Congratulations, you’ve just become a manager for the first time! This is an exciting time in your career and you want to do the best job you can. You probably already have a mental list of what you want to do differently from your own past managers, as well as traits you aspire to develop in your own role as leader. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. To help you *actually* reach your goals, and step up your managerial game, try out these tips for first-time managers:
There’s No ‘I’ in Team
While most employees work in teams these days, as a non-managerial worker you were really in it for yourself. Your job was to complete certain responsibilities and projects. It may have involved coordination with co-workers, but ultimately your performance was reviewed solely on the results you delivered as an individual.
Now that you’re a manager, you need to trade that “me-centered” focus for a more global outlook. From here on out your performance will be assessed based on the success or failure of your team. This means you need to become an excellent delegator and coach. Your workday should be more about keeping your team running smoothly — ensuring everyone is meeting deadlines and turning in quality work — than checking off your own to-do list of tasks. If you find yourself getting too involved in everyday responsibilities, there’s probably a weak link somewhere on your team.
Invest Time in Continuing Education
Everyone has had at least one bad boss. And working for a flawed manager can make us think it would be easy to do a better job ourselves. But the reason so many managers fail is because management is an acquired skill, one few of us learn in college or as entry-level employees. Promotions are usually based on individual performance, so most managers step into the role with little or no preparation for supervising their direct reports.
In order to excel at management, you’ll need to invest in continuing education. Take advantage of any on-the-job training courses your company offers. If few resources exist, talk to HR about implementing them or suggest your own activity, such as a book club for managers. Check out TIME’s list of the 25 most influential business books for inspiration.
Of course, there are many free online resources and blogs you can read as well. Set a positive example for your direct reports. When they see you reading at lunch or attending a training course, they’ll be inspired to develop their skills and potential, too.
Don’t Make Any Sudden Moves
Whether you’ve been promoted within your current company or you’re moving to a new job, your new team is likely experiencing some trepidation about your first few weeks on the job. Many new managers like to go in with a “take no prisoners” attitude of changing policies, cutting the weakest employees, and bringing in their own favorites from past jobs. While this approach may establish your authority, it will also create distrust and resentment among your direct reports, a lethal combination for productivity and success.
Instead, create a reputation as the manager who listens and cares about her employees’ opinions. Sit down individually with each of your direct reports to hear their take on what’s been working and what needs to be changed. Keep your office door open and encourage employees to wander in any time they want to chat. Or put a suggestion box in the lunchroom where people can submit anonymous questions and concerns. You don’t have to implement everything your employees request — you’re still the boss, after all — but taking a softer and more open approach to change will win you respect and loyalty.
Wear Several Hats
The best managers are not only bosses and disciplinarians, but also coaches and mentors. Think of your team as a garden — you’ll get out of it what you put into it. Sure, you could plant the seeds and leave it alone. Some things will grow without much nurturing, especially if it rains enough. But you’ll have a more bountiful harvest if you put a little time each day into helping your employees grow.
In addition to leading by example, learn the art of constructive criticism. Addressing problems while motivating the employee to change requires a delicate balance. One way to soften the blow of “here’s what you did wrong” is to begin with “this is what you do well.” Employees will feel more appreciated when you notice their successes as much as their failures.
Lastly, as a mentor and coach you should take a long view of your direct reports. Don’t assume they will be entry-level forever. Take an interest in their professional development and encourage them to realize their goals within and without the office. This may take extra time on your part, but it will pay off in more motivated and happier employees.
Set Specific Benchmarks for Completing Projects
The easiest way to not accomplish a goal is to talk about it in the abstract only. For example, let’s say part of your job is to raise sales for your team. That’s a fine goal, but how are you going to achieve it? Don’t just tell your employees they need to do better; help them identify specific steps and benchmarks for reaching the goal.
Breaking a bigger goal into small and manageable steps helps employees feel empowered and help them avoid procrastination and overwhelm. So every time you sit down with your team to discuss a new goal or project, write down benchmarks for 1-month, 6-month, or whatever intervals would be most useful.
If the 6-month benchmark is “sell 10,000 units of a new product,” outline the first step and subsequent steps to achieve this goal. For example, the first step might be to create a social media strategy for promoting the product.
Don’t Forget Your Own Boss
Even CEOs have to report to shareholders. Just because you’re someone’s boss now doesn’t mean you don’t have to answer to anyone. Work with your supervisor the way you want your own employees to work with you.
Meet regularly to discuss her needs and goals, and the way in which your team’s activities will support those goals as well as the overall goals of the company. Also look to your supervisor for coaching and mentoring when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with tricky situations — your supervisor has probably been there herself and will have great advice.
Be Swift and Decisive
There are many benefits to thinking a problem through and looking at all sides of an issue. However, you don’t want to overthink yourself into paralysis. Leaders need to be confident and decisive, even if they end up making a mistake. Admitting to missteps and moving on is part of effective leadership.
So when you need to make a decision, go with your gut or put in a little bit of time to research the situation. But don’t waffle and take too long. The more experienced you become, the easier it will be to trust in your knowledge and instincts when you have to make a decision.
Create a Glass-Half-Full Mentality
The benefits of positive thinking have been scientifically proven. Creating a positive office environment for your team will do more than make people feel good. It will make them more productive and creative, and establish fertile ground for innovation.
So in your day-to-day management style, focus on achievements and future possibilities. Don’t rule with fear or intimidation. Employees who believe they can succeed, will.
Practice Honesty and Integrity
Nothing erodes trust faster than getting caught in a lie. Make honesty and integrity a priority in your work life. If you have to ask your employees to stay late one night to meet a deadline, don’t skip out early on Friday to get a head start on your weekend at the beach. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say “let me look into this further and get back to you.” And if rumors are flying about impending layoffs, don’t offer false reassurance. Be real with your employees and they will respond accordingly.
Schedule Regular Times for Reflection
One of the top complaints about managers is that they’re not tuned in to what’s going on around them. Don’t wrap yourself in a bubble of insularity. Make reflection a priority and use that time to take a good look around. In addition to reflecting on the how’s and why’s of your team’s performance, look inward and assess your own strengths and weaknesses. How do others perceive you? The best managers are very self-aware, though not to the point of self-consciousness. Find your own balance between hubris and humility.
Managers are made, not born. Don’t feel discouraged if you make mistakes in the beginning. Keep trying your hardest and you’ll soon see the results of your efforts.
Are you an experienced manager? Are you working with a new manager? Share your tips for first-time managers in the comments!
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