Meeting the Challenge of Being a First-Time Manager

Congratulations! You got that promotion you’ve been waiting for. You are a first-time manager!

My guess is that you earned your promotion by being a high achiever—and that’s fabulous. Keep in mind, though, that the skills that helped you succeed as an individual contributor are not necessarily the same ones you will need to achieve success as a manager. That’s why I’m so excited about our First-time Manager program, a new training program I’m working on with Linda Miller and Scott Blanchard that will help new managers master the skills they need to make it through this major transition.

In our research, we have found that first-time managers must deal with three new realities.

The first new reality: First-time managers must shift from being responsible only for their own work to managing the work of others, as well. As a manager, they need to work with their staff to set performance goals and then manage that performance along the way. This can be challenging when dealing with someone who is underperforming.

The second new reality: It can be emotionally challenging to manage a group of former peers who are now direct reports. Some new managers report suddenly being unfollowed on social media or not invited to lunches or other group activities. This can make a new manager feel as if they are alone in their new endeavor.

The third new reality: Managers have a greater level of impact than non-managers. Not only are they responsible for helping their own team succeed, they now play a role in the overall success of the organization. They must manage new relationships, both with their people and with other leaders in the company. And they now serve two groups—their direct reports as well as their own leader.

If this all sounds pretty daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Learning how to communicate effectively will set first-time managers up for success. I believe that leading is something you do with people, not to them. So knowing how to hold conversations that strengthen relationships and build trust will get your management career off to a great start.

Our new program focuses on four critical conversations new managers need to master: Goal Setting, Praising, Redirecting, and Wrapping Up. In the next few weeks, I’ll go into detail about how and why to hold these conversations and I’ll also show you four skills that will further improve the quality of your communication with others. You’ll learn how to Listen to Learn, Inquire for Insight, Tell Your Truth, and Express Confidence in each interaction. These tips will improve your relationships with your team, your colleagues, and your leaders.

In the meantime, celebrate your success in your new role—and be open to learning how you can make a positive and fulfilling transition to being a first-time manager!

Putting Servant Leadership into Action

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about servant leadership. I was recently reviewing Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert’s book The Serving Leader (Berrett-Koehler, 2003 and 2016) when I realized how much I like the term serving leader—it makes the point that leadership is about doing something, it’s not just a philosophy. When you are serving, you are taking action.

In my recent work on servant leadership, I’ve been focusing in on three actions every leader can take to serve their people more efficiently.

The first action is about Presence. Be present when you’re with your people. Focus directly on them—not on the next meeting, or the call you need to make, or the text message that just came in on your phone. Don’t let distractions take you away from a living person who is right in front of you. As a serving leader, you need to listen with the intent to learn, ask questions for clarity, and offer the support and direction your staff needs to be able to perform at their highest level. Each person has very different needs, and as a serving leader it takes your concentration and attention to be truly present with each individual. In this 24/7 world, this skill takes practice and commitment.

The second action is Acceptance. Serving leaders look for and build on the strengths each direct report brings to the job. And, realizing no one is perfect, they also identify weaknesses—areas where they might be able to help the person learn and grow. Helping someone develop new skills is perhaps the ultimate act of serving. Accepting people as they are and paying attention to both strengths and weaknesses allows serving leaders to set team members up for success, which serves not only the individual but the entire organization.

The third action is Creativity. Leaders work with teams made up of many different personalities and temperaments—and when you add the complexity of multiple generations in the workplace, the job of managing people can seem overwhelming. Some may see this as a challenge to be managed carefully, but the serving leader sees it as a chance to be creative and invite different perspectives to each project. Magical things can happen when different voices and opinions are shared in a trusting, collaborative environment. It brings about something I call one plus one thinking—where one plus one is actually greater than two. The job of the serving leader is to build a community where everyone feels they are part of the big picture.

I hope you think of yourself as a servant leader—but take it a step further and make sure you are taking the right actions to actively serve your people. Be present and focus on each person individually, accept people’s strengths and help them overcome weaknesses, and encourage creativity by inviting everyone to share their perspective. I guarantee that you’ll unleash talent and potential that will transform your direct reports, your team, and your organization.

Building Collaboration with Open and Honest Communication

Effective communication is the lifeblood of an organization, so it is critical for leaders to create a safe and trusting environment where people can share information freely. In our new book, Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster, my coauthors Jane Ripley and Eunice Parisi-Carew and I offer tips for listening, giving feedback, and encouraging people to seek information and ask questions.

We use the UNITE acronym to introduce the five key elements needed to build a collaborative culture: Utilize differences; Nurture safety and trust; Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals; Talk openly; and Empower yourself and others. In this post, let’s look at the importance of Talking openly.

As a leader, you probably already support your staff by working with them to create clear goals, supporting them, and removing roadblocks that hinder their ability to get things done. I hope you also praise them for their progress toward goals and redirect them when they get off course. But other components of communication need attention, too. Collaborative leaders need to develop their listening skills to truly understand what their direct reports are saying and to determine whether underlying issues exist. I suggest leaders also have an open door policy to encourage spontaneous interaction where people can speak candidly and ask questions. In turn, leaders must share all relevant information, give constructive feedback, and be open to receiving feedback from others. This kind of clear, honest communication will build the respectful and trusting environment necessary for a collaborative culture.

Think about how you interact with colleagues and your team. Now ask yourself these questions.

  1. Do others consider me a good listener?
  2. Do I share information about myself with my teammates?
  3. Do I seek information and ask questions?
  4. Do I give constructive feedback—and am I open to receiving feedback?
  5. Do I encourage people to network with others?

If you answered yes to these questions, you have probably created a trusting environment where people can talk openly. But pay attention if you answered no to one or more questions—because that’s where you need to start improving your skills on your way to become a collaborative leader.

Collaboration Begins with You Book coverTo learn more about Collaboration Begins With You: Be a Silo Buster, visit the book homepage where you can download the first chapter.