Five top tips for first time managers

MZOXOLO GULWA - 29 July 2020

Moving into a managerial role can be stressful and many new managers feel overwhelmed and unsure of themselves. But there are five simple things they can do to boost their confidence and thrive.

Getting promoted to a managerial role should be cause for celebration – you’ve worked hard to get there, and your talent and potential have been recognised and rewarded. But many new managers find the transition stressful, and learning to lead amidst a global pandemic merely adds to the pressure. In fact, LinkedIn notes that six out of ten managers said that that becoming a boss for the first time was one of the most stressful things they had ever experienced.

Often, new managers are thrown into the deep end for their first management experience – sink or swim! They may not have been taught the right basic theoretical and practical principles of management, and they lack mentorship or support in taking on this new challenge. It is a common misconception that if someone is excellent at their job, or even a technical expert in a certain area, that this will automatically translate into being able to successfully manage a team to deliver the same standards of excellence. The reality is that management requires a new set of skills.

Another stumbling block is that new managers may have lurking worries about how to behave now that the perceived balance of power has been tipped – in other words, what to do now that your previous fellow colleagues are reporting to you.

When embarking on this new phase of their careers, there are five key things new managers can do to make the transition easier:

1. Clarify expectations

A good starting point is to clarify expectations with your boss. An often-overlooked part of becoming a manager is that you are now likely to have a new boss yourself. That means understanding your boss’s priorities and goals, for your team and for your role. You also need to accept the fact that your role has changed and with that comes new responsibilities, including supervising your former peers. Some managers struggle with the sudden transition to authority and the formal approaches associated with this. Their first instinct may be to adopt a “command and control” style of management. This can be dangerous as your team will then only do what is asked of them. As a new manager you want to positively encourage your team to reach their full potential and create an inclusive environment where everyone feels able to contribute without fear or favour. The Forbes Coaches Council suggests setting expectations with your team through arranging one-on-one meetings to ask and answer questions and enlist their support.

2. Get the support you need

New managers often need help with practical details such as how to approve a team member’s request for leave or how to conduct a performance conversation. Learning to handle these types of situations is an essential part of the transition process and requires some hand holding at first. This can be done by shadowing other managers and observing how things are done or by seeking out a mentor for support and guidance. Choose a role model who you admire and can learn from. If you like, formalise this relationship by asking the person to be your coach or mentor. When approaching a potential mentor for help, be specific about what kind of advice or support you are asking for. Also, expand your network. Form relationships with other managers – you can share ideas, learn from one another and support each other in this phase of your careers.

3. Perform a personal SWOT analysis

Forbes coaches suggest that new managers take some time to perform a SWOT analysis of their professional skills to better handle the transition from peer to leader. This will help you see where your blind spots are and form a team that can enhance your strengths and build up your weaknesses. You should also consider your personal skills, not just your technical or professional ones. This takes self-awareness and emotional intelligence – key management skills in their own right. Part of developing emotional intelligence requires you to look at how you deal with receiving feedback and learning to listen to others carefully, without judgement.

Don’t fall into the trap of becoming arrogant and overlooking your own blind spots. This can lead to closed-mindedness. As a new manager, do not assume that you know everything and have all the answers, this is certainly not realistic. Try to balance being strong and humble.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

This cannot be over emphasised, particularly since many of us are restricted to virtual communication for now. Be transparent and strive for open and consistent communication. Encourage honest and constructive two-way feedback. Be visible to your team when you meet online, encourage collaboration and most importantly, trust your team to do their jobs. In the event there are mistakes, address these frankly and sincerely. Mistakes are part of life, accepting this and finding ways to learn from mistakes encourages a continuous learning culture. Also, celebrate big and small wins with your team and create time for recognition and acknowledgement. This will not only inspire motivation and commitment, it will also create a culture where all employees are recognised and the performance bar will constantly be raised, in a healthy way.      

5. Dress, walk, talk and act the part

What you say and how you look can boost your confidence!  Resist the temptation to stay in your pyjamas just because nobody can see what you’re wearing from the waist down.  Invest in your wardrobe, always keep yourself neat and tidy and be acutely aware of your body language. Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power poses offers an eye-opening example of the power of body-mind effects and how small tweaks in body language can have a big impact on how people view others – and how they view themselves.

All that being said, leave room to be yourself. A sudden dramatic change in appearance may be read as inauthentic. You were promoted because of who you are, so don’t lose sight of that.

Mzoxolo Gulwa co-convenes The New Manager programme, a modular online programme which starts this September. For more information visit https://www.gsb.uct.ac.za/new-manager.

Self-mastery | Managing people | Leadership

MORE ON Management Fundamentals

MORE ON THIS TOPIC