First-Time Manager? Here's How to Excel in Your New Role
Beyond the initial excitement of being promoted to your first management role is a chilling dose of uncertainty, nerves, and on occasion, regret.
You yearn for the days where you felt like an expert in your role, a high performer the business could count on.
You’re certainly not alone.
Most first-time managers face the early months of their promotion with apprehension and anxiety, unsure of what to do and how to change their mindset from IC to manager.
But it shouldn’t be this way.
First-time managers should get the support and coaching they need to successfully transition to their new role.
That’s why we wrote this guide, and why we built a product designed to make people management easier for new and experienced managers alike.
Go ahead and read the guide, sign up for a free trial to Waggle, and send your manager or Head of People our information and ask if Waggle can be expensed.
Understand Your New Role, Say Goodbye to Your Old One
As a recently promoted manager, you're no longer responsible for delivering results. Instead, you're in charge of making sure others do. And if your team fails, you fail.
At first, your mindset will revert to that of an IC, someone focused on producing work, who seems to have all the answers, and who is focused solely on their own performance.
But you’ll soon realize how ineffective that mindset is when it comes to managing an entire team of people.
Which is why you’ll need to shift your mindset. Here are some examples of how you’ll need to rethink your approach to work:
From Doing to Delegating
IC mindset: Focus on personal productivity and expertise; the primary goal is to complete tasks effectively and efficiently by oneself.
Manager mindset: Shift focus to enabling the team's productivity. This involves delegating tasks, trusting team members' abilities, and providing support rather than doing everything oneself.
Why the Shift?
As a manager, your impact is magnified through your team. Delegating empowers your team to grow and develop skills, and it allows you to focus on strategic planning and team development.
From Task Orientation to People Development
IC mindset: Concentrate on task completion and technical problem-solving.
Manager mindset: Prioritize the growth and development of each team member. This includes coaching, mentoring, and helping them build their career paths.
Why the Shift?
People management is about fostering a team that can tackle a range of challenges. Developing your team's skills and careers is essential for long-term team success and resilience.
From Solo Success to Team Success
IC mindset: Success is defined by personal achievements and contributions.
Manager mindset: Success is measured by the achievements and growth of the team as a whole. Celebrate team milestones and recognize the contributions of team members.
Why the Shift?
A manager's performance is judged by the performance and development of their team. Fostering a collaborative and supportive environment enhances team productivity and morale.
From Immediate Solutions to Strategic Thinking
IC mindset: Focus is often on immediate, short-term solutions to problems.
Manager mindset: Now you need to look well ahead of the immediate future. Develop a strategic, long-term vision. Anticipate future challenges and opportunities and guide the team accordingly.
Why the Shift?
Strategic thinking ensures that the team is not just reacting to immediate issues but is proactively working towards long-term goals. Ideally, a manager is thinking 3-6 months out.
From Individual Learning to Knowledge Sharing
IC mindset: Focus on personal learning and skill enhancement.
Manager mindset: Facilitate knowledge sharing and create opportunities for team learning and cross-training.
Why the shift?
Knowledge sharing leads to a more versatile, adaptable, and collectively intelligent team. It encourages innovation and problem-solving from diverse perspectives.
Getting to Grips with Your New Responsibilities
Your mindset isn’t the only thing changing. You also have a whole new set of responsibilities on your plate.
Your management responsibilities range from administrative tasks like scheduling, budgeting, and reporting to people-oriented duties like coaching, motivating, and resolving conflicts.
If you want to be effective in your role, you need to fully comprehend each one and its relevance.
Luckily for you, we’ve outline the core responsibilities you’ll have no matter what industry, company, or team you work in:
Planning and setting goals:
It's your responsibility to set clear, achievable goals that align with the broader objectives of the company.
This involves not just defining what needs to be accomplished but also explaining the 'why' behind these goals to ensure everyone is on the same page.
For example, if your team is working on a new product feature, outline how this feature fits into the company's overall strategy and what success looks like.
It’s your job to get your team the resources they need to perform while also staying within budget and culling your tech stack to only what's required.
For instance, if your team is overloaded with software tools, evaluate and streamline the tech stack to include only those that add value. You also may need to identify roles the team could benefit from adding.
Supporting and empowering your reports:
You have to motivate, coach, and inspire your team while dealing with any team conflicts promptly and fairly.
Address any workplace conflict with fairness and promptness. For example, if two team members have differing views on a project, mediate the discussion to find a common ground.
Use regular one-on-ones to understand individual aspirations and challenges, and tailor your support to help each team member flourish.
Controlling and monitoring:
You need to monitor performance, provide feedback, and make necessary adjustments to keep everything on track.
