How to succeed as a first-time manager

Discover the skills, approach to others, and attitude to continued learning you’ll need to embrace the step up to management level and thrive

How do you succeed as a first-time manager? Start by thinking about your journey to becoming a manager. How is that you are in this situation? Did you apply for a management role? Did your manager volunteer or select you? Has it just happened by accident? It’s worth reflecting on these questions, not least because it’s likely to inform how you are feeling about the opportunity – excited, nervous, perhaps even daunted?

These feelings are perfectly normal. Everyone starting out in management experiences certain anxieties because managing is a challenging job. It’s not just about delivering tasks and rallying a team to hit certain performance goals. It’s fundamentally about developing people to be their best. And getting the best out of people is better achieved by nurturing capability, rather than applying control.

To succeed in management, you’ll need to master new skills – like how to manage a budget, manage organisational change or hire people effectively. You’ll be most successful if you take the time to think about, learn and experience key moments that matter across the employee lifecycle. For example, as a manager you may be required to induct team members, set objectives, and manage performance. You might have to recognise and reward people, deal with employment issues like grievances or redundancy. You might also need to consider how to best train and develop your team, spot talent, and manage motivation.

Of course, all managers need to communicate as well. Sharing company information is just the tip of the iceberg. To succeed as a first-time manager, you’ll need to learn how to inform people about key decisions, give and receive feedback and set expectations. The great news is that are plenty of learning interventions that can help you with this type of knowledge building, and hopefully these will be offered by your employer.

Management practice: learning from experience and from others

Becoming a first-time manager is also about creating a happy and healthy work environment. You’re not just managing tasks; you’re dealing with human feelings and emotions. This means you need to deal with the unexpected and manage situations that may not always appear logical or straightforward.

A good place to start is to remind yourself of your experiences in being managed by others. Which felt good? Have you experienced poor management practice? Knowing what ‘good’ management looks and feels like is a great way to set the bar for your own practice. If you didn’t like being micromanaged, do you think your new team will? If you were motivated by receiving praise for work completed, do you think that others will feel the same. Today, it’s common for managers to take a coaching approach to dealing with people. This means giving people appropriate feedback ‘in the moment’, rather than waiting to conduct a performance review. When you see good behaviour, a job well done – call it out there and then. If someone is a little off course, is struggling, or is perhaps exhibiting behaviours that are less than acceptable, then it’s important to do the same. Take people to one side and help them understand where they might be going wrong – offering ideas and support to get them back on track.

In addition to mastering these techniques and answering these questions, remember to listen and learn from others. Are there more experienced managers you admire? What can you learn from them? Would they be willing to mentor you? If you know other new managers in your organisation it’s also a good idea to get together and share experience. Successful managers aren’t islands – they seek out support when they need it.

Keep tabs on the development of your managerial identity

Take your time to consider how you feel about managing and what you’re learning about yourself as you grow. If something makes you feel particularly nervous, why might that be? Is there a skill gap, or do you lack confidence because of past experience? Always be ready to ask your own line manager for support and be honest with them if you are struggling.

Finally, as you get into managing, keep checking back on how your identity as a manager is developing. Managers who are fair, encouraging, team-oriented, and problem-solvers have a great chance of success. How would you describe you knowledge, skills and character as a manager, and how are things changing as you experience leading your team?

The key with management is not to feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities. Good management takes years of practice, and dealing with tough stuff will make you better, as much as celebrating the successes. If you have a coach or mentor – fantastic, put them to good use. Otherwise, try to retain an open and curious mind that is willing to keep learning and keep smiling.

Elisa Nardi, is a former Chief People Officer, now executive coach, mentor, author, non-executive director and CEO of professional development journaling company, Notebook Mentor.

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