5 Essential Lessons for a First-Time Manager
Congratulations, you have become a first-time manager!
If you are anything like me, this might have been your big career goal for a while. I was ecstatic when it finally happened, but I also felt very unprepared for the new role. Until then I was a superstar employee with a very clear understanding of my role. However, I learned quickly that what had made me successful in the past, might not be what will make me successful in my new role. I had to learn many lessons as a first-time manager.
I later realized that I was not alone. Many struggle to make the transition into their new roles. The reasons behind this are often similar. Therefore, this post is all about the top 5 lessons every first-time manager needs to know.
First-Time Manager Tips You Need to Know
1. Manage Relationships with your Team – Be Their Boss, Not Their Buddy
Most individuals want to be liked by other people. This is also true for people in management positions. However, in this situation, you need to go for your surroundings’ respect rather than their sympathies. The reality is that you must manage the team’s performance. And your boss will evaluate your performance based on this.
When I was promoted to the team’s manager, I had to transition from my team’s colleague into my team’s manager. This felt very uncomfortable at first. When we were colleagues, I asked the other team members for support and occasionally guidance. And truth be told, my relationships were not the same with all the team members. With some, I had a better connection than with others. Some might be even considered friends. However, in my new position, I had to set goals and priorities for my team.
What should a first-time manager do in this situation?
Be fair – Everyone in your team needs to be treated fairly and consistently, independently of your personal feelings – full stop. Especially larger companies will make this easier for you through the company’s core values, behavior descriptors, and policies. Take the time to read and internalize these because they will be great guidance.
Implement regular performance-related discussions – Have regular discussions with each team member individually. This would be ideally weekly or bi-weekly. Set out clear performance and goal expectations in the beginning. Then focus the regular catch-up around this.
Set boundaries – This is important, especially if you have had friendly relationships with your team members before becoming their boss. Set clear expectations that conversations and behaviors at work are had as their line manager and are driven by established performance expectations.
2. Change Your Focus – Understand Your New Responsibilities as First-Time Manager ASAP
Many first-time managers do not understand that their responsibilities change considerably from their previous job. They believe they should do more and better of what they have done before. After all, they got promoted for this, right? In doing this, they take on every job themselves and want to be involved in every detail. This leaves them burned out and their team demotivated and inefficient.
A manager is accountable for their team’s performance to achieve the goals which are set out by the company. Their responsibility is to make sure that their team is efficiently set up for their day-to-day responsibilities. This means to provide the team with clarity and prioritization on workstreams; as well as organizing and delegating to the right team members efficiently and checking that these are completed to the expected quality.
I struggled with this at first. In the end, I knew the jobs my team had to do very well and I could have stepped into the trap of taking on too much myself and micromanaging my team. What helped me greatly was the advice from very experienced managers in my company: Agree WHAT needs to be done with your team, but DON’T TELL THEM HOW to do it. Following this, I implemented a weekly start-up meeting with the full team in which we set the main short-, medium- and long-term activities for each team member. In this meeting, every team member presented the approach to delivering these activities and we agree on them together. We also agree on when and to which extent my help is needed. This allowed the team to execute their day-to-day activities with confidence and freed up my time.
3. Understand Your Boss’ Expectations
Chances are high that your management has also changed and that your new boss has a higher standing in the company’s hierarchy too. This will have a significant influence on how your performance is evaluated and how you need to communicate.
This is no time to be complacent. One of the first things to do as a first-time manager is to achieve alignment with your new boss! Get to know your new boss, understand his view of your responsibilities and how she would like to communicate. Chances are high that this will be an ongoing dialogue.
My new boss made this very easy for me. Within the first week of being promoted to manager, my boss had scheduled a goal conversation, had set a bi-weekly 1:1, and had clarified his preferred way of communication. He had little interest in the details of my team’s day-to-day activities but was very particular in the way he wanted issues escalated to him.
If your new boss is not as straightforward, there is only one way – Ask directly.
4. Grow a Self-Reliant Team – Don’t Tell, Coach
Many first-time managers want to be needed by their team and essentially get involved in the day-to-day activities. They believe that this would make them more successful in the eyes of their superiors. Nevertheless, it is the exact opposite. Leading a self-reliant team doesn’t mean that you are redundant, it means that your team can deal with their day-to-day activities confidently and efficiently. Your role in this is to support them if they require it. If you can build a team like this you will have the time and energy to focus on strategic activities to get the team and department ahead and you are signaling to your superiors that you are ready to move on. An absolute necessity to get promoted.
So, how do you achieve this? Coach your team on their activities. First, you agree on what needs to be done and why. Then ask them how they would approach the task and line out the steps involved. Chances are that they just want to be told what to do. Don’t accept this. Insist that they do this thinking themselves. Your job is to guide them through the process using an open questioning process. Over time this will become easier for them until they need almost no input from you.
I experienced at the beginning myself that my team came to me with questions on very basic activities and I just told them what to do. This was inefficient because my team was waiting to speak to me first. And not much happened in the meantime. This drained my time and focus. As consequence, I implemented weekly 1:1 meetings with each team member where I coach them through their regular activities. The quality of their work has improved and they are more motivated. Most importantly to me, I have more time to focus on things only I can do.
5. Get a Mentor – QUICK
If you would ask me to give you only one piece of advice, it would be this: get a mentor!
Being a first-time manager is all new to you but other people have been there before. And often they are happy to share their experience and learning. This will help you greatly to avoid common mistakes and to implement the above lessons.
I was offered support from a very senior leader in my company and gladly accepted. We have bi-weekly catch-ups in which I receive advice tailored to me. These sessions are also a great source of encouragement to deal with difficult situations.
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