This doesn't mean micromanaging but rather keeping a pulse on team progress and stepping in to guide when needed.
Championing your team:
It's your job to advocate for their needs, celebrate their achievements, and ensure they have the necessary support from the broader organization.
This means communicating effectively with other departments and upper management about your team's contributions and needs. For instance, if your team has achieved a significant milestone, make sure this is known to the higher-ups.
Similarly, if your team needs additional resources or support, be their advocate in securing these.
If you want to make these first few months easier, check out our new manager checklist which covers what you should do in the first 30 days and beyond.
Work on the Skills that Make Effective People Management Possible
As a first-time manager, honing specific leadership skills is key to your success.
With these managerial skills, you'll be able to lead your team confidently and navigate the challenges of management.
But you can also keep reading for a summarized version.
📱 Develop Strong Communication Skills
Clarity and Conciseness: Your team needs clear, straightforward instructions. Avoid jargon and complex language. Simple, clear messages ensure everyone is on the same page.
Active Listening: Pay close attention to your team's feedback and concerns. It shows respect and helps you understand their perspectives.
Feedback Delivery: Learn to provide constructive feedback. Focus on behaviors and outcomes, not personalities. Remember, feedback is a two-way street.
Effective Meeting Management: Use Waggle to set clear agendas and goals for meetings. This tool helps keep discussions focused and productive.
🎭 Master the Art of Delegation
Identify Strengths and Weaknesses: Understand your team members' capabilities. Delegate tasks that align with their strengths.
Clear Expectations: When delegating, be clear about what you expect in terms of outcomes and deadlines.
Trust and Autonomy: Resist the urge to micromanage. Trust your team to handle their responsibilities.
Feedback and Support: Use Waggle to track delegated tasks and provide timely feedback and support.
💡 Cultivate Emotional Intelligence
Self-Awareness: Reflect on your own emotions and how they impact your decisions and leadership style.
Empathy: Understand and share the feelings of your team members. It's key to building strong, trust-based relationships.
Managing Emotions: Stay calm and composed, especially in stressful situations. This sets a tone of stability for your team.
Social Skills: Build rapport with your team. Engage in regular, informal interactions to strengthen team bonds.
🤝 Foster Team Collaboration and Creativity
Encourage Idea Sharing: Create an environment where team members feel safe to express their ideas and opinions.
Team Problem Solving: Use group sessions to tackle challenges, encouraging everyone to contribute.
Celebrating Diversity: Recognize and value different perspectives and skills within your team.
⏲️ Nail Time Management and Prioritization
Effective Planning: Use Waggle to plan your calendar with time blocks for different tasks, including lunch and other breaks.
Balancing Tasks: Juggle between various managerial duties without losing sight of key objectives. Waggle can help here too, telling you what needs done, when.
Avoiding Burnout: Recognize the signs of overload in yourself and your team. Ensure a healthy work-life balance. Don’t forget that leading by example sets the tone for your team members.
Continuous Review and Adjustment: Regularly assess priorities and adjust plans as necessary.
Put Your Imposter Syndrome to Bed, Overcome Your Fears
Imposter syndrome. It gets us all at one point or another. New managers especially spend the first few months feeling like a fraud, afraid of putting a foot wrong and being found out. For some, the feeling is part of a bigger problem and that imposter feeling doesn’t go away.
But it’s natural to feel apprehension in your first few months as a manager. Confidence will come over time as you learn what works and what doesn’t, as you develop the skills, and establish good management behaviors.
In this section, we’re going to talk about the common fears you may feel as a new manager and introduce ways to overcome them.
Common Fears of New Managers
Managers stepping into their roles for the first time often struggle with three core fears:
- Fear of Failure: The apprehension of slipping up or being incapable can lead to an intense fear of failure. This can hinder new managers from showcasing their full capacities, stifling their performance.
- Fear of Disapproval: As a manager, your decisions can significantly impact your team's sentiments about you. The worry concerning disapproval or building animosity within their team can be a great source of stress for new managers.
- Fear of the Unknown: Uncertainty about what the role entails and how to handle new situations can cause anxiety ahead of each work day.
If you start to feel the ‘Sunday Scaries’ every Sunday, or even every night, then it could be because you’re grappling with one or a combination of the fears above.
You can work on alleviating these fears though.
Here are some tips to follow:
- Break down each fear by understanding its root. Seek feedback, and remember that learning from mistakes is a vital part of growth.
- View mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve. This mindset reduces the fear associated with them.
- Open, honest communication builds trust. Share your journey and your willingness to grow with your team.
The Role of Mentorship and Continuous Learning in Overcoming Fear
Mentorship and continuous learning are key tools in overcoming imposter syndrome and fears.
