Succeeding as a First-time Manager

It may sound harsh, but as a first-time manager you'll make mistakes. Studying some of the mistakes commonly made by new managers will help you learn through the experience of others and avoid similar issues.

New managers tend to make three common mistakes: taking on too much, not asking for help, and projecting a lack of confidence.

Taking on too much

The first mistake is taking on too much. Often, new managers will become overburdened with work, which is usually the result of failing to understand how much their role has changed. And the biggest contributor to taking on too much is the failure to delegate.

Facing the reality that your role has changed from when you were an individual contributor is the first thing you must do to avoid the mistake of taking on too much. You need to switch your focus from personal achievement to helping others achieve. You'll often have to step back and let your direct reports do the work. And you'll need to place more emphasis on team building.

Learning how to delegate will come with experience. Three activities can help you begin delegating: first learn to focus on the big picture, then distance yourself from the detail work, and take small risks when first delegating.

Delegation strategies

  • focus on the big picture – Focus on the big picture by stepping back and reminding yourself that you need to approach your work from the perspective of a manager. You're responsible for helping others, your team, and your organization meet goals. Delegation will give more time to focus on the big picture.
  • distance yourself from the detail work – As a manager, you need to distance yourself from the detail work performed by your direct reports. You can't be involved in detail work and effectively perform your managerial role. Trust your direct reports to do their job and build partnerships with them so they'll come to you for help when needed.
  • take small risks – When you begin delegating, start by taking small risks. Assign work to individuals you know will be able to deliver, by taking advantage of the strengths of your team members. As you become more comfortable with delegating, you can take bigger risks that will build your confidence in your managerial abilities and stretch the capabilities of team members, helping them to grow and develop too.

Not asking for help

Not asking for help is another common mistake new managers make. Often, new managers don't interpret the relationship with their boss as a partnership. Instead of reaching out to senior managers for support, many new managers try to resolve issues and work through situations they have no experience with, and hope things will work out. This can be disastrous and robs the new manager of the opportunity to learn from more experienced managers.

You may have been promoted based on technical competence – not your managerial skills. If so, accept that you can't know how to do everything, and your superiors don't expect you to. In fact, your senior manager is likely to be concerned if you're not seeking support, answers, or advice.

The best way to stay on top of what's going on with your direct reports is through open communication. Encourage your direct reports to come to you for help when they need it. Likewise, you need to have this type of relationship with your boss. Just as it's part of your job to support your direct reports, it's your senior manager's responsibility to support you. You'll learn how to do your job through on-the-job experience, and support from senior managers is key to your ability to learn how to be a manager.

When you've established a partnership and clarified expectations, make it a priority to meet regularly with your boss. Use these meetings to develop rapport, ask questions, clarify your understanding of things, and get feedback.

Projecting a lack of confidence

The final mistake you should avoid is projecting a lack of confidence. Managers who make this mistake aren't likely to inspire or energize others, making it difficult, if not impossible, to lead and manage successfully.

Avoid this mistake by always projecting confidence, even when you're not. It's natural to feel overwhelmed and even inadequate. When you focus all your energy on the tasks you must perform, you may forget to check your demeanor. Remember that as a manager your direct reports and others look to you as an example and will model your behavior. If you're flustered, agitated, defeated, or negative, you will set that example. In spite of all you may be feeling, it's very important to maintain a professional and positive image and project a confident demeanor.

Work to build your confidence by setting clear expectations and directions for your direct reports, taking risks, and giving credit to others.

Knowledge of the mistakes commonly made by first-time managers and strategies for overcoming them will help you be more successful. First-time managers often make the mistake of taking on too much. You can avoid this by accepting your new role and learning to delegate effectively. Another common mistake is not asking for help. You can overcome this obstacle to success by establishing a partnership with your senior manager. He's there to help you, so take advantage of this by clarifying expectations for your performance and meeting regularly with your boss to get advice and support. You must also be careful not to project a lack of confidence. No matter what you really feel, your demeanor should project what you want modeled – positive and confident professionalism. If you do have to express less confident feelings do so in the privacy of your boss's office.

Becoming a New Manager: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges
2008, Harvard Business Press, Citation, 9781422125076
The First-Time Manager, Fifth Edition
2005, Loren B. Belker and Gary S. Topchik, Citation, 9780814408216
Succeed as a New Manager: How To Inspire Your Team And Be A Great Boss
2006, A&C Black, Citation, 9780713675 vc245
Becoming the Boss
Linda A. Hill, Harvard Business Review, 2006, Page(s) 11