What I Wish I'd Known as a New Manager

Advice from ten people on assuming a new leadership role.

What I Wish I'd Known as a New Manager

There will most likely be some growing pains. Sure, it's exciting to get a bigger office, a new title, and a pay raise, but all of that comes with new expectations. You're held to a higher standard now: in addition to doing your job, you're expected to be a leader, coach, and mentor to your subordinates 

— and you probably shouldn't be venting in the break room or engaging in office gossip sessions.

  • The transition can be especially difficult if your employees do not respect you, if there is a personality clash, or if you lack adequate support. It can be difficult to navigate. It can be isolating.
  • People who have been there talk about what they wish they had known before taking on a managerial role, the challenges they faced in their new roles, and how they dealt with them.
  • The responses have been edited for length and clarity.

A new title does not automatically imply respect.

My employees, I assumed, would automatically respect my authority because of my new title. That didn't work out so well. Some resented my promotion, while others simply refused to comply. "You've got to have a meeting and tell everyone I'm the new sales manager," I told my manager, but he said that wouldn't be enough — I needed to earn the title, and only time and hard work would do that. In the end, he was correct. Working with the salespeople in the trenches on a daily basis was what really boosted my status. I wish I'd known that just because you have a title doesn't make you a manager; being an effective leader is what gets people to follow you.

— Barry Kronhaus, 53, Lake Worth, FL entrepreneur

Maintaining boundaries is difficult — but necessary.

I wish I hadn't tried to connect with my staff so quickly at first. I started by having lunch with them, but I had to stop because it was becoming too intrusive, especially since I was privy to management concerns and news that I couldn't share. I also went out for drinks with them a few times, but it made them feel too comfortable with me, so I had to start pulling away — and then I pulled away too far. It took some time for me to find a happy medium.

— Estelle Erasmus, New Jersey writing coach.

Relationships are important.

I was so focused on learning the tactical aspects of my job that I neglected to spend time building relationships with those above me and my peer group. Then I became embroiled in a political battle that I couldn't win because I didn't have the necessary allies on my side to defend me, and I was fired as a result. In retrospect, I failed miserably at the challenge. I was 24 years old and had no idea what I was doing.

— Roberta Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting in Boston, Massachusetts.

Don't be afraid to seek assistance.

I sometimes have to ignore my type A personality and tell myself, "I have no idea what I'm doing, I'm drowning." After several panic attacks, I learned to speak up and ask for assistance. I'm fortunate to work in a fantastic environment.supportive, where there are dozens of other people in my position or seniority to offer advice or jump in and help solve problems But I wish I had more management training, particularly in people management. 

  • I would advise people in similar roles to seek specific and actionable feedback in order to grow and earn the trust of your team and peers.

— Alisha Miranda, 32, Philadelphia, PA, digital project manager.

As a young manager, I was completely out of my element. I accept full responsibility for all of my mistakes, but I also wish my bosses had provided me with better support and training from the start. When I was interviewing job candidates, my boss slapped me on the wrist for calling candidates' references in front of other employees in our open office. I was embarrassed, but also frustrated, because how was I supposed to know not to do that? I'd never done a reference check before. I wish I had at least asked for more help. Part of the problem, however, was that I didn't know what I didn't know.

— Lauren Sieben, 29, Milwaukee, WI freelance writer.↚

Provide useful feedback.

I wish I knew how much easier and more effective — even when negative — direct feedback is versus trying to persuade people. Too often, being nice gets in the way of being effective. When I learned how to provide appropriate feedback, the people I managed responded admirably.

— Marc Lewis, 33, Raleigh, NC, editor and creative director.

People require feedback, especially when they are performing well. People can become paranoid if you don't let them know how you feel about the work they're doing, but if all you do is criticize them, they'll grow resentful and avoid you.

On the other hand, praising everything they do may inadvertently reinforce undesirable behaviors. I used to work at a company where if you couldn't provide good feedback, you didn't last long as a manager. They followed a simple format: "I value you because (insert something you value about the person) and I believe you could be more effective if you.." (insert the change you would like to see). Whatever method was used, I wish I had been much better at providing feedback before becoming a manager.

— Phil La Duke, 56, Detroit, MI, business consultant and author.

Personalize your assistance.

As a manager, I try to think of myself as a coach rather than a taskmaster. Once someone understands the rules of engagement, I work to frame projects and requests as "goals" rather than "to-do lists," and I ask my teammates how they want to approach achieving that goal. Rather than giving explicit instructions, I provide guidance and support. Everyone is motivated differently, and only a few people are motivated in the same way I am. Finding out what each person truly wants out of their day allows me to assist them in obtaining it, but there is no "one size fits all" solution for keeping people motivated and on track.

— Alex Hillman, 35, co-founder of Philadelphia's Indy Hall.↚

Have faith in your team.

As a new manager, I wish I had delegated the parts of my job that became routine. As you advance in your career, it is critical to delegate work to your teams so that you can contribute in a more strategic manner and provide others with the necessary experiences for their development. Because I am the type of person who prefers to solve problems quickly and move on, I found myself doing tasks that I knew I could complete quickly rather than allowing a direct report or a colleague to truly own and solve their problem. You must provide opportunities for your teams to take ownership and grow. Today, I'm still an involved leader, but by no means a micromanager. I try to give the team as much autonomy as possible, but I'm always available to help if it needs it.

— Lockheed Martin, New Jersey, vice president of communications and public affairs Kimberly C. Ramalho, 50.

  • Recognizing that I can't do it all has been the most difficult challenge. Prior to becoming a manager, your only responsibility was to ensure that you did your own job well, but once you become a manager, you are responsible for the performance of your subordinates.
  • When you find them underperforming, your first instinct may be to take over, but this quickly leads to situations where you are overburdened with work or you start stepping on toes if they believe you are doing their work for them.
  • For me, having faith in my subordinates has been the solution. I concentrated my efforts on ensuring that they understand their instructions, have a positive attitude, and are well-trained.
  • If those three points are met, I am always pleasantly surprised by the higher quality of work they produce.

— Emmanuel Frost, 30, CEO and co-founder of Buffalo-based Brand Alignment.

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