All your hard work has finally paid off, and you’ve reached your goal of becoming a manager. Congratulations! Transitioning from being an individual contributor to a manager is exciting. But balancing your added responsibility and building leadership skills can be a bit daunting.
Don’t worry, you’re in the right place! We compiled some advice from leaders at Pitney Bowes from their “Meet Our Leaders” series to support you in your managerial endeavors. Keep reading to hear some of their best tips on how to make your transition into leadership smoother.
Tip 1: Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate.
We all know communication is key when it comes to just about any relationship, and communication between a manager and their team is no exception. According to Pitney’s Chief Communications Officer Bill Hughes, when dealing with your team, “you cannot communicate enough as a new manager.” He shares that when you set clear guidelines about how you work and how you expect people to work, you set your team up for success. “You have to make the effort to connect with your teams. Their success is your success.”
Tip 2: Prioritize authenticity.
Another key trait in good leaders is authenticity. Leaders should be willing to show up as their full selves, which might mean exposing their vulnerabilities and asking for support in addressing them. Being authentic and vulnerable takes courage, but it’s essential for building empathy and trust.
“You will win with authenticity every time,” says Debbie Pfeiffer, President of Pitney Bowes Presort Services. “People know when you're trying to pretend to be someone else and it's just not core to who you are. Also, be kind, be good, be respectful to everyone, regardless of their role. All of those things come back to you.”
Tip 3: Stay curious and trust your team.
We can all agree that continual learning is a good thing, especially when you’re new to a role. “Sometimes there’s a perception that management has to have an answer for every problem—and that couldn't be further from the truth,” says Christopher Johnson, SVP and President Pitney Bowes Global Financial Services. Good leaders don’t need to have all the answers, they just need to know how to get them.
Similarly, Jason Dies, Executive Vice President and President of Sending Technology Solutions, reminds us, “You don't have to be an expert on everything. As you advance in your career, your scope and breadth increase. That’s why you have a team.” And you should learn to trust your team to build mutual support.
If you’re still not fully confident in your abilities, that’s alright too. Debbie wants new leaders to know, “It’s okay if you feel a bit nervous about not knowing. Just always stay curious and in learning mode.” She also encourages them to be resourceful. “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Use the resources around you; don’t think you always need to start from scratch. Identify people who you know are good at what they do and ask them for advice.”
Tip 4: Hone your listening skills.
We can learn from those around us, and by strengthening your active listening skills, you can gain knowledge and perspectives that increase your leadership capacity. “It doesn't matter if they aren’t in a position of prestige or power,” remarks Christopher. “If you take the time and you talk to people genuinely, they can teach you things that can make a difference in your life or can allow you to make a difference in somebody else's life. And don’t be afraid to ask questions,” he advises. “Without questions you cannot learn.”
Equally, active listening opens up the door for new perspectives. “Idea generation comes from listening,” says Chief Financial Officer Ana Chadwick. She also says that the first thing you should do as a new leader is create an environment where people on your team want to share. “It's empowering to the team to see that there's something that can be done about improving ourselves, improving our work environment, [and] improving what we're doing.” Engage with your team, be open to feedback, and focus on improving.
Tip 5: Don’t forget to show your appreciation.
“And the last concept, which is often forgotten: Always be thankful, and show gratitude to people for what they are doing,” says Christopher. He also asks leaders to reflect on how others’ gratitude affects them. “If you stop and think about it, in your day-to-day life, how many people say ‘thank you,’ and how many people actually ask how they can help you?”
Lead by example and show appreciation for your teammates. After all, “their success is your success.”
Muldair Welch wasn’t your average 11-year-old. Instead of playing with toys, she was writing code to check her homework.
“I had just gotten a computer and my uncle had shown me some simple QBasic programming,” Muldair explains. “I was trying to do my homework and I wasn't sure if I was right, so I used the computer to write a piece of software to check my synthetic division.” And it worked!
From then on, Muldair was hooked. “I thought to myself, ‘I can get paid to solve puzzles on a computer all day?’” Motivated to keep learning and developing, she worked through the summers to save up for school. She started college at 16 and landed her first job in engineering at 18 while she finished up her undergraduate.
