Dear First Time Manager,
Congratulations on being promoted to or hired into a managerial position. What an achievement! You must be so excited.
I don’t want to take away from this big moment but there are mistakes you’re going to make. It’s inevitable. It’s human. I see them happen all the time when people make the jump as you have.
I thought I’d point out the most common mistakes first time managers make in the hopes you will be aware of them, avoid them, grow professionally and make the jump to the next level.
Trying too hard to be liked
When I was at the bottom of the totem pole, I also used to say to myself, “When I’m the boss, I’m not going to be a douchebag like Greg. I’m going to do things differently. Everyone will love me.”
Boy was I foolish.
Don’t go for being liked as your objective. Yeah, it’s a plus to be liked by your team but what matters is being respected and being fair, first & foremost. Liked can come later. Or not come at all. Doesn’t matter if you have the former two.
I know it’s a hard transition to make when you were just at the same level (or working alongside) the people you are now managing. It feels a little awkward. Mais c’est la vie. You are now their leader. They don’t need you to be nice. They need you to give them direction, make the right decisions and set up the platform on which they will become successful in their own roles and careers.
Don’t make promises you cannot keep either like an increase in salary, a reduction in working hours or extra leave if you don’t have the authority to do it. Don’t try to be a hero. It will come back to bite you in the ass.
Not delegating or empowering your team
One way to earn your team’s respect (and even be liked in the process) is to empower them.
You’ve just come out a role where you were in the weeds getting things done. As a manager, you need to make a mental switch now: you cannot do everything. In fact, if you’re doing everything the same as before, then something is wrong.
Your role now is to empower your team. Find out what motivates each individual, what their skills are and unleash them. Max is an organisation freak? Put him in charge of your team’s marketing calendar. Sue is detail orientated like no one you’ve ever seen? Make her responsible for checking every report before it goes out.
Empowering your team and delegating to them doesn’t make you any less of a woman or man than you were before I promoted you. In fact, it makes you more than what you used to be.
Don’t get me wrong. You’ll still be “doing” a lot. You just need to learn that sometimes, you’re not going to be needed on the battle field. You’ll be on the side, invisible, making everyone shine. And that’s very cool.
Not giving feedback or dealing with people issues fast enough
I know. It’s awkward to give feedback to someone you used to work with side-by-side and now manage. It’s just easier to avoid it, right?
Don’t. You’re accumulating people debt by doing that. One of the worst kinds of debt for businesses. It’s like sweeping something under a rug. The dirt under the rug gets bigger and eventually (without fail), you’re going to trip over it and the fall is going to hurt. I promise you.
Nip things in the bud as soon as they arise. But that doesn’t mean pointing fingers and getting angry at people the way Mom and Dad used to scream at us when we were kids. There are ways to structure these kind of conversations: by showing the other side it’s a huge professional learning and personal growth opportunity for them. That you genuinely care about their success and helping them overcome any weakness they may have. They’ll respect you for it. Maybe even like you.
“Jack, I want to help you be successful here. I’ve noticed you sometimes have issues with keeping track of all the work in progress. Can you let me know what’s been bothering you? Let’s brainstorm and find a way that will help you with this.”
Also, sometimes, you’ll need to have the hard conversations (yeah, those — you know what I’m talking about). Don’t be afraid of them. With these kind of talks, it’s like losing your virginity. It’s very awkward the first time but you’ll only get better at it. If you’re fair and rational, it’s just business at the end of the day and no one can fault you for it.
Not communicating upwards
Please talk to me. Don’t think that by communicating and asking me questions that I’m going to wonder why did I even promote you or hire you into this role in the first place. Not at all.
In fact, I’m actually quite worried that you’re not talking to me about the issues you’re having. Let’s brainstorm together. I can help you come up with solutions. I won’t give you the solution — but I will teach you the methodology that will help you get to the answer.
I’ve been through what you’ve been through and I want you to be successful. If you’re successful, it is highly likely that so will I. The same way you have to empower your team, it’s my role to empower you.
So let’s talk regularly. And don’t make me be the one who has to schedule regular talks. Those are like blind dates forced upon you by your friends: awkward.
Fire fighting without finding the actual cause of the fire
You’re used to putting out fires. You do it so well that it probably explains why you made the jump to manager in the first place. In fact, you’re probably putting one (or several) out right now. The same way you used to when you were not leading the team.
Well, now, you’re leading the team.
Take the time to analyse what started the fire in the first place and prevent it from happening again. Can we improve some our internal processes? Can it be automated by the dev team? Can someone’s role be adjusted to solve this? Do you even know what is causing this in the first place?
I don’t want to be the one who always comes up with the solutions. I’d much rather hear them and see them come from you. You’re closer to the details than I am anyway.
I need you to not only be tactical, but also strategic.
If you’ve searched and are still not sure how to prevent the fire, see the previous point.
Hiring more people is always the solution
It’s not. One of the worst answers you can give me to the question “What can be done to avoid this from happening in the future? is:
“We’re too stretched. Let’s just hire someone to do it.”
Are you? Are you really? Are you and your team working 12 hour+ days and spending every weekend at the office? If you’re not (or even if you are), then maybe you should examine your team’s organisation, priorities and processes. Maybe something is broken there? Have you found the cause of the fire? Have you tried to come up with creative solutions?
You may well be understaffed. But let’s make sure we’ve left no stone uncovered before resorting to hiring someone else.