How To Avoid The Common Mistakes Of First-Time Managers

There are few things more overwhelming than the first time you experience the sudden responsibility of a group of employees. Whether you’re being promoted among your peers, entering a new organization in a leadership position or moving over to another department to lead a team, your first crack at this new level of authority is often daunting.

But despite the unique circumstances or specific industry needs first-time managers face, there are universal strategies that help you improve your odds of making your first management position a success.

In this post, we’ll look at what I call “The Four Don’ts for First-Time Managers.” By avoiding certain behavior and taking action where you’re needed most, you’ll demonstrate an authority over your team and compensate for any shortage of knowledge you may possess in management skills. Here’s what we’ll tackle:

  • Why one-on-one meetings can be an essential trust-builder in the early days
  • The importance of getting into the weeds occasionally even as your job requires more high-level thinking
  • Why process is important
  • How fewer meetings with fewer participants achieve more

Don’t overlook the importance of one-on-one meetings

The best in the business consider one-on-one meetings with employees an essential part of their management style. I’ve put together a list of 28 questions that can help make every session a success. The most important thing to keep in mind is that any one-on-one meeting should be 90 percent focused on the employee.

One shortcoming that’s common among new managers is a feeling of insecurity that can manifest into a need to show your new employees that you have mastered the necessary knowledge of every topic discussed. If you spend the whole time talking just to prove you know what you’re doing, it’ll only frustrate the employee on the other side of the table.

Let them share their frustrations instead. Be open to criticism. Don’t force a rigid structure on these meetings—it can prevent time for your employee to share the issues that matter most to them.

If you’d like more help on how to structure these sessions, I’ve developed a guide here that helps you avoid the common pitfalls and start transforming your one-on-one meetings into a huge success.

Keep a consistent schedule for check-ins and make these meetings a priority. You shouldn’t be canceling one-on-ones unless there’s an emergency or the employee needs to reschedule. Show them you are competent by devoting time to listen.

Don’t be afraid to tackle mundane tasks

Part of your management role requires you to take a 10,000-foot view of the landscape and provide a real vision for your team’s direction. But that’s not the only focus, especially when problems arise or essential quarterly goals need to be met. Don’t hesitate to assist your workers on even the most mundane assignments if these tasks prevent the team from achieving greater momentum.

As Craig Cincotta, senior director of marketing communications at SAP, noted, helping out occasionally on tedious work can help you build trust and rapport with your new employees. “Now that you are a manager it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do the ‘dirty work’ that helped you succeed in the first place,” Cincotta wrote. “It is an endearing quality that your direct reports will respect when you are willing to do any job at any time to help them move forward.”

Check in with your employees regularly and have their key objectives top-of-mind. If you’re entering a week where a few team members are feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about achieving results, see if you have the capacity to chip-in.

Again, if you are scheduling regular meetings and maintaining a position open to criticism, your employees will be willing to raise their hand when help is needed. It’s a quick strategy to earn buy-in from the group.

Don’t forget to create process

Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. You should adopt this as your new mantra now that you are in a position to lead. By setting clear expectations and goals for your team you won’t waste too much time and energy simply focused on improving poor performers or applauding overachievers. You won’t fail to set proper boundaries.  Develop goals each week that address each part of your team and communicate your willingness to help. By crafting a schedule this way, you’ll show results and demonstrate to employees that you’re making an effort to provide everyone the best chance to succeed.

Don’t waste their time

A fast way to prove you don’t know what you’re doing is to stuff your employees’ schedules with pointless meetings. The antithesis of a good manager is someone in an authority position that actually inhibits an employee from doing their best work. Keep your attendee list tiny, so there aren’t unnecessary participants. Studies show that too much data from too many people can be disabling, not to mention a burden on the least essential team members on the topics being discussed.

Less is also more when it comes to the duration of a meeting. We often add padding to a meeting to ensure that every topic has time to be discussed thoroughly. This is most likely a mistake. Setting meetings for 30 minutes or less avoids exceeding the limits of our attention spans and helps your team focus on what matter most. That’s working smarter, not harder.

I also discovered in my review of productive meeting science that holding off meetings until later in the day can increase productivity. The best work is done in the first few hours and although you may feel that your meeting isn’t a top priority, it isn’t going to unleash your employees’ greatest work potential. Let them focus on the most pressing assignments in the morning and keep your afternoons available for the group discussions instead.

Just like any new task, preparation and objective evaluation will keep you feeling confident and help you constantly improve in your new role despite your lack of experience. And remember, one of the best things you can do as a first-time manager is try to relax, as a panicked authority figure rarely inspires confidence.

By avoiding these behaviors you are well on your way to removing unnecessary roadblocks and mastering your new role. You might also be interested in learning and mastering the Rockefeller habits to further improve your management abilities. And, last but not least, if you didn’t already have the ability to exceed expectations and dominate challenging tasks, they wouldn’t have put you in the position in the first place. Good luck!

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