Nowadays, with just as much enthusiasm, you can catch Muldair pushing her team to keep learning and developing as the Director of Engineering at Tackle.io. We sat down with her to discuss her career journey and three pieces of advice for women in engineering who are eager to advance in their careers.
Foundational skills for career growth
Soft skills, or as Muldair prefers to call them, “foundational skills,” are not typically associated with becoming a successful engineer. Yet for Muldair, along her 20+ year career journey, skills like intentionality, communication, and emotional intelligence have been key as she’s moved up the career ladder.
Her first step was becoming a tech lead—a move she says was “100 percent intentional.” But her move to engineering manager came with some hesitation. “I was afraid it was going to be a career block,” explains Muldair. She was passionate about coding and worried that she wouldn’t be able to solve problems every day like she was used to. “I thought, ‘I'm not an engineer anymore. What if I'm a manager for a year and I lose all of my skills and I can never come back?’”
Although she admits these worries were irrational, she was able to push through her fears. As she immersed herself in her new role, she realized that her engineering skills were still being put to good use. “I was so shocked at how much I loved it because I'm still solving problems, but I'm solving what, to me, are so much more meaningful ones,” Muldair says cheerfully.
Moving up and giving back
Through the leadership lessons and unique experiences she gained as an engineering manager, Muldair was eager to take on another challenge. “If there's an opportunity, I'm going to take it, I'm going to try it, and I'm going to learn from it,” explains Muldair. “I knew that I wanted to take the lessons that I had learned and share them with other managers and help them avoid the pitfalls that I had fallen into.”
Muldair joined Tackle last year as an Engineering Director. She was attracted to the technology and intrigued by the company culture and leadership philosophy. “I saw a company that had a really good long-term vision with empathetic, intentional, and focused engineering,” says Muldair when talking about her first impressions of the company. She describes Tackle as a software company that, “supports not just the technology and the clients, but supports the people that make the business possible.”
As a director, Muldair collaborates with other teams to align on projects, creates sustainable growth strategies, and focuses on optimizing processes. She also meets with managers on her team to assure they’re supported in their daily tasks, as well as long-term projects and career development. “When I'm meeting with [my team], we're talking about career growth, we're talking about leadership evolution, dealing with things that are on their mind,” Muldair explains.
And she still gets to do some of the engineering work that she’s known and loved since she was a child. “I always ask how I can help my team be successful in the endeavors that they're working on at that moment, so I do a lot of hands-on support of engineering managers.”
Leading by example
With her intention of supporting other managers, Muldair has learned that, unlike technology, working with people doesn’t always render consistent results.
“When it comes to people, you give them tools, you partner with them, you let them go and you see if they're successful–and sometimes they're not. Sometimes they fail and you have to help them deal with that and make it into a learning opportunity,” she explains.
Along with supporting her managers through setbacks, she has learned that leading by example is equally as important. She uses time management as an example of this. “If I want someone else to grow and eventually become a director, I cannot establish this role as an 80 hour a week role where you're always on and you never disconnect.” She understands that the time she puts into her work is just as important as turning off her laptop at the end of the day or taking time off. “It's a challenging thing for me sometimes, but it's also been hugely impactful to my quality of life,” she shares. “It's really important to create an environment where people are successful when they're working their best hours for their best life,” Muldair points out.
Three pieces of advice for ambitious engineers
In true Muldair fashion of supporting others, she offers advice for fellow women engineers — especially those who don’t have many role models at their companies.
- Don't push yourself into a mold that doesn't fit you. “When I first joined leadership, there was no one that shared my demographics. There was no one that acted the way that I acted. No quirky, odd, humorous, empathetic people in positions of leadership,” Muldair explains. “I thought if I want to be a leader, I have to be cold, I have to be perfect, I have to be super professional and not connect with anyone. And this was a lie. Success will come when you embrace who you are.”
- Don’t be afraid to show off your work. “Very often, women will not champion themselves, due to societal reasons or the fact that they don't want to appear boastful,” Muldair shares. Showing off projects you are working on, achievements, and demos can be the factor that makes future employers want to work with you.
