8 Tips to Help First-Time Managers Thrive
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Effective management is an important part of any business. When people are put in a position to manage others it is usually reflective of their performance, work ethic and acumen for leading and helping others both directly and indirectly.
The first time you become a manager, it can be both a positive and overwhelming experience. Management is not easy, as it requires many skills including areas that generally get better with experience like communication, coaching, motivating and listening.
But everyone needs to start somewhere and there some important steps that can make the transition a bit smoother. To help first-time managers start strong and thrive as their responsibilities grow, here are eight tips to keep in mind on day one.
1. Understand the business
You need to be prepared to address questions from your direct reports that take into account the broader landscape of the company. From strategy to culture and HR issues, you need to know what is happening across the business, so you can make informed decisions while confidently providing direction.
How do you do this? Spend time with senior leaders and ask questions. Why is the strategy what it is? Why have certain decisions been made? What can your team do to support other parts of the business? The more you know, the more you can help your team focus.
2. Prioritize your one-on-one check-ins
Individual time with your direct reports is critical towards their success and overall career development. It is during this time that you need to keep an honest watch on priorities, metrics, and any questions that might be on their mind.
How do you do this? Set up the one-on-ones, so they happen at a regular and predictable cadence. Block the time on your calendar and do your best to respect this time.
3. Stay in the trenches
It’s likely that you were asked to be a manager, because you were great at doing whatever your discipline demanded. You worked hard and achieved a certain level of success as a result. Now that you are a manager it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do the “dirty work” that helped you succeed in the first place. It is an endearing quality that your direct reports will respect when you are willing to do any job at any time to help them move forward.
How do you do this? Keep an eye on things day to day and when there is an opportunity to jump in and help, grab the opportunity and run with it. At the end of the day the success of the business is what matters and a culture where anyone -- including you -- is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish things is a culture that will thrive and endure.
4. YOU are the example
Through the good times and bad, who are people going to look to when they need inspiration or an example for how to act? The answer is simple: you. You are now the example that others need to follow. The values you demonstrate, the way you handle adversity and ambiguity and the way you persevere through the biggest challenges, is now considered the measuring stick for how others will act and behave.
How do you do this? You are going to need to be very mindful of your emotions and how you react in certain situations. You are going to need to slow down, be patient and develop an informed perspective, so you can lead in a way that people will admire and model.
5. Understand the importance of delegation
You are going to find early on that you want to be involved in everything your team is working on. The challenge here is that you cannot be everywhere at once. You need to create an environment where you are actively relying on others to help carry projects. You will still be informed, but you need to let others lead so they can grow their abilities and perspective. Over the years whether it was my time at Microsoft or Porch, some of the best managers I have seen are the ones who have mastered the art of effective delegation.
How do you do this? When you need someone to step up and lead on your behalf, be clear on your expectations but also stress to them how important the opportunity is for them personally. When they know how important their role is they will feel even greater ownership towards ensuring an optimal outcome and their contributions will feel even more valuable.
6. Find a mentor
One of the first steps you should take is to find a mentor that you can go to when you have questions or need support. Find someone who has excelled at being the type of manager you want to be; ideally someone who has experience handling a diverse set of situations, so you can understand first hand the pros and cons for handling certain situations certain ways.
How do you do this? Look across your company or outside your company (perhaps someone you worked with in a previous job) and approach them and see if they would be willing to help out.
7. Be consistent
If you constantly flip-flop on decisions or how you make decisions, your team will start to lose trust in your ability to strategically lead. They will question if you are making informed judgments, leading with emotion or worse – you are unprepared to handle your new responsibility.
How do you do this? To be a consistent leader you need to be a patient leader. Take your time. Don’t respond to emails with irrational feedback. Don’t make a decision in the moment just because people are pushing you to do so. Find outlets that allow you to think through things. Go for a walk. Write up emails and step away before you send them. This can be very hard for people at every level but sometimes the best thing you can do is just slow.
8. Know that relationships have changed
Often first-time managers find themselves managing people that were once their peers or people they have created a personal relationship with. When you become their manager the relationship changes, and you need to be transparent about that. You are now their boss and you will need to wear that hat when you are in the office. You can never allow yourself to have personal relationships cloud business decisions.
How do you do this? You need to set clear ground rules and have the conversation upfront that things have changed. I have found that the best way to do this is to add additional 1:1s to address in real time any situations that may feel awkward. You need to be transparent (as do others) and if things feel weird, talk about it so you can collaborate on a solution.