The Essential First-Time Manager’s Toolkit

Congratulations—you’ve been promoted!

Now what?

Being a first-time manager comes with the excitement of new responsibilities and opportunities, but it also comes with new relationships to navigate, pressures to handle, and tasks to balance.

If your palms are suddenly sweating at the thought, remember that virtually all leaders have faced these hurdles at some point in their careers. Take a deep breath, slow that heart rate a little, and follow these five recommendations for first-time managers.

1. Protect Your Time

During your first week in your new role, you may look at the wall-to-wall meetings scheduled for every hour of every day and think I’m sure it will settle down soon. Not so.

Management often means more meetings, and you may find that all that time you used to spend doing your actual job has magically disappeared.

Protect your time. If you see your week getting busy, schedule an appointment with yourself—and don’t break it. Give yourself thirty minutes to an hour here and there to accomplish the tasks you know you need to get done. If you leave your calendar open, it will fill up.

Pro Tip: Theme your days. If Mondays are for invoices, Tuesdays are for reviewing work, etc., you’ll always know which tasks to prioritize when you have a free moment. You won’t waste precious time staring at your computer screen, trying to decide between the many tasks you could be doing.

2. Address the Awkwardness

According to a survey from Robert Half Management Resources, the second-most common concern for new managers is managing former peers. You feel awkward. They feel awkward. Maybe they even applied for the same position you did and weren’t chosen, which adds to the palpable weirdness when you sit down for your first one-on-one meeting.

Rather than avoiding eye contact or putting on a front, address the elephant in the room head-on. Recognize potential areas of discomfort, and then encourage your new direct report to share any concerns they may have about your role. They may not feel comfortable opening up right away, but as you listen to concerns, thank your employee for sharing, and follow up on the feedback they give, you’ll build a relationship of open communication.

Pro Tip: Don’t feel pressured to answer their concerns in the moment. If someone questions your ability to perform your new duties, your knee-jerk response may be one of defensiveness. Instead of giving an immediate answer you might regret later, write down the concern, then let your employee know you’ll give it some thought and follow up in a future meeting.

3. Encourage Informal Chats

As an introvert (yes, we do exist in management), I get chills down my spine when I hear the words “small talk.” That being said, I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t be a boss-bot who talks only about work and then expect people to feel comfortable coming to you with their personal concerns. Even as you maintain professionalism, you still need to care about those who report to you as people first and foremost and employees second.

Allow some time in your one-on-one meetings to chat about things outside of work. If you find that a meeting room stifles the conversation, shake up the setting from time to time. Go for a walk or chat while grabbing a coffee or snacks from the break room.

Pro Tip: Show you care by following up on informal conversations just like you would work-related conversations. If you promise to send a link to a hilarious video of a cat taking a bath, write it down as an action item and then follow through. Always follow through when it comes to cat videos.

4. Embrace Hard Conversations

Early on as a new manager, I realized I needed to have a tough conversation with someone on my team. I didn’t want to alienate them right off the bat or seem like I was asserting my authority as The Boss. Besides, I hadn’t even had time to gain this person’s trust with my vast library of amazing cat videos.

Like me, many first-time managers suffer from what Radical Candor author Kim Scott calls “Ruinous Empathy,” or an unwillingness to challenge others directly.

You don’t want to stomp on people’s hopes and dreams, but if you don’t give clear, direct feedback, your niceness will hurt your employees (and coworkers) far more than it helps them.

 In my case, knowing that this employee’s pattern of behavior—if left unchecked—could hinder their career progress was enough to push me out of my comfort zone. I practiced the conversation in advance, making sure to focus on the impact the behavior had on the rest of the team. And it worked. That person had no idea how they were affecting others, and they graciously implemented the feedback once they understood the impact of their behavior.

Pro Tip: Ask another manager to role-play hard conversations with you ahead of time. It may feel silly at first, but talking through your main points out loud can help you shake off the nervousness and identify places where you’re not being clear or direct.

5. Learn to Let Go

As you transition out of an individual contributor role and into management, remember that not everyone will do things the same way you would—and that’s okay. You may be more experienced in some areas than the people you manage, but you have to weigh when your input genuinely helps others grow in their craft or directly impacts business outcomes and when you are veering into micromanagement.

Rather than butting in on every project, set expectations around outcomes and how and when you’ll provide feedback. Coach your team on overarching issues but trust them with ownership over their day-to-day work. That’s how they’ll succeed.

Pro Tip: Giving others ownership doesn’t mean you should let sloppy work slide. Point out objective errors, but on more subjective calls, ask yourself this question before you speak up: “Will doing it my way impact our bottom line in some significant way?” If the answer is no, let it go.

Every company and every team differs, but these tips will help you navigate those first few intimidating weeks as a new manager. Take these ideas and adjust them to meet your individual needs, and soon you’ll be the one sharing your expertise with other new managers.

Vilja Johnson

Vilja Johnson taught university writing for four years before transitioning into marketing. As managing editor, she now manages a team of writers and editors at Clearlink. She’s equally passionate about grammar, Batman, and Olympic hockey.

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