Now I’m a Manager. So What?!
Entering management for the first time can be a challenging and exciting time in a person's life. Even if everyone around you thinks that you are cut out for it, you might not believe it yourself, and that is completely okay. No one will expect you to be the perfect leader on day one, but they expect you to improve with time. Let's explore some common pitfalls first-time managers often fall into and some advice on how to avoid such traps.
Challenges and Traps That First-Time Managers Frequently Face
Every new leader makes mistakes. In reality, all leaders will have stories to tell about some bad decisions or initiatives they have taken along their leadership trajectories. Leading a team for the first time can be a real challenge, and you may feel insecure, excited, eager, anxious, etc.
Some common mistakes that first-timers tend to make include:
Being Too Friendly—Transitioning from the role of "work-friend" to "boss" can be challenging. New managers may feel intimidated by the change and face difficulties establishing the boundaries between being a friend and being a boss. Promotions change the power dynamics with former peers, and your behavior as a new manager needs to be congruent with your new role and responsibilities. Once in a leadership position, you need to treat all employees equally and fairly, balancing openness and authority.
Being Too Authoritative—Being a new leader can come with some insecurity and the desire to be taken seriously, but being too authoritative will undermine your process and create more problems. Employees want to be heard and contribute to the thought process and solution building. Good leaders are able to listen to their team members and understand the power of collaboration and diversity of ideas to more successful decision-making. Remember that demonstrating competence is important but being liked is equally fundamental for leadership. Trying to "prove" yourself to your new management peers at the expense of likability can be a dangerous trap for new managers.
Lacking Confidence—No one expects you to be the perfect leader during week one. Be patient, and allow yourself to grow into your new role. "We all learn, adjust, and move ahead at our own pace. Your first role leading others will be a rollercoaster, a wild and exciting ride to be grateful for."
Moving From Being the Expert as an Individual Worker to Focusing on the Team
Most new leaders are coming from a point of expertise in their careers. One of the reasons for their promotion to a leadership role was how competent they were in their previous positions. However, once you become the leader, you will need to develop your team members' ability to get things done. You no longer depend exclusively on yourself and your competence but rather on your team's capacity to produce the expected results. Remember, they will not necessarily do things the way you used to do or even at the same pace. Be open to new ways of delivering those results and resist the temptation of micromanaging. Don't do your team's work for them. Remember to place a special focus on everyone around you—not just yourself—to find new opportunities and ways to achieve your goals.
Tips on How to Avoid Common Traps
As a new leader, you will need to find effective ways to navigate these common challenges. While every employee is different, good leaders are able to turn these individuals into a team and implement effective leadership strategies that strengthen their team members and improve their collaboration skills and abilities.
Ask For Feedback—The best way to find out where you need to improve is to ask for feedback from your team, peers, and superiors. Let this inform your own leadership development.
Don't Be Arrogant—Power can be a dazzling and corrupting influence in the wrong hands. Remember, you were chosen to lead, not just give orders.
Focus on self-development—Continuous development is fundamental for leaders. Accept your limitations initially and seek mentors and feedback that will allow you to grow as a leader. The leader you are on day one will look quite different from the one you will become in a couple of years. Good leaders adapt and evolve.
Trust Your Judgement—You were placed in this role for a reason. There will be various moments when you need to make tough and important decisions. Listen to different points of view, analyze the available data, consider varied courses of action, and be prepared to make a decision.
Become your friend's boss—There will be that awkward moment when you will realize that you are no longer the "same" as your friends around the office following a promotion. It might mean that you can't just hang out with them like you used to, and it certainly means leading by example. This doesn't mean that you need to become a different person, but you need to be respectful and provide a good example for your former peers. Set clear boundaries with former peers, even if it is uncomfortable. Remember that you are now a role model and will need to act accordingly and avoid office gossip or inappropriately friendly communications. Trust that you earned your place and realize that you can help these friends by being a good leader.
What are/were some of the traps that you fell into as a novice leader? What advice would you give to first-time managers? Leader Essentials Group can help your company's first-time managers navigate these initial challenges and develop a strong leadership foundation. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in the areas of leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.
_________________________________________________________________________  Daley, I. (2021). “Don’t isolate yourself and other advice for first-time managers. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from “Don’t Isolate Yourself” and Other Advice For First-Time Managers (hbr.org) 12/28/2021.  Laker, B., Patel, C., Malik, A., & Budhwar, P. (2020). What to do when you become your friend’s boss. Harvard Business Review.  Ashkenas, R. (2015). First-time managers, don’t do your team’s work for them. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from First-Time Managers, Don’t Do Your Team’s Work for Them (hbr.org) 12/28/2021.