- Network and collaborate. Something as simple as joining a niche engineering Slack group can open opportunities for support and collaboration. “You will find people who want to be supportive,” Muldair advises. These early collaborations can set the foundation for working in larger teams.
“Failure is not a bad thing, it's a consequence of growth and it's a good thing,” Muldair encourages. “You don't have to change who you are to be successful. You need to embrace who you are to be successful.”
If you’re looking to work in a company whose success is a direct factor of how they invest in their employees, check out the job opportunities at Tackle.io.
MaryBeth Iamonaco doesn’t take family for granted.
“We’re super close,” explains MaryBeth. Which is what keeps them a 10-minute drive from each other in the beautiful state of Connecticut, where MaryBeth most feels at home. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending quality time with her family, a close circle of friends of 30+ years, and her golden retriever, Rhody.
After the sudden passing of her father, she came to appreciate that family bond even more. “Unfortunately, you don't always realize the strength that you have within your family until something terrible happens,” elaborates MaryBeth. “Thankfully [my family] had that bond to get through.”
As Director of Project Management at Clarus Commerce, MaryBeth works hard to recreate that sense of unconditional support on her team by fostering an environment where team members are seen, encouraged, and challenged to grow. “There's nothing more important to me than my team feeling supported,” she exclaims.“Let's go back to making work feel like home!”
We sat down with MaryBeth to learn more about her leadership journey. Read on to hear her story, from how she started her 15 year trajectory at Clarus Commerce to her tips on how to foster an environment of belonging and support for your team.
Open-mindedness forges opportunities
Early on, MaryBeth knew she didn’t want to be stuck with limited opportunities, so she decided to pursue her studies in a field that would keep her career options open: sociology. “I didn't want to be married to something that I didn't know would work out for me,” she explains. “I believe whatever happens is meant to be.”
After graduation, MaryBeth saw an ad for a job opening for Clarus Commerce on Craigslist and decided to apply. She folded up her resume, stuck it in her pocket, and set off to the Clarus office. “I was a firm believer in not overthinking, so I just walked into Clarus, unfolded my resume, and handed it to the hiring manager,” she sheepishly reminisces. “They must have seen something in me because that was 15 years ago, and I'm still part of the Clarus family today.”
MaryBeth started her career at the company as a Customer Service Representative. “I needed something to start paying my own bills,” she explains. “A few years later, I moved into Operations and then was presented with this opportunity to create a project management office within Clarus, and it just made sense.”
Now, MaryBeth leads and coordinates several teams as the Director of Project Management. “I was the second person on the team and now I have an entire team under me and, in some cases, they have a team under them,” she explains. Her team works cross-functionally to set timelines, organize and assess processes, lead agile ceremonies, develop projects, and fight last minute fires.
MaryBeth credits her overall success to Clarus' leadership. “It's the skeleton of the company and why we're so successful,” she says. “I was the 10th employee in this rickety old office and now we have thousands of square feet and 400 people. Things have definitely evolved and my success at Clarus was matched by the success of the company as a whole.”
But the growth doesn’t stop there. MaryBeth takes advantage of professional development opportunities whenever she can, and Clarus makes that easy. “Every year, Clarus grants each employee $1,000 for training and upskilling,” she explains. “I’ve used it to take classes and learn about new technology within the PMO sector. More recently, my team’s been focused on the SCRUM master training, as we have transitioned to agile development last year.”
MaryBeth hopes to provide her team with the same support that she got from her leaders earlier on in her career, which is why she prioritizes continual learning and career pathing for her team. “I want them to feel like they are seen, encouraged, and challenged,” elaborates MaryBeth. “I want them to feel at home, because they work with people that value their efforts, their interests, and their dreams.”
How to make work feel like home
Along her 15 year-long career journey, MaryBeth has learned how to navigate career success, overcome challenges, and support her team along the way. Keep reading for four ways MaryBeth cultivates success for her team.
1. Build a solid team. “Get a team that you can jive with, not only professionally, but people you can go get a coffee with, too,” MaryBeth advises. “My philosophy is to be friends with the people that you work with. You spend 40 hours a week with your coworkers, sometimes you spend more time with them than with your family. Just make sure that they’re willing to work hard and that you actually take the time to get to know each other.” MaryBeth chats with her team every day, and not only about work. Because Clarus has a hybrid work model, she’s intentional about connecting her team and staying updated on what is going on in each other's lives.
