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10 tips for survival when you’re the new boss

January 15, 2015, 12:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Terry Lorant

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? is written by Debby Hopkins, Chief Innovation Officer at Citi and CEO of Citi Ventures.

Starting a leadership role for the first time is an exciting milestone. A new leader often has high expectations for themselves and feels a sense of urgency to demonstrate results. But remember, this is a new position and you will have a learning curve. Here are my top 10 pointers for navigating this transition:

  1. You’ve earned this role. You will have difficult days and feel like you aren’t succeeding. Stay confident in your abilities and be kind to yourself. Recognize that you got this role because you were an extremely strong individual contributor. Now, your job is to become an equally great team leader.
  2. Master the art of delegation. New leaders often over-manage; you excelled in your prior role because you controlled it. Empower your team to help you solve problems. Trust me, I’m extremely familiar with how hard it can be to let go – if you were like me in school, you wanted to do all the work during group projects. Just keep in mind, when you delegate, don’t take back the project if someone isn’t doing it well. Help them figure it out and let them fix it.
  3. Ask questions. Spend time one-on-one with your direct reports and ask them what they would prioritize if they were in your role. Applying the “socratic method” is more important than expounding your beliefs.
  4. Listen carefully. Practice listening. Don’t interject. Learn to hear and absorb what different groups and teams are telling you. If you listen well, you’ll gain deep insights and uncover signals for future opportunities and warning signs before obstacles arise.
  5. Closely interpret customer feedback. The best ideas often come from speaking to employees or customers. Find ways to engage, and listen closely so you can design, act and make choices in response to the feedback.
  6. Accept that you wont know it all. Many leaders are addicted to being right. Don’t assume that you do or should know all the answers. I’ve learned that gathering my team to work on a problem together is my most powerful tool. As a leader, it is essential to convene, connect the dots and forge a path forward.
  7. Develop your own leadership style. Build on the strengths that led you to this position, and cultivate your own unique approach. Understand your direct reports – what motivates them, what kind of guidance and feedback they need. Recognize that there may be someone working for you now who also wanted your position. Talk to them; let them know that you will still be focused on their success.
  8. Communicate often. Your people want to hear from you. Don’t get so caught up in work that you forget to share updates. Create a regular cadence of meetings and host town halls. Help your team understand the significance of their contributions – and use this as another opportunity to listen to their insights.
  9. Create goals for yourself. Build a 100-day plan – the early days of a new positiongo by extremely fast, and this can be a great way to give yourself a sense of accountability.
  10. Develop strong peer relationships. Engage peers from across your organization. Even try reaching out to the person who had the position before you. Focus on building meaningful relationships. The most valuable advice and ideas may come from your own backyard or from someone unexpected. Be open to discovering this.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

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Why I’m proud to be gay — at home and at work by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young.

Why great doers don’t make great leaders by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

3 things you can learn from your worst boss by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

One CEO’s cheat sheet to the top by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 ways to think like a leader by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

What the best bosses can learn from mountain ski guides by Susan Coelius Keplinger, President and COO of Triggit.

The one quality all leaders must have by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute.

3 lessons every new leader should know by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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