Moving Into Your First Management Role
Learning to Be a Successful Manager
If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you've recently landed a new role, and you're about to become a manager for the very first time. Congratulations!
As a new manager, it's possible that you'll be faced with some unfamiliar challenges, like developing processes, setting goals and priorities for your team, and making sure that everyone is working to their full potential.
You may be feeling anxious about others' expectations of you. Will your boss expect you to "hit the ground running"? Are your team's goals too ambitious? What kind of guidance and support will you receive?
Whether you're a seasoned professional who's making the transition from technical expert to manager, or a new recruit on a management fast track, the move from managing yourself to managing others can feel overwhelming.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to get off on the right foot. In this article, we'll look at some strategies and tips you can use to make your new managerial role a success.
Succeeding as a New Manager
Whether you're managing a small team or an entire department, your principal concerns are likely to be the same:
- Can I still perform well as an individual, while being responsible for the contributions of other people too?
- How do I set effective goals for my team?
- Will the transition from "team member" to "team leader" cost me my friendships?
- Have I got what it takes to motivate others and earn their respect?
- What if the team doesn't like me – or don't like each other?
Try to step into your new role with your eyes open. Address any management misconceptions you may be harboring before you start, and focus on what's most important: building trust and bringing out the best in your team.
Stepping into that role for the first time might feel daunting but, with a little preparation and planning, you needn't feel overwhelmed. Here are our eight top tips for becoming an exceptional manager.
1. Define Your Role
First, make sure you understand your new role's responsibilities, goals and objectives.
Start by studying your job description and use it to develop a plan that will turn those objectives into actionable results. If it is vague, or nonexistent, you might need to write your own.
Speak to your boss about your primary responsibilities and objectives, and make notes of what she says. If possible, talk to the person who held your position before you. What were her primary responsibilities? What did she consider to be her most important objectives? Go back to the job posting or old job descriptions. What responsibilities were listed? Were any performance goals outlined? If so, are they still relevant?
Finally, talk to the people you'll be managing. How do they see your role? What kind of guidance do they need?
Write all this down and show the job description you have created to your boss or mentor, to see if they agree with it.
2. Work With a Mentor
When you're starting out in a new role, it can be very helpful to work with a mentor who can give you feedback on your performance, and coach you on the specific skills you need to be successful. He or she can provide invaluable advice and guidance in your new role, and boost your self-confidence with support and encouragement.
To start with, write down exactly what you'd like to gain from a mentoring relationship. For example, you might want to develop expert knowledge, work closely with someone who can motivate and inspire you, or bounce ideas off someone.
To find a mentor, look within your organization first. Are there any more-senior leaders who you'd like to learn from? What about leaders in your wider network?
Keep in mind that mentoring is a two-way relationship. You need to have something to offer your mentor in return for his expert advice. That might be a fresh perspective on the industry, familiarity with new technologies, introductions to other professionals you know from your previous roles, or, if he benefited from having a mentor when he was starting out, the chance to give something back.
3. Build Good Relationships
Being a great manager isn't all about being a brilliant strategist or an inspirational speaker. According to a white paper by Dale Carnegie Training, the most important part of a manager's role is his ability to make an authentic, personal connection with the people on his team.
As a manager, you can't expect to be everyone's friend. Your first responsibility is to be a leader, and to do that you need to take a balanced approach to relationships. Yes, you want to be on great terms with your team, but you need to be a guide for them as well.
Be open with your new team about your past business experience and why you took this position, to help gain their trust. Don't be afraid to share mistakes you've made along the way (just as long as they aren't too serious!). Handled sensibly, self-disclosure like this helps your people understand who you are, why you're there, and why they can trust you, which is important if you want to have a happy and motivated workforce.
Connect with team members by respecting their individual differences. They may have diverse cultural or generational characteristics, or have widely differing levels of experience. Use their diversity to encourage spirited discussion and avoid groupthink.
4. Identify and Communicate Goals
If you've suddenly found yourself in charge of a team, after years of being led by someone else, you're probably full of new ideas for improving its practices and procedures. But try to curb your enthusiasm – at least for a little while.
