The challenge of a first-time manager

So you have got your first managerial job – congratulations! Now the hard work really starts. You are going to have to up your game and learn new skills and fast, because whilst being good at your job led to your promotion, it does not automatically equip you to be a manager of people and to handle the many new responsibilities that come with increased seniority.

You can learn on the job of course, but you can also plan for success by learning from your own experience, from a mentor and asking for the right internal or external management training.

So what sort of manager do you want to be?

Take some time to think back to all the managers you have had over your career. How did they make you feel and how did that impact your engagement with the role and your performance? What behaviours did you respect and admire and what rankled and why? Observe the style of high achievers within the organisation that sit comfortably with you and cherry-pick the best behaviours from your best managers and set that as your template for the manager you wish to become.

Creating a comfortable working environment will be essential to get the best from your team. When we speak with our clients about what is not working for them in their current career situation and what they would like to change it is so often more about the values and behaviours of the management team than the job content.

Having integrity, being fair, communicating clearly, being available, and acknowledging peoples efforts are typically high on the list of behaviours we hear that people want from their manager. So, here are some actions you can take:

  • plan for regular team and one to one meetings
  • make it clear that you are always available for informal catch ups
  • always say thank you and praise effort and good work
  • never take the credit for someone else’s work
  • be clear about you expect in terms of performance, attendance and what you will do to help them achieve that. don’t have favourites, treat everyone equally and if someone needs or deserves special treatment explain why.

Being promoted over your peers

Perhaps the most challenging rise to manager is being promoted out of your team to manage your peers. Whilst your strong performance in your previous role may be evident to both your leaders and your colleagues, your promotion to lead the team can create resentment. There has to be an immediate change in behaviour as the rules are different. Whilst you don’t want to shut down friendships you need to set new boundaries now you are responsible for performance management. Call an early team meeting and share that this might be a little strange for all of you initially and then set out your expectations on how to want to work together.

First time manager at a new business

When you join a new business in a managerial role not only might you have a steep learning curve on new products, and processes, you also have a whole people and political landscape to understand and navigate with a new team, new peers and managers. Commit to spending the first few weeks meeting as many people as possible; listening and asking questions and gathering information. Hold your thunder on making radical changes; invest in building trust, respect & strong relationships. Be absolutely clear on what is expected of you by your seniors. Ask for feedback on your management style as part of your regular review with your own manager as well as from your team.

Bonding with your team won’t happen overnight. Whilst you will need to treat everyone equally you also need to get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their personalities and workstyles, and their communication preferences so you can get the best from each of them. Learn something about their lives out of work and be genuine about your interest. You might look to have an early team meeting in a neutral offsite – it doesn’t need to be costly perhaps volunteering your time to a local project could get everyone out of their comfort zone and forge relationships.

Find a mentor in the company or outside. They don’t need to be in your sector; just someone who has been around the block a bit and has made their mistakes and can share some insight; someone you can trust to tell it how it is.

Becoming a successful manager will take time and it’s an ongoing process. Get it right and you will have a committed, loyal, high performing team and your career will go from strength to strength. Get it wrong and you could see your career stutter and your reputation diminish as unsurprisingly research shows people work hardest for the managers they respect rather than those they dislike or fear and they leave poor managers rather than companies.

Jo Thurman
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Jo Thurman

Jo is a career and outplacement coach with an absolute passion for helping people reach their potential, to have confidence in their employability and to know how to find and secure work that they love. For more than 25 years, she has supported and guided individuals to make good career decisions and achieve career success; from those starting out as new graduates through to board level appointments. She has partnered with startups to multinationals across all major industries and job functions in both the UK and Europe to identify great talent and great cultural fits.