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New Managers: Start by Doing These 5 Things

February 14, 2020
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Becoming a manager marks a big step in your career. Right out of the gate, you're ready to shake things up and act as a mentor to the team.

Slow down. Your first day isn't about coming in hot and being the greatest. Being intentional and methodical will get you a lot further in those early days. Here are five steps to help you establish yourself and build a rapport with your team.

1. Don't make any big moves.

Start by getting a sense of your direct reports' strengths, weaknesses, and potential. The best thing you can do to fulfill that potential is, paradoxically, taking a step back and not doing anything.

Your first day should be more about listening than talking. Hold off on rolling out that groundbreaking master plan. Monster reports that one of the worst mistakes new leaders make is to immediately try to lead with manager-driven changes.

Even if you're coming in with the mandate to shake things up, making big changes right away will demonstrate that you don't have an interest in listening to your direct reports. Listening well means reserving judgment until you've heard what others have to say. When you do roll out changes, employees will be more likely to adopt them.

2. Reach out to people.

Being a manager is about building trust with employees. Be mindful that your team is probably just as nervous to have a new manager as you are to be a first-time manager.

Will you care about them? Will you understand the way they want to be managed? Will you stick up for them? These are real fears that employees have, and one of the best ways to demonstrate that you're going to be a compassionate manager is to reach out.

Take the time to talk to employees individually. Within your first few days, start setting up 1:1 meetings with reports. This will:

  • Assure reports that you're invested in them and their feedback
  • Give you time to listen to all perspectives on your team
  • Get to know your employees and what motivates them
  • Help your employees feel comfortable reaching out

These conversations can be informal and don't have to take more than 20 minutes. Remember, these represent a starting point.

3. Ask questions.

The worst thing you can do on your first day is pretend you understand things or make assumptions because you're afraid to ask questions. This will only hamper your managerial development.

To be a good manager, you need to understand what your reports, bosses, and company want and need. That means asking questions. Ask open-ended questions to build trust and understand how your direct reports work.

Going further, direct some questions upward. Asking smart questions of your bosses helps you learn ins-and-outs you weren't privy to as an individual contributor. It also helps you better understand their expectations.

Use the same mettle and smarts that got you promoted to answer as many questions as you can, but don't be afraid to ask questions when they come up. You're building your knowledge and new working relationships, and a healthy workplace will support you leaning on others for help.

4. Establish boundaries.

If you've been promoted, your workplace relationships are bound to change. Harvard Business Review found that the transition from "BFF to boss" was one of the most difficult hurdles new managers faced.

You're responsible for setting an appropriate relationship with your work friends. It's crucial to your team's results because it reduces favoritism and creates a more stable workplace. To establish boundaries:

  • Give employees space. Joining in on an all-team lunch is fine, but going to get a coffee with Phil every afternoon is a no-go. Give employees space to hang out with each other without you.
  • Employ a calendar system. Make it easy for any employee to set up time to chat with you regardless of how well they know you.
  • Learn from your managers. You've had managers before. Think back on your own manager-employee relationships and examine what worked and what didn't. Set the standard that you appreciated when you were an individual contributor.

You're responsible for setting an appropriate relationship with your team. The truth is that management can be lonely because your position takes you away from the camaraderie felt when you were an individual contributor. But remember that you are in the midst of forging new relationships with fellow managers that will help your career.

5. Cut yourself some slack.

Managing is a skill that's learned. You've just stepped into a new role and are beginning the training for that position. Nobody is expecting you to be the world's best manager on your first day. Every manager has stories from their early career about bumps in the road.

If you're moving up in the same workplace, it can take some time for new roles to settle and your workplace relationships to recalibrate. If you are joining a new company, you need time to learn about the people and the company. You're not going to start off as the perfect manager — and that's ok!

Day one is just that: a starting point. It's expected to feel a bit awkward or like you're still figuring things out. Nobody immediately “gets” management on their first day and ascends to managerial stardom. Take a deep breath, cut yourself some slack, and commit to learning even more tomorrow.

Day one of a new management position can be nerve-wracking, but you've become a manager because you have potential and skill. What you do in your first days and weeks sets you up for success and gains the trust of your team.

There will be plenty of time in your managerial career for you to become a great manager and enact your plans for bettering your workplace. Positioning yourself well by listening, establishing boundaries, and reserving judgment will help you get there like a seasoned vet.