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Befriend staffers and run a tight ship

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Early in her career, Dalyla Santos found herself managing people at a big law firm in Orlando, Fla. But the newly minted lawyer wasn’t sure what to do.

Describing herself as “a young, fragile-looking, immigrant female manager,” Santos lacked confidence in her leadership skills. So she spent the first year imposing strict discipline with little levity in the office.

She admits that she “barely smiled” and made little effort to connect with her team on a personal level. The joyless environment made life miserable for her and her employees. “I wanted more than anything for my employees to believe in me and to follow me like I followed my own manager,” she recalls.

In her second year as manager, Santos lightened up. But as much as she tried chatting with staffers about their lives outside of work, it felt artificial.

“At first, I spent most of the time looking at my watch and faking a smile while they told me about their crazy weekend or their kids,” she says.

Eventually, she learned how to balance her serious side with a genuine interest in others. With practice, socializing with staff became more natural. She knew she was on the right track when, in her third year as manager, an employee came into her office and praised her efforts.

“He thanked me for not giving up on the department and going the extra mile to make the firm successful, but also to make the employees feel the success as well,” she says. Today, Santos is managing partner at Alonzo, Perez & Santos, a Miami law firm.

— Adapted from “3 Hard-Earned Lessons On Surviving Leadership Mistakes,” Dora Wang, www.tinypulse.com.

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