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First time manager tips: how to survive the role

Congratulations! You’ve done it—earned that “big M” title. Well, Mr. or Ms. Manager, I’m excited for you. But wait a minute. Believe it or not, your role is about to get a whole lot different. Here’s a quick survival guide to help get you grounded.

Know yourself and don’t lose yourself.

Getting promoted to manager is a huge accomplishment—as well as a huge responsibility. Take a moment to collect your thoughts. Think about what got you to where you are and what you need to improve on to move forward. Now is not the time for reinvention, but rather self-reflection and growth. In a recent study by The Predictive Index®, more than 5,000 people said that a great manager should be self-aware.

Taking the time to understand yourself—what drives you and what you need to be successful—will help you build important relationships. Are you someone that likes to control the conversation? Make sure to practice active listening. Pride yourself on having an overflowing plate of tasks? Start delegating to your subordinates. You can still have the final say on the output, but use your newfound bandwidth to think strategically and plan ahead.

Find a mentor… or two!

While this might be your first time managing a team, you’re not the first person to manage people. This is great news because it means you can learn from the successes and failures of someone else. Seek out a mentor. It could be someone in a different department, a different company, or even a whole different line of work. You’re going to face new situations and have questions you may have never considered. Having a sounding board will help you gain your confidence as a manager.

Now is also the time to expand your reading roster. Add a few books to your reading list on leadership and management strategy. While this reading won’t prepare you for every situation you’ll encounter as a manager, you’ll begin to build a diversity of thought needed to manage your own way.

Get to know your direct reports.

Promoted above your peers? Have brand new employees reporting to you? Coming in as an external hire? Regardless of how you rose to a managerial position, now is the time to start getting smart about your employees. Set up an initial meeting to get to know them. Don’t worry about talking shop. You can let the conversation wander that way but now is your opportunity to establish a key part of your reporting relationship: seeing each other as people.

Learn about their behavioral tendencies, and also share your own. Look for areas where there may be friction and get ahead of them. Make a plan for communication norms and expectations. Understanding what drives your direct reports will help you break through challenging moments and glean insight into what motivates them.

Establish a meeting cadence.

Meetings can take over your day, devour your week, and suck up your productivity. But there are some meetings that are worth it. Don’t skimp when it comes to regularly meeting with your direct reports. Schedule a weekly check-in to go over blockers, talk about upcoming opportunities, and learn how you can support them. Make sure to schedule personal development meetings as well. Monthly or quarterly? That’s up to you, but carving out time to help your employee on their own path only helps to improve your working relationship with them.

With both of these meetings, let your employee drive. This is your chance to listen, ask questions, and gain clarity. If you have something you’d like to add to the agenda, tell them ahead of time so that you don’t catch them flat-footed. Give them time to prepare so you both get value out of your time together.

Don’t be a shadow.

Speaking of meetings, enjoy a bit of your newfound freedom. Your direct reports might be able to attend some of those meetings that used to clog your calendar. Carefully think about which meetings you both need to be in and whether or not there’s an opportunity to receive a report back instead of attending. You’ll benefit from free time, and your employee will see that you trust them to represent your opinion while bringing their own voice to the table.

tips for first-time managers the predictive index

Build your trust bank. Learn how to give feedback.

Eventually, there’s going to be a project that feels like it’s going off the rails. It’s important to be prepared for that. Get ahead of this by continually providing feedback. And no, that doesn’t just mean saying “nice job” or “great work today.” Look for opportunities to give in-the-moment, specific, and positive feedback (e.g., “Susan, during the status meeting today, I was impressed with how you used last month’s metrics to capture our VP’s attention. It solidified your case and showed how you’re looking out for the team’s interests through our data.”)

Providing regular, specific, and positive feedback will help you build credit with your employee. It shows that you’re genuine. Then, when you need to have a difficult conversation, your employee understands that you have their back and that you mean what you say. Don’t shy away from the critical feedback either. Find the balance to avoid letting performance issues fester.

Become their publicist.

Regardless of how you choose to recognize your employees, publicly or privately, you’ve now assumed the role of publicist. Make sure you’re amplifying and supporting the efforts of your team outward to peers at your level, upward to your managers, and throughout your organization as appropriate. Don’t mask their work as your own. Help them to build their own personal brand within the organization.

Again, congratulations. You’re on your way. Read the books, learn from those that have led before, and be yourself. Find your voice as a manager and show those that promoted you or hired you that you have what it takes.

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Rich is a software engineer at PI. Always a tinkerer, he's always been oddly technical (well, ever since he went to Space Camp).

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