WORKPLACE / OCT. 31, 2014
version 2, draft 2

How to Be a First-Time Manager

You did it: You worked your fanny off, important people noticed, and you’ve finally been promoted. Now what? Being a manager is very different from earning a promotion to manager. Here’s what you need to know:


Humility is essential

You’ve got a lot to learn, and people will respect you more if you don’t pretend that’s not true. Rather than going in and making a bunch of changes your first day, take some time to learn the department. Even if you’ve worked in the department, you haven’t managed it before. It’s different. If you keep trying to fix things that aren’t broken, people will either think you’re an idiot or that you just want to show you can do something, whether it needs to be done or not. Slow down and learn from the people who do the job. They’re the ones who will know how things really work vs. how the procedural manual says they work, and they can teach you a lot.


Meet with each of your direct reports one-on-one

As part of your humble learning process, meet with everyone individually. Not only will this help you learn the job, it will help you learn the people. And they’ll work harder for you if they know you see them as individuals rather than faceless cogs in the wheel.


Do something shocking

No, that doesn’t mean taking everyone out for drinks and dancing on the table. It’s about slaying the proverbial sacred cow, something that everyone has complained about for years but has given up hoping that anyone will listen. Whether it’s a stupid process or a job that simply doesn’t need to be done, make their lives easier in a way they’ll respect and remember.


Ante up

Your sterling reputation and credentials may precede you, but they’ll only carry you for so long. Your reports want to see you actually doing the job. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Practice “management by wandering around” (MBWA), a movement from the 1970s that galvanized managers to stop hiding in the offices and start spending time where the work was actually done. While you’re at it, if there’s a job you don’t know, sit down with the person responsible and learn it. Then do it, even if it’s just for 30 minutes.


Activate the shield

No one in the history of business has ever escaped all of the dirty jobs of management. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to give someone a bad performance review – or, even worse, tell a top performer they’re being let go because the company is making cuts and they make too much money. That’s hard to do if you’re trying to be one of the guys or everybody’s BFF. Like it or not, you have to put a little distance between yourself and the people who report to you if you want to be able to do your job.


Suck it up and tell them what to do

Your job as a manager is to get things done through other people. That means telling them what to do. Sometimes they’re not going to like it, and that’s OK. Sometimes your direct reports will be older than you or more experienced than you, and that’s OK, too. If you’re too intimidated to delegate, you’re not doing your job, and you’ll fail as a manager.


Being a first time manager can be tough, especially if you were formerly a team member. But you can’t be a manager and a team member at the same time. You have to be willing to do the not-so-fun parts of the job. Fortunately, if you can learn to balance those with the more rewarding parts, you should have great success as a manager.


Image: flickr via Ahmed Hashim, 2011

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