How to Be Successful as a First-Time Manager


Congratulations: You have just been promoted to a management position. While you're figuring out your next steps, and how to spend that raise, take a few minutes to make sure you don't turn your first managerial position into your last. The job can be daunting, but by making the right moves early on, you can be a roaring success.

Spend more time listening than speaking

When you first enter your new role as a manager, you may be tempted to let your staff know as much as you can about yourself and your agenda. Don't go in that direction. Instead, focus on listening to people, and make sure you take it all in.

Schedule one-on-one sessions with each of your direct reports. Ask what their pain points are. Identify the major positives and negatives that they encounter on a weekly basis, and ask them what ideas they have to deal with the biggest challenges they face. Chances are, they've had much longer to think about them, and provide a solution, than you've had.

What's more, let your staff know that you are always ready to listen. This is not just a "new boss" thing, but the beginning of a relationship that will be beneficial for everyone. And when you start to act on the information you've been receiving, your staff will know that you really did listen. This will make you stand out as someone who follows through. (See also: This One Skill Can Make You a Better Boss)

Communicate your ground rules and management style early

Some managers are laid back. Others are methodical. Some managers like to keep things casual and conversational. Others go by the book and have strict rules. Whatever your management style may be, let your employees know.

For example, a former manager may have been extremely strict, requiring reports at specific times throughout the week, and running meetings by the book. If you're more of an easygoing manager, tell the staff. It will make them feel at ease.

On the other hand, a previous manager may have wanted the staff to challenge their authority, ask questions often, and work autonomously. If that's not your style, tell them as soon as possible. If they have been used to challenging directives, and that really bugs you, they'll be unknowingly ticking you off. But if you communicate your management style early on, they have no excuses later.

Do not be tempted to clean house

Whenever a new manager starts, there are fears of layoffs, and those fears are not without good reason. A lot of bad managers come into a new environment and want to surround themselves with people they know. They will quickly look into the possibility of getting rid of certain employees, and replacing them with their own hires. This happens a lot regardless of the industry you're in. Do not be one of those managers.

Now, there may be issues with some people on the staff. Over the course of your first few months, you will figure that out. Hopefully you can correct those issues. If you can't, and those staff members are not performing as you'd like, or are disruptive to the department, talk to human resources about next steps. But make it fair, and make it known to your team that you did everything you could to turn the situation around for those employees.

Make positive changes as early as possible

They're often called "easy wins" or "early wins," and they are action items that are easy to fix. If you have been promoted from within the department, you may already know what the issues are. They could be as simple as a broken microwave in the break room, or one of those daily meetings that lasts an hour and makes everyone miserable.

Identify the low-hanging fruit and grab it quickly. By making these simple but much-appreciated fixes early on in your tenure, you will be seen as a go-getter and a problem solver. You've made an impact. Things are changing, and changing for the better. Morale will improve immediately, giving you time to tackle the bigger issues that will require significantly more work on your part.

Don't try and do everything yourself

You have just gone through a significant career shift. You're no longer a regular employee, you're a manager that has a staff of employees. It is now your job to spend time focusing on the bigger picture, and leave the smaller tasks to the professionals you manage. This can be very tough, especially if you were good at what you did and want to make sure it gets done your way.

For example, let's say you're a graphic designer in an advertising agency, and have been promoted to creative director. As a graphic designer, you were very hands on. You sat in front of a computer and sketch pad, designing, editing, and producing work for clients. As the creative director, you must now step back. As tempting as it may be to move the designer out of the way and do it yourself, that's no longer your job. You need to provide feedback and let the staff figure it out. Hire smart people, then get out of their way.

Only make promises you can keep

You're new to the job. You're probably nervous, especially during your first few weeks. And on top of all that, you're going to hear about problems from the staff. Perhaps there's a particular project or process that everyone finds painful to work on. Maybe there's an issue with a supplier. There's also the eternal issue of pay raises, promotions, and benefits.

Whatever you do, don't try and win a popularity contest by promising to fix all of the issues, or offer incredible incentives that you cannot actually provide. Sure, in the short term, it'll make you flavor of the month. Pay raises for everyone? No more weekends and late nights? Extra vacation days? Everyone will be over the moon. You may genuinely want to give the staff all of those awesome things. But what if you can't? What if you are making promises that your company cannot keep? What if those decisions are completely out of your control?

The short term gain of happy staff will be trounced by the incredible disappointment, and distrust of you, in the long term. You can promise to look into those issues, but only offer solutions when you know 100 percent that you can follow through.

Remember: You're not supposed to know everything

As a manager, you have stepped into a leadership role, and that means you call more of the shots. However, just because you are now in a position of authority, it does not mean that you're the smartest person in the room. And if you openly admit this in a professional way, you will garner more respect than if you pretend to know about every aspect of the company.

By all means tell the staff your strengths, but point out any knowledge gaps you have. If you are new to the company, or the department, it's only natural that you'll need to be brought up to speed on certain information. And even if you are promoted within the department, your new role comes with responsibilities you have never had before. If you want to hit the ground running, ask about the things you don't know about, and your team will be more than happy to assist you. If you're a good manager, they'll want you to succeed.

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