2. Set clear expectations. “Project management is often looked at as the place to go when you have a problem and we're going to solve it for you,” explains MaryBeth. “And we don't want to let people down.” Which is why she prioritizes transparency and organization in her work by establishing clear expectations with her team members and other departments
3. Clear your inbox every day. “It sounds funny and it doesn't sound like it would be a big deal, but coming into work not knowing what to expect is hard,” explains MaryBeth. “Having a clear inbox allows me to completely focus on the new set of challenges, the new set of successes, or whatever it may be that day.
4. Adjust your processes. “Love what you have put into place, because if you don't, you won't like coming to work every day,” says MaryBeth. “So take the time to look back every so often and see what can be adjusted. That way you are motivated by your process and the kinds of things that help your team and company grow.” MaryBeth constantly takes inventory on her team’s process to see how it can improve. “Throughout the week I make mental notes of processes and team members’ strong suits. I'm always thinking of ways to make things better.”
Courtney Liebowitz—now the Director of Governance, Information, Security, and Data Loss Prevention at Freddie Mac—didn’t have much experience with information security when she first joined the federal mortgage lender as a consultant in 2013.
Since starting at Freddie Mac, Courtney’s hard work and thirst for continual learning have led her to take on several new challenges, including her most recent promotion to director. We sat down to ask her what other key lessons shaped her path into leadership, and what advice she has for other women looking to follow in her footsteps.
Finding Her Stride as a Leader
As a consultant, Courtney taught herself the ins and outs of information security and quickly proved her mettle at Freddie Mac—her success didn’t go unnoticed, and she was hired full-time as a manager in 2018.
One of the things Courtney has appreciated most about Freddie Mac is how supportive the company is of her desire to learn and stretch herself.
“If you want to learn something new, or go to a different division, people support that, and there’s a lot of opportunity,” she explains. For Courtney, that opportunity has meant increasing responsibilities through promotions to senior manager, and most recently, director.
Leadership is something Courtney has taken to organically. “It’s in my nature to take on extra stuff, to fix things,” she says. But she attributes her development as a leader in large part to the support she’s received from Freddie Mac.
“I’ve had a lot of training experiences throughout my tenure at Freddie Mac. They’re absolutely supportive, and very much promote women in technology,” she says.
One of the most formative experiences Courtney has had at the company was a six-months-long executive leadership training for women in information security. “It was fantastic,” she says, noting how the training opened her eyes to some of the barriers women in the workforce face.
“Prior to the training, prior to seeing the data,” she explains, “it wasn’t something I was particularly aware of because I have never been made to feel that way—dismissed, or too assertive—at Freddie. Not at Freddie, not one time.”
Understanding the challenges that do exist has made her grateful for the environment she finds herself in at the company. In addition to the training she’s received, she has a great example to look up to in Betty Elliott, Freddie Mac’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). “My CISO is a very strong female lead. She's amazing,” she says.
Paying It Forward: 3 Tips for Other Women in Leadership
Courtney’s self-taught approach, coupled with the support she’s received from Freddie Mac, has led her to a fulfilling leadership role in information security.
Now, she wants to pay that forward to other women in the field.
“The most fulfilling part of my job is watching someone that I’m coaching, or mentoring come into their own,” Courtney says.
She shared three tips for excelling as a leader:
- Trust your gut. If you are considering taking on new opportunities, even ones you might not feel entirely prepared for, go with your gut. “Use your best judgment,” she says. “Your gut’s not going to lie to you.”
- Put others at ease whenever you can. Courtney shares an example of how she was able to encourage a mentee who was scared about delivering a presentation: “I told her, ‘I’ll be in the meeting with you. If you stop talking, I will start.’ And she’s been presenting extremely well ever since.”
- Know when to compromise—and when to walk away. “[In a workplace,] you have different personalities. Sometimes, you can work together to come up with a compromise. Other times, you may have to agree to disagree and walk away. But if you're just constantly battling, you'll never get anywhere.”