Tucker. “Even better still, have planning sessions with your team on how to fix those things, then give each person areas of responsibility in owning the solution.”

The time means a lot to your team members, too. “Do not cancel meetings with reports,” adds Sara Gardinier, a Customer Support Team Manager at Research Square. “Unless you or they are so sick that a meeting can not happen, make it happen.”

Meetings are not meant to be messy time-sinks: they play a key part in building connections, aligning teams, and inspiring superior performance.

4. Relationships are key

Social currency plays a critical role in good management: a savvy leader commits to staying truly in tune with his or her team from the start. By connecting with each member, good managers draw everyone closer to their goals. 

Your team needs to trust you. Solving small problems for (and with!) them is a great way to build trust. I also like to do round tables or one-on-ones with my new teams early on, so that I can see what they liked and disliked about their previous leader. – Tory Fitzgerald

Support Operations Supervisor, Josh Daniells, emphasizes, “Be the manager you wish you had! And be kind at every possible opportunity. It will return dividends.”

Project Manager Tory Fitzgerald, of the Prowess Project, agrees. “Building relationships should be your number one focus!” she says. “Your team needs to trust you. Solving small problems for (and with!) them is a great way to build trust. I also like to do round tables or one-on-ones with my new teams early on, so that I can see what they liked and disliked about their previous leader.” 

Sometimes, the pressure on a new leader seems to lie in metrics. However, no one can get great numbers without happy humans. Trust from your team remains a key essential to building momentum, making moves, and growing to the next level — and that makes true trustworthiness a critical asset to great leaders, right out of the gate. 

5. Embrace your mistakes and own them

As author, speaker, leadership consultant, and recent TED guest Selena Rezvani says, “If I could go back and change one thing in my career, it would be to make more face-plants and epic mistakes.” While the process of learning can prove difficult, mistakes play a fundamental role in developing exceptional leadership skills. 

“You will make mistakes. Embrace them. From those mistakes you will learn some of your most valuable insights,” notes Claire Talbott.

“Also, always admit that you made mistakes — to yourself, your team, and others. Humility is a great detergent!” adds Tom Connor, Head of Support at Wonderschool.

Of course, it’s not just your personal mistakes on the line. Abby Armada, Flickr Customer Support Manager emphasizes that you’re not on your own any longer:  “Take responsibility for mistakes or failures your team makes, too.” 

The work of leadership is never perfect, but relies upon progress. By trying and making mistakes, new leaders have the opportunity to learn rapidly and attain higher levels of performance for both themselves and their reports

Always admit that you made mistakes — to yourself, your team, and others. Humility is a great detergent! – Tom Connor

Even the most talented managers consistently seek ways to improve their work. If you’d like to read more on leadership skills and honing your own style, these are some of the standout pieces in print recommended by our leaders in the  #leadership channel at Support Driven:

Turn the Ship Around
Start with Why
Radical Candor
Dare to Lead

Have something to add? Share your own struggles and successes with empowering your team in the #leadership channel. Don’t forget to sign up for Support Driven’s weekly newsletter, and find more support team interviews on the Influx blog!

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