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10 Do's and Don'ts First Time Managers Must Follow to Be Successful

October 7, 2016

So, you finally got that promotion and now you’re the manager. Congratulations! But the problem is that you have no idea how to be a manager. You’ve seen others manage but you have no formal training and your organization is asking you to step up.

Not to worry. Being a good manager is like being a good person. If you listen to others, care about their welfare, and help them to succeed then you will, in turn, be successful. Sounds easy, right? The problem is that most first time managers are not all that successful. Even those who are good people. Just because you have the title doesn’t mean you have all the answers.

The transition from an individual contributor to a manager can be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, transition that a person will make in his or her career. The skills and abilities needed for success are drastically different when you move into a leadership role. Instead of doing work yourself, you need to get work done through others. A very small percentage of the population are naturally gifted leaders and succeed immediately. The vast majority of us have a steep learning curve.

In my work helping organizations find, hire, develop, and retain managers, I have seen some trends emerge for first-time managers. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but here are 5 tips and 5 things to avoid for first-time managers. If you can focus your attention on being good at these things, it will go a long way to helping you become the successful manager you need to be.

5 Tips for First Time Managers

  1. Communicate & Give Feedback – No surprise here. Your employees want to know where they stand. Keeping everyone up to date, setting realistic goals/expectations, and giving feedback in real-time will go a long way in helping build trust and confidence from your team members. This communication goes both ways as well. Ask for feedback from your team when you need it.

  1. Delegate – This is probably the biggest difference at the manager level. You have to change your mindset to work through others instead of doing everything yourself. Managers tend to burn out when they try to do it all themselves. You have a team for a reason. Leverage their skills and make sure they are doing their fair share. A good manager makes sure everyone is working hard but that they also have good work/life balance (including the work/life balance of you, the manager).

  1. Hold Others Accountable – Holding others accountable is sometimes difficult, but imperative. When you begin to work through others you need to make sure those individuals are being held accountable for their work, timelines, etc. Accountability can be as simple as not letting an employee off the hook when they don’t meet expectations. Help to make sure they are on track and course-correct as you go.

  1. Develop Your Team – People gravitate to those who help them develop and succeed. If your goal is to make your employees successful by developing them, they will trust and respect you. Make sure in your one-on-one meetings with team members, you find out what motivates them and what they need to develop. This should be part of almost every discussion with them in addition to more task focused discussions.

  1. Get a Mentor – Mentors and coaches can be great resources. If you have a mentor within or outside of the organization, it can help you to develop as a manager. Keep in mind, though, that the mentor’s role is not to tell you what to do. Just copying their behavior is not the goal. Getting their input/advice and then putting your own spin on it will help you to develop your own leadership style.

5 Things to Avoid for First Time Managers

  1. Don’t Micromanage – I have interviewed a lot of job candidates over the years. I typically ask them about their best and worst manager and what qualities those people possessed (to see if they fit into our culture). The #1 response for the “worst manager” is someone who micromanages. Employees hate it. Managers spend a lot of time doing it. It benefits no one and you will work a lot of hours managing this way.

  1. Don’t Focus Too Much on Tasks – Similar to micromanaging some managers focus too much of their time on tasks. This may seem counterintuitive because every manager needs to accomplish tasks through their team. However, placing too much of an emphasis on tasks, rather than goals tied into bigger business initiatives, may demean the work and decrease the job satisfaction and engagement of your employees.

  1. Don’t Treat Everyone the Same – This one may sound odd. A good manager is fair and consistent. However, that doesn’t mean they need to treat everyone exactly the same. Being flexible and adjusting your style to different personalities can lead to greater managerial success. This doesn’t mean that you give one employee more vacation time than another (that is speaking to fairness) but it does mean that one employee may need more of your time than another.

  1. Don’t Procrastinate with Decisions – Employees get easily frustrated if there is no direction or decisiveness in their managers and leaders. Make decisions, set a vision, and help your employees execute that vision. When managers procrastinate on decisions it can lead to a number of negative outcomes. Your team may lose confidence in your abilities. Additionally, the indecisiveness may reduce productivity if they need the direction in order to move projects forward.

  1. Don’t Do It All by Yourself – First-time managers are in a unique position. It is ok if you don’t have all the answers. Sometimes getting the input from other managers, executives, or your team can be the best thing for a situation. Remember that you are learning too so it is ok if you need support.

Managing people for the first time can be an intimidating job, but if you follow the 10 tips above, your career as a leader will be off to a great start. Remember, good leadership is definitely something that can be learned and developed. It won't always be easy, but it is possible.

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Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.