How to be a good first time manager

“Congratulations, you’ve just been promoted.” Becoming a manager for the first time can be a mixed blessing. On one hand, team responsibilities are a recognition of your value to the organisation. On the other hand, it opens up a new set of skills to master.

Going from managing yourself to managing others, means achieving results as a collective. As such, being a manager for the first time is a whole new ball game that entails learning new skills and communication challenges previously not demanded of you.

Fear not, the good news is that you can prepare and develop the skills you need to employ as a leader, just as many others before you have.

Enable your team to execute

In your previous role as an employee, your main focus was on accomplishing your tasks. Now, your additional focus is on helping others accomplish their tasks. The key to taking on this transition? Shifting your mindset and taking on a new approach.

What does the role of a manager encompass? Basically, you’re required to: lead your team; achieve collective team goals; manage two-way communications and help solve strategic problems. To get the above done, you need to set to motion the skills of influencing others; managing conflict and communicating openly and clearly. Suddenly the focus moves from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

Remember that your goal as a manager isn’t to please everyone but to lead them. You’ll need to earn, not expect their respect, something that will come with time. The way to doing this is through influence and clarity: setting standards of behaviour that you expect and demonstrate. And set up a work structure that enables the team to execute to the best of their ability.

Your influence can have a significant effect on keeping team motivation high, to allow collective energies to be focused on problem-solving and collaboration, and avoiding wasted energy on encouraging productivity or solving dramas. Think carefully about behaviours to best avoid as a manager: rightly or wrongly, the perception that you aren’t fair, transparent, or leading by example, can put a major dent in motivation levels.

Progress and praise

People are motivated when they feel passionate or care about the work they do: a key way to achieve team alignment your team is to demonstrate the work-in-progress, and track the path ahead. This helps show how their work matters to the team, and where they make a daily difference. One way of doing so is to inculcate a sense of shared vision, then simplify and visualise the path ahead.

Remember that boss who always took credit for your achievements? Leaders fearful of having their followers surpass them will ultimately have a negative impact on your team’s morale. One study shows that 63% of employees can’t tolerate a boss that fails to give praise where it’s due. Remember: your team’s achievements will reflect well on their leader. As Dale Carnegie’s best-seller How to win Friends and Influence People reminds us, "abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement.”

Be lavish with praise when it’s earned, and your team will feel appreciated and respect you for sharing the glory. But also remember, while you should give your employees a platform to shine: use the wins to strengthen the team over the individuals. Create a star team, and you have one where everyone feels valued.  

Find a mentor

Lastly, remember that you’re not alone and that you can always seek advice and support from a mentor. Find someone who has excelled at being the manager you want to be and who has experience handling different situations so they can give you advice. You may even want to look outside of your company – that person can be a manager you look up to and have worked with in a previous organisation.

Mastering the skills required of you may be difficult, and you need to be patient with yourself too. The transition from a contributor role to one with authority is not easy, and the road requires trial and error. Read plenty of management advice, take the time – and you’ll soon find yourself a highly effective leader in the making.

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