Congratulations! You’ve been hired for or promoted to a management position for the first time in your career! This truly is Common challenges for first-time managers an exciting day.
It’s also a day that changes…everything. You were once the rockstar subject-matter or technical expert in your last role and, because of your success, they’ve asked you to lead others and coach them to be as good as you are.
Yet, if you’re smart (and I know you are) you realize the being a manager, especially one of the greats, requires an entirely different set of skills than that technical prowess you honed for years. Just like learning to ride a bike when you were a kid, you’re going to fall, suffer bruises and feel, at least a dozen times, like saying “do I really want to learn how to do this?” before the new skills feel anything close to “natural.”
Let’s be honest about the transition: it’s not easy and challenges abound. Here are few challenges you can expect and ideas about how to handle them:
Challenge #1: It can be lonely. Especially if you’re used to being “one of the gang” in your previous role, and even if it had been at a different company, your status has shifted, and you’re no longer part of the worker-bee clique. Don’t expect your team to invite you to happy hours, BBQs, the weekend kickball game. This will sting the most if you’re now managing a team of former peers. Have faith, they still like you, even if they don’t extend the same invitations to hang out.
Training Wheels #1: Time for some new work buddies. Look to your new peers and other leaders, devote time to building those relationships and join their “gang.” A mentor or outside certified coach can help you feel less lonely and give great guidance on establishing yourself in your new role. And, think of and reach out to your new manager peers as your personal Advisory Board. These resources will hopefully understand your challenges as a new manager and can share their advice, mistakes and successes to support you through your transition as a new boss.
Challenge #2: The call of the water cooler. You loved to gather at the water cooler with your cronies to participate in the latest company gossip in your previous life. No more, my friend. You are now the representative of the company to your team and the advocate for your team to the organization. You’ll likely be chastised for your nonparticipation, but avoid the temptation. The fastest way to lose your direct reports’ respect and trust as well as damage your reputation as an effective manager is to show up as the blabbermouth boss.
Training Wheels #2: Manage their expectations before the first invitation. Your first duty is to earn their trust and respect. Managing expectations up front is key. This goes not only for the offer to meet at the watering hole, but for all the new behaviors your direct reports can anticipate from you. If you’re moving up from among the ranks to manage former peers, this will take time for them to understand. Communicate early and often what they can expect from you and what you expect from them: mutual respect and trust, support of the team’s and company’s goals, dedication to doing what’s right even when no one is looking and more you’ll come up with easily when you give it some thought. A super productive exercise is to have a team session devoted to talking about and committing to a (new) set of Team Agreements (specific behaviors and actions) you each agree to uphold and hold each other accountable to as a team. When your team is a part of deciding what the new team codes are, you’ll also have more instant buy-in.
Challenge #3: Admit it. You’re a little bit scared. Suddenly you’re now no longer only in charge of your own performance but now you have the additional responsibility of the care and feeding of your direct reports. This can less terrifying if you inherit or build a team of star performers who need little external motivating to get great work done together. More daunting perhaps if they are former coworkers or if they need more direction. Regardless, they are looking directly to you as the one to set the direction, make sure they have resources they need, that they’re working on the right things and more.
Training Wheels #3: Build your leadership courage through training, reading… and quick! Ask your new boss, your Human Resources contact, etc., about internal and external training resources that are at the ready to support you in learning a whole new set of management skills – setting performance goals with individual employees and the team, giving and receiving feedback, learning to coach, delegating, having difficult conversations, giving effective presentations, and so, so much more. At the very least, pick up a great management book with practical “how-to” tips. I personally like timeless classics like Monday Morning Leadership (Cottrell), First, Break All the Rules (Buckingham and Coffman) and One-Minute Manager (Blanchard). There also dozens if not more blogs (just like this one!) with great tips for new managers.
To bolster the new skills you need to be one of the great managers, give yourself permission not to have to know it all right now. Then set your own development goals, get the resources you need and practice, practice, practice. Before you know it, you’ll glance behind, and whoever had been running along beside you balancing the bike is 20 yards back and you’re cruising successfully all on your own.
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Meredith’s personal mission is to create “best places to work” filled with engaged employees and “follower-worthy” managers and leaders.
As Senior Vice President at Innovative Career Consulting, an OI Partner based in Denver, Meredith guides leaders, teams and entire organizations to increase productivity and profitability while developing happier people. Meredith personally specializes in leveraging strengths in the workplace – in team development, career coaching and pre-hire selection and development assessments. Partnering with companies across industries, she empowers teams to deliver better bottom-line results, increase productivity and improve efficiency.