When you walk into your office on the first day as manger, it can feel like an entirely new world. Nothing has changed but everything has.
I was 31 years old when I had my first management role. I had been in a senior role on a team I knew well and suddenly I was tasked with managing a bunch of people I had never met before. You know how they say wild animals are more afraid of you than you are of them? Well, on my first day, I was that wild animal. The team was nervous – they didn’t know me and had no idea if I would fire people or start changing everything. But I was even more nervous because I didn’t know what I was doing!
In retrospect, I look back and mostly remember the mistakes I made. I feel like I did everything wrong. But you don’t have to fall into the same traps as I did.
Here’s what I wish I knew as a first time manager that I know now:
Get to Know Your Team
The first thing I now do when managing a new team is get to know my people. A change in leadership is an uncomfortable time for everyone. Break through the awkwardness by learning who these people are personally and professionally. Ask about their roles, their successes and their lives. This lets them feel that you care about them as people and that you see each person as an important member of the team.
You gain immediate authority from your title but respect can only be earned by being a great leader. You can start on day 1 by walking in with confidence. Don’t be arrogant but your team needs to see that you are a capable leader. Be prepared to speak to your own success but also to let them know that you are invested in their success. A manager who is not only successful but who cares is one who will be respected.
Set the Tone
The example you set for your team trickles down and develops into a micro-culture within the company. Setting expectations is important for managers but it’s only meaningful if you are the personal embodiment of what you expect. That goes for everything from wardrobe and promptness to work style and ethics. If you are consistent, your team will follow suit.
Take Time to Assess
Some first time managers think that the way to assert authority is to come in guns blazing and start making changes. But just because things are different doesn’t mean they’re broken and unnecessary changes can be counterproductive. Put your own beliefs about how things should or shouldn’t work aside and take the time to assess what is and isn’t working before you make changes.
When managing a new team, you want to be friendly but not friends. This is a fine line and a tough one to walk. I aim to have my team members view me as a partner 75% of the time and a boss 25% of the time. Warm relationships with your team create a collegial atmosphere, which is great for team morale and productivity. However, being too close to them makes tasks like giving reviews and assigning tasks very messy. As a manager you have to able to do your job without personal biases influencing your behavior and without any perceived or actual favoritism.
When mistakes get made, the buck stops with you as the manager. Never try to slough off the blame on your team. Own up to what has happened, take the steps to fix it, and then make the adjustments required to make sure it doesn’t happen again. On the other hand, share credit with your team for successes. This helps you gain the trust and loyalty of your team and ensures you will consistently get their best work.
Every employee has known the frustrations of being kept in the dark or being held to unrealistic expectations. Strong managers communicate transparently, honestly and regularly with their team about performance and goals. I also think it’s important to communicate about your feelings. The most impactful managers I’ve worked with shared how they were feeling whether that was positive or negative and it made me feel more connected with them. When you’re real with your employees, they’ll run through walls for you.
Managing is a skill set in itself as evidenced by the thousands of fantastic books written on the topic. Before your first day, try picking up “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels” by Michael Watkins and “The Dream Manager” by Matthew Kelly, which are my favorites. You can never go wrong by gathering the wisdom of experts.
What is the best management advice you’ve ever received? Let us know in the comments.