"New broom syndrome" – sweeping away all the "old ways" as soon as you arrive – is guaranteed to put people's backs up. Take some time to settle into your role before you make any major changes to the way the team works. Observe its performance from a leadership perspective and talk to people about how things work.
Once you've settled in, write a team charter that defines what you're all there to do. Next, set performance goals for each person on your team. Consider making some of these stretch goals – goals that "stretch" everyone's abilities. Use Management By Objectives (MBO) to make sure these goals are aligned with those of your organization.
Having identified some meaningful goals for your team, communicate them regularly. One of the best ways to do this is with Business Storytelling, especially if you are to help others find deeper meaning in what they're doing.
You should also set yourself some personal goals, including developing any new skills you need to work more successfully in your new role.
5. Be a Good Role Model
As a manager, you need to be aware that your team looks to you to set an example of how to behave at work. If you want to shape team members' behavior, improve performance, and build good habits, you need to lead by example.
Show them, by your words and actions, that you mean what you say. For example, if it's important that everyone shows up for Monday morning team meetings, make sure that you never miss one yourself. If you want people to start trusting each other, demonstrate trust by sharing information about yourself. By building expertise in your team's role, and practicing what you preach, people will trust your judgment and your decisions, and feel more inclined to follow your lead.
6. Provide Timely Feedback
Your people can't improve if they don't know what they need to work on. And, they won't stay motivated unless you praise their hard work and successes along the way. This is why constructive criticism and timely praise is so important. Without them, your team is flying blind.
Try to give feedback as close to the event as possible. It's important to find the right balance between helpful criticism and a positive approach to improvement. Use tools like The Losada Ratio or the Feedback Matrix to get this right.
Be consistent in your feedback. Weekly or monthly feedback sessions will be more productive than annual ones, so try to discuss performance frequently. This way, individuals can improve incrementally, which will lift your entire team's performance and productivity.
Also, use good judgment and sensitivity when giving feedback. Always address performance issues privately, but give praise publicly to demonstrate your appreciation for a job well done, and to inspire others.
Discover how well you give feedback with our interactive quiz, "How Good Is Your Feedback?"
The best managers know that they can't do it all, which is why you need to know how to delegate effectively. Delegation, when used appropriately, helps you to manage your own tasks and responsibilities better, while building your team members' skills and boosting their confidence.
To delegate successfully, make sure you match the right task with the right person. Try to delegate tasks that will help someone develop new skills or further their career.
When you assign a task, tell the team member who takes it on what result you want, but don't tell them how to do the work. Avoid the temptation to micromanage; that won't help you or them! Instead, check in regularly to see if they need help, but otherwise let them accomplish the task on their own.
8. Stay Flexible
Management is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Different situations require you to wear different hats, and the most effective managers know intuitively when they need to switch hats and change roles.
For example, sometimes you'll need to be an inspirational leader for your team. At other times they'll need you to be a mediator, a figurehead or a negotiator. Read our articles on Mintzberg's Management Roles and Path-Goal Theory to learn more about the various roles you'll fill as a manager, and when it's best to step into each one.
If you're a new manager, you likely have a number of new responsibilities and goals that are testing your skills and self-confidence.
To succeed, make sure that you understand your main responsibilities and objectives by reviewing, or writing, your job description. Try to find a mentor, and commit to learning the key skills you need to work more effectively. Set goals for your team, and make sure you communicate them regularly.
Last, keep in mind that you can't do everything on your own. Identify tasks that you can delegate to members of your team, and learn how to switch between your different roles as a manager, according to what the situation needs.
Apply This to Your Life
- Make a list of professionals in your organization or network who you'd like to have as a mentor. Schedule time to contact each one, to see if they would be interested in helping you.
- List three skills you need to develop in order to succeed in your new role, and write a plan for building each one over the next six months.
- Make a list of five tasks that you could delegate to someone on your team. Beside each one, write the name of the person most suited to take it on and why they're the best candidate. Make a commitment to delegate these five tasks within the next month.