Succeeding as a new manager may be challenging—but if other professionals can make that leap, so can you.
The key is to avoid the greatest pitfalls most new managers make, often out of naïveté. These 10 tips can help you shave off months, if not years, from your learning curve—which means success will come sooner, with less friction.
Think of these 10 tips as your blueprint for managing with style and confidence.
What new managers need to know: 10 best tips
1. Let go of your former professional identity
"He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail." — Abraham Maslow
One of the greatest mistakes new managers make is clinging to what feels familiar and comfortable. It's human nature. The more you excelled in your former role, the harder it may be for you to let go.
Yet your success as a new manager hinges on your doing precisely that. Why? Because leading a team means going beyond the frame of individual contributor. Your success as a new manager now depends on getting results from a team.
That requires you to embrace not only a different role, but also a different professional identity. A few ways to start growing into that new identity:
- How you dress and carry yourself
- How you prioritize your time
- How you grow and guide your team
- How you grow and educate yourself
Resist the urge to see your new role simply as the old one with the volume turned up. Succeeding as a new manager requires a different mindset and more than likely, a new skill set. But we'll get to that.
2. Stay focused on the results you're responsible for
Or more precisely, the results you and your team are responsible for. It will take you some time to determine how each team member can best contribute--and how you can best help them. But be on the lookout now for insights into both.
For example, early in my career, I had someone on my team (a co-worker) who was dreadful with clients. But I remember thinking, "She'd be great at bill-collecting." Strengths and weaknesses are often simply a matter of role and context.
3. If you're inheriting a team, expect some resistance
Resistance is a natural response to change, even "good" change. Make allowances for it, but don't make excuses. And don't personalize it. Instead, acknowledge it--or to use the modern expression, "lean into it."
Let your team know you're interested in setting a positive, professional tone. Let them know you're willing to listen. It may also help if you set the expectation of, "Talk to me, not 'about' me."
Your new team will be more willing to be candid with you when you've opened yourself up to hearing from them--and set the expectation that office communication will be respectful and direct.
4. Get to know your team members through one-on-ones
Most new managers know this step is important—and it is. But as you'll see later in this list, getting to know your team members as individuals is only a starting point.
Because everyone's time is valuable, use these one-on-one meetings strategically and apply them consistently. For example, you might have each member of your team send you answers to a set of questions that will generate good discussion and lay the groundwork for your relationship.
Even better: Send your responses to the same questions before asking a team member to answer them. At your next one-on-one, discuss the answers each of you provided. Sample questions:
- What do you like best about working in this department?
- What do you like best about your role?
- What do you find most confusing or frustrating about your role?
- What has you most excited and/or concerned about our department, going forward?
- What are three things that would be helpful for me to know about you?
Please don't ask your team to answer these questions unless you're certain you'll make time to discuss them. It is one thing to model and invite vulnerability; it is another thing to make someone simply feel exposed. That is how your team will feel if they open up and their answers aren't acknowledged. Hint: I've seen this happen.
As a new manager, you have the opportunity through one-on-one meetings to build trust and rapport.
5. Help your team get to know one another
This is the step most new managers forget to take. The result: Whenever there's a conflict, your team members run to you with the problem instead of resolving it directly. Encourage and empower them to resolve conflicts directly.
It starts by bringing the team together for the purpose of getting to know one another. The questions here can be a mix of playful and serious. Some examples of both:
- What are your biggest pet peeves?
- How do you prefer to receive positive feedback? Constructive feedback?
- What's the biggest compliment someone can give you?
- What was the first song to rock your world?
- What was the best day of your life?
Notice how the tone of these questions is positive. Even the question about receiving feedback is constructive and a show of caring. Discussing pet peeves often brings laughter and insight into group dynamics.
Enjoy these conversations. Come up with the questions best suited for your team. Include a discussion about problem-solving with one another: what makes it hard, and what would make it easier. Send your team the message, "Be there for each other in the little things so that I can be there for you in the big things." (I said that to my classroom of 29 grad students. It helped.)
6. Identify your greatest gaps and make a plan to fill them
The key here is to be open and teachable.
Don't waste time perfecting what you're already good at, or areas that aren't especially crucial. Instead, look at your gaps through the eyes of those who promoted you to your new manager role and the team you're now leading.
Where would they say the gaps are? Which areas, if strengthened, would make the greatest difference in your team's effectiveness? The very questions will build your capacity for empathy.
Once you've identified the gaps, identify in writing a plan to fill them. It may be through training, additional reading, coaching, or some combination of these. Respect your own unique learning style. But do come up with a written plan, preferably with some built-in accountability.
7.To gain some early wins, start a list of Lessons Learned
"Progress equals happiness." — Tony Robbins
As a new manager, this is one of the best gifts you can give yourself; namely, the gift of daily small victories in the form of lessons learned. If you're learning, you're growing. It's hard not to feel motivated and inspired when you're learning, growing, and helping your team do likewise.
Keep your list of lessons learned in a place where you can add to it daily and refer to it often: on your phone, for example. What are the books, apps or ideas that will help you move forward? What are the lessons you've learned from interacting with your team.
The new managers who get ahead most rapidly are the ones who invest in their own learning. Why not start with the lessons that surround you every day?
8. Help the team get clear (and excited) about the vision
Soon I'll be releasing an entire online course that includes step-by-step instructions for how to gain companywide (or departmental) clarity on the vision and each person's role.
For now, however, the key is to make sure the entire team is pursuing the same goal or set of goals. When in doubt, ask and find out. Rarely is this a one-and-done; more often than not, it is a process to make sure the entire team is clear and united.
9. Communicate proactively (not reactively)
If COVID-19 and its impact have taught us anything, it's that the news isn't always good. Thankfully, your team knows this already. They don't expect the news to always be good. But they do expect to hear important news directly rather than indirectly, or belatedly.
The more forthright you are as a new manager, the more your team will respect and appreciate you. Equally important: The more forthright you are, the more you'll respect yourself.
10. Own your confidence and have more fun
If you're following the first nine tips for new managers, you have every right to be confident. The paradox here is, in order to have credibility with your team, they need to see you owning your confidence. Examples:
- Owning your decisions
- Owning your mistakes; course-correcting when necessary (vs. "hoping" things will simply improve)
- Carrying yourself with proud posture and a healthy sense of urgency
- Smiling and making eye contact
Having a little fun at work gives your team permission to lighten up as well. Teams that have fun together often perform better.
Improve your leadership skills
Incorporating these 10 tips for new managers will help you identify ways to improve your leadership skills and inspire your employees. For more management and leadership ideas, download our leadership checklist below. Interested in leadership coaching? Reach out to me today to get started!