Are you a first-time manager? Here's how to start strong

Whether you work in construction or corporate, healthcare or hospitality, moving into a more senior role often comes with a team to manage.

Understandably, you might be feeling excited, nervous and perhaps a little overwhelmed. What’s the most effective management style? Will your team respect you? How can you make your mark as a great leader?

When you’re promoted to manager for the first time, there’s a lot to learn. These practical tips will help you hit the ground running and set you on a path to leadership success.

Start by listening

It might sound counterintuitive, but an effective manager listens before they speak, explains Jan Terkelsen, director of People Leaders, a consultancy firm specialising in developing high-performing teams.

“Use the first couple of weeks to really listen,” she says. “Whoever you’re talking to, whether it's the CEO, a colleague or someone who started two days ago, tune into what it is they're saying.

“That's going to give you a good insight into what's important at the organisation, what the culture's like and how everything works.”

Understand your goals

Knowing from the start how you’ll be assessed by senior leaders – and the company – will help you achieve success as a manager.

What have you been hired to do? Will your success depend on your team meeting sales targets, completing projects on time or keeping customers happy?

“Prepare a set of questions for your direct manager about their expectations of what they want from you in managing the team,” Terkelsen says. “Ask if there’s a company strategy or report that feeds into some of the goals. Find out what’s important to your direct manager and their goals.”

Learn your management style

Understanding how you like to manage people and when you may need to adjust your preferred style can make all the difference.

“For example, my style might be quite optimistic, extroverted and action oriented,” Terkelsen says. “For some people, that's great. But for people who are a little bit more introverted and like to take things a little bit slower, and perhaps aren't as enthusiastic, then this style could rub them the wrong way.

“So it’s important to be aware of your style and know when to dial it up and when to dial it down.”

For Madeleine Casley, the newly minted content and social media manager at communications agency Arize, focusing on and celebrating individual strengths is an effective way to strike a balance.

“One member of our team was naturally quite shy and had so many amazing ideas, but they were reluctant to share them,” says Casley, who manages a team of four people. “I worked with them over time to build up their confidence and celebrate them when they did speak up. Recently, they've come out of their shell and the rest of the team is seeing how brilliant their ideas are.”

Avoid making too many changes too soon

It can be tempting to rush in and make a heap of changes to the way things are done. But Terkelsen recommends spending the first few months in your new role reflecting on what’s working and what could be improved before making any adjustments.

“Because the people who are closest to the problem are usually the ones who have the solution, it can be helpful set up one-on-ones with everyone in your team to find out about their key activities and what's working for them,” she says. “If they were to solve one problem with the work that they're doing, what would that be?”

Accept you’ll make mistakes

It’s virtually impossible to get most things right on the first try, and managing a team is no different.

“When it's your first time at anything, you're going to make mistakes,” Terkelsen says. “If you are making mistakes, good for you, because it means you're stretching yourself. If you never make a mistake, it means you're too safe – you're not really growing.”

Casley says this is true of her experience so far as a manager. “What I very quickly learned is that it's okay if I don't have all the answers. We're working together as a team, growing and learning together as a team, and it's okay if I make mistakes,” she says.

The key is not to let apprehension or fear hold you back. “It's okay to be uncomfortable, but don’t be afraid to dive into the opportunity,” Casley says. “Being a manager is a big responsibility, and what really matters is your attitude and the way you treat your team and the people around you.”

Taking the next step in your career and managing a team of people can feel intimidating, but you’re not expected to have all the answers just yet. Take time to observe the people around you and understand what’s expected of you before making any major decisions. And remember that people are at the centre of your new role.

“My biggest learning is that people learn best when they're given the space to make mistakes, but also have comfort and trust that you are there to support them,” Casley says.

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