Leadership

Learning From Others’ Mistakes: First-Time Manager Do’s and Don’ts

By Sarah AlexanderMarch 21, 2017

You’ve just been promoted to your first management role. Congratulations! It is an incredibly exciting time in your career, but also an overwhelming one. You now have the power to effect change and guide the employees on your team to bigger and better things. But how should you go about doing so?

This is the question that many managers ask as they take the reins. You will undoubtedly make mistakes as you take on new leadership responsibilities – this is how you will learn, develop your own unique leadership style, and grow. That said, our team has identified a few areas where it’s common for first-time managers to slip up, especially in the early months of their tenure.

Here are five common missteps and pointers on how to avoid them:

Not establishing the right relationship with direct reports

Clear communication is key, especially when you go from being someone’s peer to being his/her manager. Although you shouldn’t cut off old friendships or undergo a complete personality shift, you do need to adjust how you interact with others. However, many new managers are hesitant to set expectations and address the issue of what they will and won’t discuss head on.

Alison Green, the author of Ask a Manager, advises, “As the boss, you have to have a professional distance. You’re inherently on unequal footing. You’re going to have things you can’t tell them, you’ll need to make decisions that will impact them, and you may need to give them difficult feedback at times or even fire them.” So do maintain warm, cordial relationships with the people you manage, but don’t expect you can always treat them as your closest friends..

Another critical part of establishing appropriate relationships is recognizing that management is not a one-size-fits-all process. Psychologist Janet Civitelli of VocationVillage.com reminds new managers, “Motivation is personal. The best bosses avoid making assumptions and instead invest effort to become acquainted with direct reports as individuals.” Take time to get to know people in person so you can model your leadership style after what will make your specific team successful without having to guess.

Still trying to do things yourself

As an individual contributor, you were a do-er. You had a list of assignments and could focus solely on tasks that you alone were responsible for completing.

As a manager, you won’t necessarily have a list like this anymore. Instead of focusing on individual tasks, you’ll have to shift your focus and efforts to helping your team complete their assignments. Because your success depends on theirs, you’ll have to invest time and energy in developing their skills, which is a completely new set of responsibilities and a perspective that can take time to adjust to. The sooner you begin prioritizing empowering them above doing your own thing, the stronger your team will become.

Failing to seek the right support

Most first-time managers are promoted to their positions because they are star employees. But, as mentioned above, being a top performing individual contributor that doesn’t mean you necessarily have all-star managerial skills.

As you embark on your management journey, be sure that you have the support of your managers and your company’s HR department. Ensure you have agreed on a strategy for making a smooth transition with them; get acquainted with your company’s rules about managing people; identify whether you think you need any kind of coaching on effective management. If you can’t find this kind of support in your company, seek it out elsewhere through outside mentors, classes, or books on management.

Focusing on details versus long-term goals

Coming from an individual contributor role, you may have gotten used to getting engrossed in the details of each assignment. But as a manager, you can’t possibly know each detail of every project that your team members are working on. If you do insist on knowing everything, you run the risk of becoming a micromanager, which will be damaging for you and your team.

As a first-time manager, it is important to realize that you have to broaden your attention onto the big picture. Yes, you should conduct quick check-ins to monitor your team members’ progress,keeping them on track to meet deadlines and short-term goals. But make a conscious effort to keep the team’s collective and individual long-term goals top of mind. Learn to keep your eyes on the horizon and you will be that much more effective as a manager.

Trying to do too much, too fast

Rather than acknowledging it takes time to transition into a new role, new managers often dive into it headfirst, guns blazing, setting lofty goals and stretching their team’s capabilities. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same applies to your team. As good as your intentions might be, it is not good to make grand promises or immediately change an intricate process without understanding what it will take to follow through. Keep in mind that failing to achieve your promises can also erode trust.

So take the time to get advice from the outgoing manager you’ll be replacing and from your boss. Are you replacing a leader beloved by the team? An awful boss who’s been fired? Are there particular problems that you need to be aware of that have been around for a long time? Don’t be scared to slow down until you get your bearings from both a people and an operations standpoint and get a feel for what’s going on.

Holding back

While you don’t want to take on too much, too quickly, the same is true of the reverse. First-time managers often don’t want to come across as over-authoritative or are scared to make mistakes. However, this kind of paralysis can be equally dangerous. Without guidance, your team can flounder and even question your ability to get things done in the process.

Seek balance between diving deep and not jumping in at all. Having a mentor to talk to during this process can be a helpful resource to navigate this balancing act, so if you don’t have one, consider seeking one out!

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Author & Contributor

About the Author

Sarah is an elite triathlete and independent strategy consultant with an MBA from Chicago Booth. She is passionate about empowering others to achieve excellence.

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