A mentor can empathize with your fears and provide practical, tried-and-tested advice. They'll often draw from their personal experiences, offering you specific tactics to evade or conquer the same hurdles.
When it comes to continuous learning, you can use Waggle to learn and embed the skills and behaviors of a great manager. It’s real-time feedback from calls with your team helps you identify areas for improvement and provides tips on how to get better.
You can also engage in conversations with other managers, share experiences, and learn from each other. Reflect on your own experiences too; self-reflection is a powerful tool for growth.
Build a Positive Team Culture
But won’t my team just follow the company’s culture? Well, yes…and no.
As your company gets bigger, subcultures emerge. And usually, they’re formed by team or department. Of course, aspects of the company culture should be present but nuances will develop.
You want a team that has a positive culture. Because your culture influences performance, retention, and wellbeing. In fact, a 2021 PwC survey showed 69% of respondents believe culture is more important than strategy or operations.
So, what do we mean by ‘positive culture’?
We mean an environment where there’s respect, collaboration, and support—where ideas are shared freely and without judgment, and where no one is belittled or gaslit. It's a space where team members feel valued, heard, and motivated to contribute their best.
As manager, you have the unique opportunity to influence this culture.
Here are some actions you can do to build a positive team culture.
Lead by example
As a manager, you set the tone for your team. Your attitude, approach to challenges, and interactions with team members all contribute to the overall atmosphere.
Show enthusiasm, maintain a positive outlook, even in the face of setbacks, and treat everyone with respect and fairness. This behavior not only sets a standard but also encourages your team to mirror these positive attributes.
It’s also okay to show vulnerability and to acknowledge when things aren’t fair, such as if another team dropped an unrealistic deadline on yours with little notice. The key is not to wallow too long and to move forward productively. In this instance, you could acknowledge that it wasn’t right of the other team to do, come up with feedback for that team, and then you as the manager should be the one to deliver that feedback.
Because even if your team culture isn’t toxic, you don’t want to breed toxicity between teams either.
Establish trust and transparency
Trust and transparency are the cornerstones of any strong team culture. Building trust starts with being open about team goals, challenges, and expectations.
For example, if a project didn't go as planned, openly discuss what happened, what was learned, and how it can be improved in the future. This openness not only fosters trust but also encourages a culture of learning from mistakes rather than fearing them.
Transparency in your decision-making process also plays a crucial role. Always explain the 'why' behind your decisions to help your team understand and align with your thought process.
Encourage regular communication and touchpoints
You want to be available to your team and build habits of regular communication.
Set-up weekly one on one meetings with each of your direct reports in addition to team touchpoints. You also want to make sure these don’t turn into status updates.
Use part of this time to ask about their professional development or any challenges they're facing. This practice, supported by tools like Waggle for scheduling and agenda-setting, shows your genuine interest in their well-being and career growth, beyond just their immediate work tasks.
Foster a feedback culture
Create a feedback-rich environment by setting specific times for feedback, such as after completing a project. For instance, conduct a 'retrospective' meeting where everyone discusses what went well and what could be improved.
Encourage all team members to contribute, showing that everyone’s input is valued. This approach not only improves processes but also makes each team member feel involved and heard.
You’ll also want to set aside time in 1-1 meetings for feedback from you and from your direct report.
Promote work-life balance
Encourage work-life balance by leading through action. For example, if a team member stays late to finish a project, acknowledge their effort but also remind them to take time off to compensate. You could also make rules around when it's okay to send messages and make calls.
Maybe you have a team member who likes to start an hour late everyday and work an hour later than everyone else. That’s fine! But they shouldn’t be sending Slack messages when everyone else on the team is offline.
That can unintentionally create a culture where the rest of the team feels they too should be working into dinner time hours. So the rule to counter that and to move this false pressure is to make a rule where work messages have to be sent during work hours.
And of course, when you take time off, actually take time off. Don’t linger on Slack from your beach hut as that sends the wrong message to your direct reports.
Ultimately you want to show your team that their well-being is as important as their work. This balance is crucial for long-term productivity and team morale.
Navigate Difficult Conversations with Confidence & Empathy
Difficult conversations are aptly named. They’re also inevitable.
Whether it's addressing performance issues, resolving conflicts, or addressing unconscious bias, how you handle these discussions can significantly impact your team's morale and productivity. It’s best to approach these situations with empathy and to prioritize clear communication.
Strategies for Managing Challenging Discussions
1. Prepare in Advance:
Before initiating a tough conversation, make sure you're prepared. Gather all necessary facts and think through what you want to say. This preparation will help you stay focused and calm during the discussion.
