Articles // May 07,2022

How do I manage people as a first time manager?

By Swetha Sitaraman

So, you’ve got a new role! Congratulations! It is your first gig as a manager, and you now have a team of people reporting to you. I am sure that you are both excited and terrified at the same time. Your head is probably swimming with questions. Would I be a good manager or leader? Will my team like me? Do I have what it takes to drive this team forward? What if I let my team or my manager down?

Whilst graduating to a team lead or manager position is a big accomplishment, it is also a huge challenge. The skills that enabled you to be a high performing individual will not support you to become an influential leader. To transition into the new role as someone who manages people, you would need to let go of a few old habits and learn some new skills including getting to know your team members at a deeper level.

As a first time manager, you may feel overwhelmed, but remember that you are not alone and there are people to help and guide you. Below are a few suggestions to help you get started on your leadership journey.

Make friends with continuous learning

If you want to succeed as a manager or leader, you need to keep learning. Learning is not only about reading inspirational or self-help books, and although this is a good thing, you must learn and keep yourself updated on multiple items using many sources –

  1. In house training – Most organisations have a few courses or training programs, which they provide by default for first time managers. If not, ask your manager or the HR/L&D department about them. Enrol in a couple of courses.
  2. Keep your ears open for news, information and changes – Keeping on top of news and changes happening in the wider office, helps you identify sooner if and how it might affect your team. This gives you more time to plan along with your team on how to handle the change. Also, reading up on the latest trends in your industry and area of work gives you ideas and points to discuss with your manager or team.
  3. Learn about basic HR and finance policies – You will now be the first point of contact for your team when they have any HR policy or finance related questions. Being able to answer these and point them in the right direction will help in building a deeper connection with the team. Identify the points of contact in both departments, so you can escalate the more complex questions that you can’t answer.
  4. Identify a mentor – You can’t learn everything from a book, manual or a course. Find a mentor who you can speak to in confidence and who can guide you. This could be your boss or someone else in the organisation.
  5. Admit when you don’t know something – Even after learning a great deal, you will still not know everything or have all the answers. Be willing to say, ‘I don’t know’ if you really don’t know. Find out the answers, or even ask your team for help. This will showcase your vulnerability and your team will appreciate your efforts.

Work on building trust

Mutual trust is important for collaboration, innovation and productivity. No team has ever delivered successful results without trusting each other. When team members trust each other, they also become agile when faced with sudden and rapid change. Keep in mind that in all teams, trust will be built, and trust will be broken. Building trust is a continuous process and not a onetime activity that you engage in when you first become a manager. Sustainable trust requires effort and commitment.

  1. Maintain confidentiality at all times – Team members will share both professional goals and personal issues with you. You must ensure that you safeguard the information and not share it. This will build your reputation as someone who is trustworthy and professional. You will also be able to avoid awkward situations and misunderstandings.
  2. Walk the talk – Showcase good values, habits and practices. As a manager, your team members will look up to you. So don’t be late for meetings, stick to your word, be compassionate yet professional, don’t talk about the boss to your team or vice versa.
  3. Be a clear communicator – Set clear expectations and be transparent about important items. Develop the ability to articulate your thoughts in a manner that your team members can understand. Do not assume that because it was easy for you to understand that your team will find it easy too.
  4. Treat everybody fairly, equally and with respect – Make sure everybody feels heard and valued. Create an environment where everybody feels safe to challenge ideas including yours. Demonstrate inclusive behaviour and respect cross cultural differences.

Manage people how they wish to be managed

We often think that if we managed our team the way we enjoyed being managed by our boss then everything would go smoothly. But this is not the case. Different individuals have different expectations and thrive under a variety of circumstances. For example, your manager may not have followed up with you often and that might have suited you quite well. If you decide to display the same behaviour with your team members, they might assume that you don’t care, or they might not complete the assigned task to the expected standard. So how can you ensure that you manage people the way they would like to be managed? Simple, ask them. Below are some questions to help you figure out what works for them.

  1. How much or how little information do they need to get started on a task? – Certain team members might like to have all the information right at the beginning, while others could find that overwhelming.
  2. How often would they like you to follow up? (or) How often should they report back to you? – Some might want you to follow up once a day, others might consider this micromanagement. At this stage, you can mutually agree on how many times to follow up or report back per task.
  3. Which areas of work do they need your assistance with? – This gives you an idea as to which stage of the task, you would need to set aside more time with that particular team member.
  4.  What motivates them? – While some people would prefer a monetary reward, others might prefer frequent verbal acknowledgements or a well drafted appreciative email. There are also some team members who would like to work on specific assignments or have the opportunity to try something new.

Being a manager will never be easy, but it is quite rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to lead others, ask the right questions, empower them and help them pursue their goals. It gives you the satisfaction of helping someone become better and that is the biggest benefit of being a leader.

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