2. Create a Safe Space:
Start the conversation by setting a tone of mutual respect and openness. Assure your team member that the goal is to find a solution, not to assign blame.
3. Be Empathetic but Direct:
Empathy is crucial in understanding the other person's perspective. However, it's equally important to be clear and direct about the issue at hand. Avoid beating around the bush – address the problem head-on, but do so with sensitivity.
4. Listen Actively:
Give the other person a chance to share their side of the story. Active listening shows that you value their input and are not just there to dictate terms.
5. Focus on the Issue, Not the Person:
When discussing performance issues or conflicts, focus on behaviors and outcomes rather than personality traits. This approach helps in keeping the conversation objective.
6. Collaborative Problem Solving:
Work together to find a solution. Ask for their input on how the issue can be resolved and discuss potential ways forward.
After the conversation, keep an eye on the situation and follow up as necessary. This could be through regular check-ins or setting specific milestones for improvement.
For more detailed guidance, be sure to check out our full guide: Manager’s Guide: How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work | Waggle
This resource provides in-depth strategies and tips to help you approach these discussions with the right mindset and skills, ensuring you're well-equipped to handle any challenges that come your way.
Hire the Right People
There will probably come a time where you need to expand your team or replace someone who’s left or moved internally.
It’s important you add the right person to your team because hiring is more than just filling a skills gap.
While experience and expertise are crucial, the way a new hire integrates with your existing team and aligns with the company's values can have a profound impact on overall team morale and productivity.
Identifying potential team members requires a good understanding of your team's dynamics, strengths and weaknesses. This means assessing not only the talent in front of you but also how those talents will enhance the team.
You also want to make sure the role you’re hiring for is the right one. Sometimes you think you need a role only to find out it would have been more strategic for your goals to bring in someone with a different focus and skillset.
Your People/HR team should support you in this process.
But here’s some guidance on how you can get hiring right:
Understand Your Team's Dynamics
Before you start the hiring process, take a deep dive into understanding your current team's dynamics.
Identify the strengths, weaknesses, and personalities that make up your team. This understanding is crucial in determining what attributes you should look for in a new hire.
For example, if your team is highly skilled in technical aspects but lacks strong communication skills, you might prioritize candidates who excel in that area.
Assess Cultural Fit
Cultural fit is about more than shared hobbies or interests; it's about how well a candidate's values and work style align with those of your company.
During the interview process, ask questions that reveal how candidates handle situations that are common in your team's day-to-day work.
This could include their approach to teamwork, handling feedback, or managing stress.
Look for Complementary Skills
In addition to cultural fit, consider how a candidate's skills and experiences complement those of your current team.
This doesn’t mean looking for someone who can do exactly what your team is already good at. Instead, look for skills and perspectives that your team lacks.
This approach not only fills gaps in your team's abilities but also fosters a more dynamic and versatile group.
Push Your People to Grow
Once the right individuals form your team, the focus shifts to development. No matter the qualifications individuals bring on board, there is always room for improvement.
And investing in the growth and development of team members is a win-win for everyone involved as it helps them gain career opportunities and can increase retention.
Encourage a mindset of continuous learning and make resources available for individual and team development.
Fostering a supportive environment allows your team members to gain new skills, align their career goals with the team's objectives, and increase their performance.
Use Tools That Help You Manage
Leveraging the right tools is key to becoming a good manager. You’ll need tools to help you manage performance, stay on task, develop skills, and more.
Of course you’ll use the classic hybrid work tech like Slack/Teams, Zoom/Google Meet, and Notion/Google Drive. But there’s also tools that can make the act of management feel like second nature.
Tools like Waggle.
Waggle is designed to support managers of remote and hybrid teams in several critical areas:
- Skill Development: Waggle helps you develop essential management skills on the job. It offers guidance and learning opportunities tailored to your specific needs, ensuring you grow as a leader every day.
- Streamlining Meeting Preparation: Preparing for meetings can be time-consuming. Waggle streamlines this process, ensuring your conversations with your team are impactful and supportive. This tool helps you set clear agendas, focus on key points, and make the most of your meeting time.
- Task Prioritization: Waggle assists in organizing your workload. It alerts you to what needs to be done and when, helping you manage your time effectively. This feature ensures that nothing falls through the cracks and that you're always on top of your responsibilities.
- Behavioral Science for Real Change: Using principles of behavioral science, Waggle guides you in managing not just your team but also yourself. It helps in creating effective routines, reducing stress, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
The goal of using a tool like Waggle is to ensure that the entire group, including the manager, is high-performing and happy.
Get set up with your free 15 day trial to Waggle. We’ll help you through the entire onboarding process so that you can make the most of the trial.